More on LEED and FSC Timber Certification

June 19, 2013 14:54 pm

by Ken · 35 comments

With another comment today on the GAGOP Resolution from the Executive Director of the Southeastern Wood Producers Association, I did some additional research on LEED certification regarding timber, and saw this newspiece from AthensOnline.

As the story states, one doesn’t have to use LEED-certified wood to receive LEED certification. What it doesn’t state is that there are different levels of LEED certification and, for that reason, every point counts. LEED uses the international FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification for wood. This certification actively and openly discourages pine plantations.

For the free marketeers, the problems are legion. The FSC agreement addresses labor relations, the community interests in private property, and even how much timberland can be clearcut at a time. The limit, unless there are extenuating market demands, is 40 acres. The exception allows for 80 acres. For people with hundreds or thousands of acres of pines, this is simply not acceptable. It also negates the advantage most of Georgia has in the speed with which pine trees reach maturity by forcing harvesting over an extended period of time.

Market price fluctuates greatly and this is the main determinate of when timber owners will cut and sell trees. Weather is also a factor. Rainy weather over a period of time will makes acres of timber inaccessible to log trucks. Only land with paved roads nearby can then by harvested.

FSC also prefers naturally mixed woodlands; making mass planting of trees, harvesting of pine straw, and efficient harvesting of trees impossible or very nearly impossible. Pine trees are a crop. When planted the intention is to harvest those trees in around 18 to 22 years (or more for different categories of pine timber).

Finally, there is the mention of an offset for “local” resources. There are points for using local resources, but the amount is tiny and it is not a requirement. If one is building a home in Atlanta, then all of Georgia would be considered “local” but so would all of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina. Large portions of Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana are also “local” as is anything within a 500 mile radius.

For those of us who have been surrounded by acres of pines throughout our lifetimes then the ramifications are obvious. The more hoops growers have to jump through, the less efficient the production and harvest and the greater costs.

Charlie June 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I still don’t understand why it needs to be a party position of the GOP to take the side of a lobby/trade group on a matter like this. If the GOP votes for this kind of resolution, it opens a floodgate for every other lobbyist/interest group to endeavor to get their or their client’s position codified as a standing principle of the GAGOP.

It should be voted down on that reason alone, without even hearing discussion on merit.

Ken June 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Charlie,

Governor Deal’s Exec Order regarding LEED is, I believe, what brought this to the attention of political folks. Being from an area that has nearly as many pines as it does cases of political corruption, it’s more about the economy of Middle and South Georgia than the GOP for me.

From a strictly political viewpoint, there are points to be made with a large industry that employs a large number of Georgians in areas of the state where the GOP has been less successful than in Atlanta’s MSA. We might be open to charges of pandering to timber growers, but I believe less so than state efforts to sustain Delta or Coca-Cola throughout the years because it’s an entire industry.

There are some portions of the resolution that must be changed. A fellow Republican and friend pointed out to me last night that the words charging delegates to certain actions long after the conventions has ended should be changed and he is correct.

George Chidi June 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I understand your point. The FSC standard doesn’t allow real clearcutting of pine, and that’s what we grow here. Hence the pushback in Georgia.

At the same time, LEED standards are giving Georgia’s textile folks near Dalton a second shot at economic relevance, and is providing a higher-margin market for other building supplies folks. This attack on LEED is rank industry lobbying at its worst.

LEED is the free market answer to environmental issues in building design and construction. No one is required to build a LEED-certified building. There’s no prohibition on the sale of that lumber. The entire point of this lumber lobbying exercise is to close a market for sustainable materials.

The clear cutting rules are there for a reason. You can’t bet on any given patch of land remaining under the same ownership for the length of time necessary to regenerate tree cover. Land clear cut for lumber with the best of environmental intentions one year can be sold to a mall developer in the next. The rules didn’t come out of nowhere: they’re the product of industry experience.

