The two key groups battling over a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) proposal governing which wood certification schemes would qualify under the LEED green rating system stepped up their recruiting campaigns today, once again attacking USGBC's plan from opposing sides.

The U.S. branch of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSCUS) issued an open letter urging readers to tell USGBC that the fourth draft of its proposed forest certification benchmark "still falls far short of 'exemplary forestry' and permits certification systems to be dominated and controlled by proponents of status quo forestry."

FSCUS' open letter was issued at about the same time the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) put out its latest newsletter, which devotes four out of eight pages to critiques and reports on the USGBC plan. "USGBC Needs To Find a Better Way To Assess Certification," the lead story's headline declares, while inside there are stories about members of Congress, governors, and media commentators who have taken SFI's side.

This years-old fight revolves around the points that USGBC's LEED rating system gives for the use of wood in residential and commercial construction projects. At present, only wood that has been certified by FSC and handled by companies with FSC-issued chain-of-custody certificates can be considered eligible for the points. That cuts out several other wood certification bodies, particularly SFI--which originally was created by timber interests but now is an independent group--the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), American Tree Farm System (ATFS), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). Together, those organizations certify more timberlands than does FSC, particularly in North America.

USGBC has felt pressure for years to open up its points system to more than just FSC, and its response has been to propose a set of benchmarks that a wood certification scheme would have to abide by in order to be regarded as eligible. That proposal now is in its fourth draft, and the opposing sides haven't been satisfied yet.

"While the fourth draft of the benchmark contains some positive revisions from the previous version, it nevertheless remains a substantial lowering of the bar compared with FSC's international Principles and Criteria and multi-stakeholder governance system," said the FSCUS open letter, signed by organization president Corey Brinkema. "... Should this version of the benchmark go to USGBC membership ballot, the Forest Stewardship Council will be compelled to recommend a 'NO' vote.We respectfully ask fellow proponents of forest stewardship to submit their comments on the proposed changes to ensure that USGBC does not surrender to pressure from the timber industry to reward status quo conventional forestry."

Meanwhile, SFI has argued that USGBC's latest proposal is written in such a way as to effectively blackball it and all other entities except FSC from ever winning approval as a LEED point-granting entity.

"It's time for the USGBC to sunset this lengthy benchmark process, and once and for all recognize all credible forest certification programs," the newsletter's lead article quotes SFI president and CEO Kathy Abusow as saying. "The rest of the world gets it--wood is a sound and responsible building material, and forest certification is an added proof point that forests are well managed. Less than 10% of forests are independently certified to internationally recognized standards. Recognizing all certification programs means more choices for builders and architects, and encourages responsible forestry globally."

Comments on this draft began being accepted on June 14 are due July 4. Once the USGBC's panel finishes its work, the proposed revisions would be submitted to the USGBC membership for a vote.