Over the past several years, the federal government has adopted the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards, or LEED for short. LEED sounds like a good way to ensure that buildings are built to reduce their energy impact, but the standards end up hurting the American timber industry. That is because despite the fact that different industry groups certify forestry around the US, LEED accepts just one standard, the Forest Stewardship Council or FSC. Though the US accounts for about 40% of the world’s certified forestry lands, only 20% of US timber is certified within the current LEED standard. The FSC, in turn, is a consortium of member companies that own foreign timber farms and import timber into the United States. Some US timber companies suspect that the FSC is opaque in its practices and may even engage in pay-for-play. Additionally, the FSC is known to work with left wing environmental groups including Forest Ethics and the Dogwood Alliance. These groups are aligned with various far left environmental, anti-US industry causes. Dogwood Alliance is aligned with the fringe Occupy movement. These groups step up and fight US timber companies and agitate to make it more difficult to persuade LEED to accept any other standard but that of the Forest Stewardship Council. Their aim is to curtail the US timber anywhere they can within the United States.
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker is trying to draw attention to LEED’s myopic focus on the FSC standard. He appeared at a local lumber company, J.T. Shannon Lumber Co., this week to highlight how LEED is harming American timber and shipping jobs overseas.
The family-owned and operated business, with about 260 workers, has its Forestry Stewardship Council certification, which has been required by the U.S. Green Building Council since 2009.
But as an example of how standards are hurting the American wood products industry, company officials noted that foreign-manufactured bamboo — a fast-growing grass — is often used in flooring for new building projects rather than hardwoods.
“It’s nothing but glue holding strands of bamboo together. It is formaldehyde, laminates and plastics,” said lumber company owner Jack T. Shannon Jr.
“That is one of the reasons why I’m here today,” Wicker said during his tour of the company. “We want sound science to guide policies.”
Wicker added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which will prevent the Department of Defense from using LEED standards in new construction projects until the National Academy of Science can determine the effectiveness of such standards.
Wicker is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Recently, a military base in North Carolina opted for bamboo over hardwood flooring.
Besides driving some timber jobs overseas, the FSC standard reaches into American pocketbooks.
A studyreleased this week by The American Consumer Institute quantifies some of the costs of these government procurement policies have on businesses, consumers and the environment.
The study found several troubling consequences of this de facto monopoly that undermine the very sustainability goals of these certification programs. The study noted that the FSC program did not have consistent standards at all; instead they used benchmarks and requirements that differ from country to country. No surprise, under the FSC program, the US landowners face the strictest FSC standards in the world, while in more environmentally risky countries, such as Russia, landowners are allowed to game the system.
What does this mean for consumers? These added certification costs are passed on to US producers and ultimately American consumers of timber products in the price range of 15 percent to 20 percent. The study estimates that if an FSC standard becomes a controlling requirement for American forests, consumer welfare would drop by an estimated $10 billion for wood products and $24 billion for paper products each year.
There are other standards that LEED could adopt that would allow more use of domestic rather than foreign timber. Currently, the federal government’s LEED initiative means that the vast majority of timber used in federal construction ends up being imported from overseas. The FSC’s monopoly within the LEED standard is forcing states to use more imported lumber as well.
Some states have taken the step of revoking LEED. The state of Maine, for instance, discovered that LEED standards meant that the state could use very little Maine timber in projects built by the state of Maine. Georgia has also revoked LEED, and the US military is looking at abandoning the standard as well.