You want to argue that the single-crop planting and clear cutting practices of some Georgia lumber companies are environmentally sustainable, relative to LEED’s standard? Feel free. The market will decide. LEED is a label, like … champagne. If the grapes weren’t grown in France, you’re drinking sparking white wine, not champagne. Maybe that’s good enough.

But don’t be suckers and think that there’s some high-minded philosophical question about free markets and Georgia’s sovereign rights or some claptrap at play here. This is strictly business. And in this case it’s Dalton rug makers vs. Waycross lumber dealers.

mpierce June 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Ken June 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm

George,

No one is going to put up a mall in the middle of a pine plantation in rural Georgia. The market is a mite thin.

The FSC certification makes timber sustainability more difficult, not less, because it is less expensive to deal with large tracts of land simultaneously than to do it in small increments. Pine trees in Georgia are the ultimate in sustainable resources. Tree farmers make a 20-year commitment every time they plant a field of pine trees and are then at the mercy of the housing cycle and government regulations. That’s 20 years of capital investment and opportunity costs.

A resolution brings these concerns to the forefront. It contains no legislation restricting economic decision-making. No market is going to be closed, but people need to understand that LEED undercuts a large Georgia industry.

George Chidi June 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm

By precisely how much is Georgia’s industry being undercut? Are you suggesting that there isn’t enough LEED-quality lumber harvested in this state to meet the commercial needs of environmentally-conscious construction in this state? Because I’m not buying that.

Ken June 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Prior to my executive order, some 99 percent of Georgia’s forests were unfairly excluded from consideration as being an appropriate green material for building. – Nathan Deal

Georgia has 24.4 million acres of timberland available for commercial usage. Less than 100,000 acres are LEED certified. Of that 100,000 acres I have no idea how many are at an age/appropriate size for harvest.

I suggest you read the FSC requirements for certification before assuming that there is a vast amount of LEED-certified timber available.

George Chidi June 19, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I doubt there’s a vast supply of LEED-certified timber anywhere. What I’m wondering is whether that 100,000 acres, plus whatever additional acreage comes along to meet demand — is sufficient to meet Georgia’s LEED needs. 100,000 acres can floor plenty of buildings.

Ken June 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

George,

It takes about 18 to 20 years in Georgia, give or take, for pines to reach the pulp stage (at least 6″). Pulpwood is not used in construction, but used for pulp.

The large majority of the 100,000 acres of pines will not be available for construction. Most of those acres will contain timber too immature to harvest for any purpose or pulpwood (generally 6 – 8″, dbh) which is too small to be used in construction.

Categories of larger timber that can be used for construction would be called Sawtimber (12″ and up, dbh). It takes at least 25 – 30 years to produce Sawtimber. Of the less than 100,000 acres many will be sold as pulpwood and never be available for construction. Pines intended for construction may be anywhere from from less than a year to 35 or so years old. Only the trees between 25 and 35 years old could even be considered. My guess is that you’re looking at less than 5,000 acres of pines that could be used in construction. Just my best guess.

Oh and “dbh” means, if I remember right, “diameter breast high”.

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 1:05 am

Believe it or not, I love the wonky detail here. I’m deeply grateful for your attention to this.

I’m still skeptical, though, that there are only, now and forever, 100,000 acres of FSC-certified building lumber in this state. I find it difficult to believe that lumber operators wouldn’t eventually catch up to demand, even if there’s no way to fill that demand right now. (And, we’re working from thumbnail guesses in terms of what is actually available. Reality may be very different.)

The unspoken question here is whether or not your assertion is true — that Georgia’s predominant lumber practices are, in fact, sustainable. Level with me, Ken. What’s the actual argument against Georgia’s practices? Taking at face value that our logging industry has been moving toward sustainable practices — and you can guess at my skepticism — how big is the gap between where we are and where the FSC needs forests to be? What is the net environmental cost between the Georgia standard and the FSC standard?

