The Nuances of being Green

March 30th, 2006 by Peter Schmelzer


Kermit the frog once sang “It ain’t easy being green…”

As Lloyd points out in a recent post, sometimes it ain’t easy seeing green, or at least seeing past shades of green.

Here’s the basic scoop. Not all forests are equal, so not all wood is equal.

Some forests are managed sustainably, and others aren’t. In a nutshell, sustainably forestry respects and promotes biodiversity and the long-term health of the forest ecosystem. Other forestry values high wood production above all else.

So, wood from sustainable forests protects the glue that makes the world a habitable place for humans: interrelated and symbiotic biological systems, healthy communities, and culture. Clearly this is different than wood from many, or even most, production-oriented tree farms.

But what if your company is not interested in changing it’s mode of operation? Maybe you come up with your own measuring stick for sustainability.

That seems to be what is happening.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a consensus-based Green Building Rating System that has become a bit of a standard for sustainable design. Many government agencies, cities and corporations have adopted LEED as their yardstick.

Problem is that LEED recognizes use of wood as a sustainable building material only if it receives the Forest Stewardship Council stamp of approval. The FSC is a third-party non-profit organization that measures sustainable forestry. From their website:

In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, and violence against people who work in the forest and the wildlife that dwells there. Many consumers of wood and paper, and many forest products companies believe that the link between logging and these negative impacts can be broken, and that forests can be managed and protected at the same time. Forest Stewardship Council certification is one way to improve the practice of forestry.

Instead of acknowledging the FSC certification, the lumber industry has developed their own certification (yardstick) called the Sustainable Forest Initiative. From their website:

The SFI program provides a means for foresters, landowners, loggers and wood and paper producers to satisfy the growing demand of the American people for environmental responsibility while still being able to produce — at an affordable price — the forest products upon which people have come to rely.

Apparently SFI has not been sufficiently well accepted by LEED to make it into their rating system. So, here comes another yardstick: The Green Building Initiative. GBI is a parallel green building system to LEED that does not require FSC Certification for wood, since it is authored by the lumber industry.

Lloyd does a nice job of laying out the foundations of GBI, including names like Exxon and Louisiana Pacific.

What’s my take on all of this? As an architect interested in sustainable design, I don’t appreciate the “green-washing” that material producers are willing to do to convince me that their stuff is green. They know that our time for research is limited and that we are interested in the performance of their product. So, as many others have been willing to do, they call their product green and let us dig for the truth.

The lumber industry has now laid a double smoke-screen in front of us all with SFI and Green Globe.

How many people have the time and energy to clear the air enough to get to the truth for wood and for each of the hundreds of products that go into a building? Not many.

Thank you, Lloyd, for helping us fan away the smoke!

For more discussion on forestry practices, I recommend you contact Northfield’s own David Bubser at Smart Wood. You’ll find his contact information under “contact us” on their site.

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