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Forest Certification Gaining Traction in Green Building


Third-party forest certification has long been an excellent—and simple—way for the hospitality industry to show it is buying wood, paper and print products from responsible sources. And a growing awareness of the benefits of independent certification is making it even more accessible.

Green building is a good example. Green rating tools that value wood as a critical component of environmentally progressive architectural design have been offering credits for certified wood for some time now; and most recognize all credible forest certification standards in their programs and policies.

In North America, these standards include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS). SFI, CSA and ATFS are endorsed by the International Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

Builders who want to source wood certified to any of these standards can pick from a number of green building rating tools. In the United States, they include two approved by the American National Standards Institute—the ANSI/ICC 700-2008: National Green Building Standard for residential construction and the ANSI-GBI 01-2010 Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings (formerly Green Globes U.S.) for commercial construction. The final version of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), developed by the International Code Council with support from the American Institute of Architects and ASTM International, recognizes SFI, FSC and PEFC—as do rating tools such as BREEAM in the United Kingdom, Built Green Canada, Green Globes in Canada, Green Star in Australia, and CASBEE in Japan.

Last year, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which currently only allows credits for wood certified to FSC in its LEED rating tool, released a pilot credit for non-structural certified products such as furniture, flooring and window items with wider recognition. Pilot Credit 43 lists forest certification standards such as SFI and PEFC along with FSC in a section on “pre-approved certifications and labels.”

Benefits of Inclusive Acceptance

So why does this matter? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, it means builders are more likely to be able to find certified products from North American forests. About 10 percent of the world’s forests are certified. Half of these certified forests are in North America, and about three-quarters of these lands are certified to SFI, CSA and ATFS. The rest are certified to FSC.

So when a rating system offers credits for wood certified to all credible programs, builders can choose fiber from any certified forest in North America.

All forest certification standards provide assurance that harvested areas are reforested promptly, all laws are obeyed, biological diversity is maintained, special sites are considered, wildlife habitat is maintained, and much more. They all have chain-of-custody certification that extends into the marketplace by tracking fiber from certified forests, other responsible sources and/or recycled content.

Last September, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study showing the environmental and economic benefits of using wood in green building, it also issued a news release saying: “Sustainability of forest products can be verified using any credible third-party rating system, such as Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council or American Tree Farm System.”

Certifications Becoming More Similar

In its 2009-2010 Forest Products Annual Market Review, the United Nations stated: “Over the years, many of the issues that previously divided the (certification) systems have become much less distinct. The largest certification systems now generally have the same structural programmatic requirements.”

Improving access is one reason to accept all certification standards. But there’s another reason, one that is even more important.

Architects and builders will ask for certified products if they think they will find products that meet the needs—and the budgets—of their projects. And that will drive demand for certified products and lead to more certified lands, yielding tremendous benefits for forests and communities today, and into the future.

The hospitality industry can make a huge contribution with procurement policies that encourage the use of certified forest products from North America for new buildings and renovations; for furniture and flooring; for office paper and stationary; for cleaning products and restaurant supplies; and for printing services for promotional materials.

Most certification programs have comprehensive online databases where you can find products and learn more about certificate holders—including SFI. Click here for more information.

Jason Metnick is senior director, Market Access and Label Use for SFI Inc. He works directly with companies in the wood and paper supply chain to promote the SFI program and assist with third-party forest certification and on-product labeling. He oversees the Office of Label Use and Licensing, which administers the rules and procedures for SFI on-product label usage.