I ask because I can be convinced by data. And if you convince me, you have my word that I will pass my astonishment and advocacy along to others. Ask anyone who has heard me defend GMOs.

Ken June 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

George,

Please carefully define “sustainable” for me in this context because that is a wide-open term. My initial reaction is to point out that we have more pines here in Georgia than at any time before settlement and have obviously increased that amount but I’m not sure if that is what you are after.

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

Fair question. My assumption is that each of the FSC standards are in place to prevent some specific kind of environmental damage. Soil erosion, runoff, habitat destruction, fire prevention, fire encouragement (I’m aware of what happened with the Clinton-era forest management stuff and the resultant wildfires.), et cetera.

I also assume that the FSC says if a lumber company does X, then bad thing Y happens, so don’t do X. Georgia’s forest folks are saying that X is okay, either because it really doesn’t lead to Y, or Y isn’t that bad.

We’re talking about a bunch of Xs. I don’t know the Ys.

griftdrift June 20, 2013 at 11:01 am

If you want to reach further back than Clinton, read up on the destruction of the loblolly about a 100 years ago and the disaster that resulted.

David Staples June 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

I know one of the things mentioned in one of the articles yesterday is use of certain pesticides. Anyone have an idea if that’s one of the issues at play here?

Ken June 20, 2013 at 11:52 am

I’m not certain that your assumption is correct. There is a lot that is unrelated to trees: collective bargaining rights of employees and contracted employees, the interests of nearby communities on privately held timberland, etc.

Here’s the link: https://us.fsc.org/

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I see some of it. If the margin between certification and not comes down to labor practices, then the lumber folks can pound sand. That they would rather lobby the state to do damage to LEED adoption, rather than bargain in good faith with groups of people working in one of the most dangerous industries in the world — I have no sympathy for them at all if that’s the case.

Ellynn June 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

The resulation is for taxpayer funded projects. How many malls in this state are funded using taxpayer dollars? How many malls are made using wood. Last I checked , the building code requires them to be made of non-combustable materials…

mpierce June 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

DORAVILLE, Ga. – Monday night the Doraville City Council unanimously approved a measure, requiring all private development 20,000 square feet or greater to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. The ordinance will also apply to future municipal buildings regardless of size.

Doraville becomes just the second city in Georgia to mandate LEED certification. Earlier this year, neighboring Chamblee passed a similar measure that will go into effect next April. Doraville’s version will be implemented February 1, 2009.
http://www.doravillega.us/council-passes-leed-ordinance/

Ken June 19, 2013 at 8:20 pm

George,

I’m sorry, but I missed this earlier and I need to correct it.

You can’t bet on any given patch of land remaining under the same ownership for the length of time necessary to regenerate tree cover.

There is no natural regeneration at play here. After trees are harvested, the land is cleared of all stumps, grasses and scrub trees removed and pine trees are carefully planted, often by hand. The density of the planting takes into account the soil and how soon the trees will be cut. The land is too valuable to allow to regenerate.

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 1:11 am

I didn’t mean to suggest natural regeneration, only growth by plantings, as you say. I may have tripped over an industry term and misused it.

My argument stands, of course. There’s no reason to believe the land holding those careful plantings would not be sold to build a highway or a subdivision or who-knows-what. After the fact land stewardship practices are always higher-risk than conservation.

mpierce June 20, 2013 at 2:51 am

If the land was sold to build a highway or mall, wouldn’t that land have been cleared anyway?

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 11:36 am

Of course. But it’s hard to argue forest conservation when you’re clearing trees for development.

mpierce June 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm

But that pretty much negates your argument about selling the cleared land for development. Wouldn’t it actually be better to put the development on already cleared land than have to cut down trees somewhere else?

George Chidi June 20, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I understand what your saying. But if a clear-cut is bad, regardless of the purposes — development or harvesting — then it wouldn’t matter if they build a school on the land later or not. Either way it wouldn’t be sustainable under their rules.

