I read with interest your recent blog posting in EcoHome magazine entitled "USGBC Floats Plan to Let Wood-Cert Groups Qualify for LEED." I believe you are mistaken in suggesting that forest certification systems are related to transparency--that they make "it easier for outsiders to see what a forester, logger, and millworker are doing to promote green initiatives, as well as make available data on a wood producer's 'environmental footprint.'"

In fact, none of the major forest certification systems--neither FSC nor any of the PEFC-recognized schemes, including SFI, CSA and ATFS--provide such transparency. All are based on minimum performance standards--though these performance thresholds vary significantly--and on labeling systems that indicate whether a company/product has met the standards.

It is impossible to tell whether a company/product has barely met the minimum performance threshold or has greatly exceeded it. One has no idea whether the product came from a selectively managed natural forest or an intensively managed tree farm. If the product is "mixed content" and is manufactured under a volume credit system, one doesn't even know if the certified product contains a shred of fiber from a forest or plantation certified under the relevant standard. All of the content may come from a non-certified source that meets the system's minimum thresholds for non-certified content--e.g. "Controlled Wood" for FSC and "Fiber Sourcing" for SFI.

Forest certification has nothing to say about the relative energy efficiency or inefficiency of manufacturing operations, the use or release of most toxic compounds, the distance that products are shipped or the means of transportation. In other words, forest certification--like most certification systems, including LEED itself--is virtually opaque to the outside world. It is important to distinguish between certification systems/performance standards and transparency/disclosure tools like LCA-based EPDs.

In a recent white paper, Peter Moonen of the Canadian Wood Council and I argue that both are important and should be complimentary. Most LCA experts I have talked to ... appear to share this view.

In sum, it is incorrect to suggest that most certification systems achieve transparency, just as it is incorrect to suggest that EPD's alone establish performance standards or underwrite environmental performance to any particular level.

— Jason Grant