A building supplier phoned Pollard Lumber Co. about providing wood for a large government construction project in Georgia, but the deal broke down over a single question about how the family-owned sawmill has committed itself to environmentally friendly practices, onlinesentinel.com reports.
The mill in rural Appling, Ga., actually has certification by a national forestry group to verify it uses timber harvested in a sustainable manner. But that wasn't enough to get the government job two years ago. The contractor wanted wood that was certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the No. 1 rating system for green building. LEED holds timber producers to a high standard met only by a few in the Southeast, according to the Online Sentinel.
"For the people that I was dealing with, the nearest mill that was certified at that point was in Arkansas or Mississippi," Bert Pollard, chief forester at Pollard told the site. "We could have produced the lumber for them right then."
Over the past decade, LEED has been on the forefront of the promoting energy-efficient, environmentally conscious construction. The LEED program, administered by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, certifies an estimated 1.5 million square feet of new construction worldwide each day. But an increasing number of governors and legislators say that LEED uses unfair standards that effectively keep their states' timber growers and wood products manufacturers out of the flourishing green-building market.
The outcry has led LEED stakeholders to vote this month on a revised version of its green-building standards, which are voluntary but have become increasingly desirable for private companies and government agencies looking to burnish their environmental credentials.
The Green Building Council says the ruckus has been drummed up by industry groups trying to pressure it into giving LEED sustainability credits for wood that hasn't earned them. The push is being led by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or SFI, which certifies more than 60 million acres of U.S. timberland. The group and its standards were created by the timber industry, though SFI says it's been independently governed for the past decade.
SFI and an affiliated program, the American Tree Farm System favored by many small landowners, aren't recognized for certifying sustainable wood that's eligible for LEED credit. The green-building program counts only wood labeled as sustainably grown and harvested by one group — the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, which operates in 80 countries. It certifies some 35 million U.S. acres but has been unpopular in several of the states where officials are speaking out against FSC's exclusivity with LEED. Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas, for example, each have less than 100,000 acres of FSC certified land.
The groups that say they're being snubbed by LEED insist all three standards accomplish the same big-picture goals for ensuring sustainable timber growth — they require replanting after trees are removed by logging, they impose buffers next to rivers and streams to reduce pollution and they contain protections for habitat used by endangered animals.
The standard LEED uses to credit builders for using sustainable wood bans the use of certain pesticides that are allowed under the other two systems and by U.S. law. The standard LEED uses also discourages replanting of forests plantation-style, where trees of the same species and often the same age are planted in neat rows like crops. That method is especially popular with Southern pine growers.
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal last year used an executive order to ban state government construction projects from seeking LEED certification. Alabama, Maine, Mississippi and South Carolina have taken similar actions. Florida lawmakers have passed a bill awaiting their governor's signature. Another measure has passed the North Carolina House and awaits a vote by the state Senate.
Timber growers such as Dr. Salem Saloom, fear they're being set up for substantial losses if LEED's popularity continues to grow and their wood won't qualify for its sustainability credits. A market analysis by McGraw-Hill concluded green construction in the U.S. jumped from nonresidential work valued at $3 billion in 2005 to more than $43 billion in 2010. And it predicted U.S. green building could surpass $120 billion by 2015. While others also certify green construction, LEED is by far the leader. McGraw Hill says LEED certification is sought by 71 percent of all construction projects of $50 million or more.
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