Proposed benchmark standards to determine when a wood-certification group would have its certification qualify for points in the LEED rating system failed to win the required two-thirds approval from a special group of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) members, the organization announced Monday. The 55% "yes" to 42% "no" vote represents the rejection of several years' worth of work by a USGBC committee and guarantees even more fighting over one of green construction's most bitterly debated issues.

The balloting Oct. 25 through Nov. 23 was restricted to the 965 individuals representing 774 USGBC member companies that opted into a "consensus body." Of that group, 54%--or roughly 521 people--cast votes. USGBC normally submits questions like this to its entire membership, but it decided to use a consensus body to assure that the voting population contained representative populations of USGBC's three main subgroups: producers (i.e. contractors and builders), users (professional firms' corporate, retail and educational institutions, among others) and general interest groups (including government entities, nonprofit and environmental groups, contractors, professional societies, and trade associations). Along with the 55% of participants who voted yea and 42% that chose nay, the other 3% voted to abstain.

To date, only wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council qualifies for a single point in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green construction rating system. That irks organizations such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), American Tree Farm System (ATFS), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), which all argue their certification programs also should qualify. Those groups have been campaigning for years to get USGBC to recognize their programs, while FSC has countered by arguing that those other groups have certification standards than, in the view of FSC and more than a dozen environmental groups, would demean LEED standards. (Story)

These groups have been battling USGBC and each other since 2006, creating a struggle that--given how just one LEED point is involved--strikes some inside USGBC as a tempest in a teapot. Nevertheless, a USGBC advisory group has since 2008 produced three different draft standards meant to potentially widen the certification authority for wood beyond FSC. It was the advisory group's fourth draft that went to a vote, and both SFI and FSC urged its rejection. (Story)

With the announcement, the status quo continues, and thus FSC remains the only certification group that qualifies for LEED points. USGBC noted that it is now considering a revamp of all parts of LEED, so wood-certification schemes can be considered as part of that discussion.

For its part, SFI president and CEO Kathy Abusow issued a statement saying the proposal's failure "marks a new opportunity to work with the USGBC and other interests to find an alternative and workable solution moving forward, one that works for USGBC's members and at the same time recognizes the benefits of wood in green building and the proof point offered by forest certification." But at the same time, she in effect suggested that green-oriented builders not bother with seeking the one LEED point that FSC certification makes possible.

"For now," Abusow said, "the building community should forgo the one point in the certified wood credit and use SFI-certified products in LEED buildings to demonstrate their pride and support for North American forests, communities, and jobs."