Things are heating up over certification standards related to the USGBC’s LEED standard Go

The US Green Building Council has developed one of the leading standards for design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings.  Their LEED standard is built upon a point system based on a breadth of criteria for energy and environmental design.  One criteria addresses sourcing wood from certified forests.  In a recent update to their standard, the USGBC has indicated that points for wood would be awarded for wood that is “FSC or better.”  This designation has caused quite a stir amongst many stakeholders.

Sappi has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards including FSC, SFI and PEFC.  With only 10% of the world’s forests certified to any reputable standard, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case “better”).   It is clear that the principals of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and effective for sustainably managing our forests.  To quote from a review by Dovetail Partners:

Significant changes have occurred within the major certification programs in recent years, and, … it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between certification systems in North America.” 

But beyond our official position on inclusive policies, I am shocked that such a leading organization would write what amounts to me as a sloppy reference in a standard.  “FSC or better”?  What does this mean?  I am certainly not the only one pondering this question and supporters of SFI have been writing some insightful guest blog posts in reaction to this recent announcement.

Last week, Dr. Richard W. (Dick) Brinker, Dean Emeritus, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University  shared his position on the SFI’s research commitment. 

And today, Bob Luoto, Owner and Operator of Cross & Crown, a third generation logger shared his perspective on the negative impacts that exclusivity can have on private landowners.

While both of these writers do have an acknowledged affiliation with SFI (they are board members) their comments and insights should not be overlooked.

Landowners who are unable to realize ongoing financial returns from forests have an economic incentive to convert their lands to agriculture or some other use that will yield economic income.
An obvious implication is that an effective way to maintain or increase forest carbon stocks on private lands is to ensure the existence of a strong market for forest products.

Dr. Jim Bowyer, et al

Dovetail Partners, Inc.

Carbon 101: Understanding the Carbon Cycle and the Forest Carbon Debate

Published 5 January 2012

Forests are a dynamic resource that will change whether people like it or not. The idea behind forest management is to purposefully direct that change, using ecological principles, to benefit forest owners and society at large. Benign neglect, or doing nothing, will too often result in negative outcomes. And, corrective actions are much more difficult than regular management.

Bill Cook, Forester, Michigan State University Extension

Read the full article here

Are trees a “crop” like vegetables, grains or cotton? Go

In some ways trees can be considered much like other crops. They can be planted, tended to and harvested in certain seasons. And of course, they grow back. But in other ways, forests are much more complex than crops like corn or cotton. For example, working forests have a high level of biodiversity in terms of age classifications, animal populations, and vegetation species. Food crops tend to be monoculture stands that do not allow access for recreation. And unless a farmer is using organic farming techniques, there are much higher levels of herbicides and pesticides applied to conventional crops than to trees that flourish on their own.

Farmers are drawn to their work for a variety of reasons a rural lifestyle, self employment and the satisfaction of supplying their communities with staples that we all depend on.  Yet tree farmers are not always granted the same respect as others.  Think about it: when was the last time anyone tried to make you feel guilty about eating broccoli?  Imagine the billboards: Save a crop eat a burger!  Not likely a productive campaign. And don’t get me started on pundits promoting the environmental benefits of plastic Christmas trees… 

If there’s a lesson in the “don’t print this email” debate, it’s that we should be suspicious of any dialogue that suggests complicated environmental problems can be reduced to simple actions. Environmental challenges are real, they’re complex, and we need to be diligent about using facts to lead us to solutions even when there is a strong emotional component. Tom Pollock, GreenBlue

Paper or Paving? Go

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" - Joni Mitchell, lyrics from "Big Yellow Taxi"

There are a lot of misconceptions about forest management.  But I think we can all agree that we’d rather have more working forests than parking lots. 

Landowners must deal with expenses for land management, taxes and in some cases certification and auditing.  If they can’t derive income from timber harvesting, they always have an option to sell for development. 

Steven Backs, a wildlife research biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society wrote: “We, as humans, have permanently modified the earth and there is no going back to a completely natural world without dismissing ourselves from this earth.  It’s now our incumbant responsibility as good land stewards to assure a diversity of habitats exist in what remains of our forests… The key is to keep our forests as forests and not let them disappear under a growing sea of asphalt or be converted to some other nonforest land use.” 

To read the full article first published in the RGS Summer 2009 Vol 21, Issue 2 from the Ruffed Grouse Society, Click here

Please share your thoughts on how you see the paper industry in terms of our contributions to supporting working forests.