The point is to preserve forest land (I assume.) If the FSC offered certification when land is cut for development, that would rather encourage development.

mpierce June 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I don’t get your point.

Are you saying will stop the sale of land, stop the cutting of trees for development, or stop the use of those cut trees?

Ellynn June 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm

The resolution is to stop for tax payer funded building for LEED requirement not private homes.

Lets look at the buildings that the state and local goverments do fund. By building code almost all of these projects do not have wood structural elements. They are required to be built using non-combustle structural elements. (See chapet 6 of the Building Code). When is the last time you saw a school, courthouse, fire station, prision or college building made of structural wood? The LEED credit in question is MR Credit 7; which is 1 of 100 points for the highest level of LEED certifiation. It requires at minium 50% (based on cost) of wood based materials be cerified in accordance with the FSC. In a tax payer funded project, that is going to be mainly finished items.

Take a basic public school. Every gym floor suppler in the USA uses FSC certified maple. By cost, that is the highest priced wood base ticket item in a basic 120,000 SF school. Wood doors in a school are not normally made of pine, too soft. They are UL certified composites with venners, and most of them are FSC certified. These two items alone will get you the LEED point.

Maybe the people who wrote the resolution should give us a real world example on how this hurts a tax payer funded project. (Covered shelters, state parks restrooms, and waysides are not LEED qualified.)

Ken June 19, 2013 at 4:29 pm

Maybe the people who wrote the resolution should give us a real world example on how this hurts a tax payer funded project.

It hurts the tax payers who grow and process timber in this state. It’s in the first paragraph in the story that is linked.

Dave Bearse June 19, 2013 at 10:24 pm

“For the free marketeers, the problems are legion.”

So rather than seek to influence a private organization to adjust its standards for special conditions, the Georgia “free market” goes to state government to get what it wants. It’s cheaper because retainers are already being paid.

cheapseats June 19, 2013 at 10:41 pm

DB nails it again! (no pun intended)
The “free market” (don’t even get me started on the mythology of the “free market”) will always go with the low cost solutions and they’ve already bought and paid for the elected officials so, of course they are going to use their “in-house” labor force.

This whole thing is just embarrassing to this taxpayer but, since I’m not a republican then, my opinion on this doesn’t count.

John Smith June 20, 2013 at 3:50 am

As a green building certification consultant I can assure you that the one point for FSC certified wood should never, ever be the reason a project earns a certification level. This controversy is just made up hooey.

Ken June 20, 2013 at 11:55 am

Can you please show me where “1 point” is allowed for FSC certified wood? All I can find is up to 16 points for resources and materials.

Ken June 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

And there IS a minimum point requirement for that category to be FSC certified and so, yes, 1 point could keep a project from being FSC certified.

Ellynn June 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

He’s not talking about the FSC certification, He’s talking about the LEED certification. It’s 1 point out of 100. I pointed it out to you yesterday. Not EVERY piece of wood has to be FSC certified. it’s 50% of the value of perminately placed wood. And the only time this becomes an issue is if you have a project collecting LEED Platnium, and has a large amount of structural lumber involved. By building code, the only projects I know that are effected by this would be commerical level tax payer funded projects under 9000 SF that holds less then 100 people. There are much harder items to achive to even get a Platnium, so the use of FSC wood does not even factor into mosta projects. There is only a few platnium buildings in the whole state.

You stated “My guess is that you’re looking at less than 5,000 acres of pines that could be used in construction.” By pitching LEED for the state, we might save the “forests” of Georgia, but we also hurting the LEED producing textile industry in the north, the LEED friendly gypsum board protection along the coast, the brick, concrete and tile industry and the largest production facility of LEED friendly store front windows in the country (in Dublin).

IMHO, this sound like pitching out the baby, the bath water and whole tub just because a very select few people would rather have a shower installed instead.

JohnC June 21, 2013 at 10:29 am

There are a couple of issues being discussed that I would like to weigh in on. First, logging practices in Georgia have dramatically improved over the last couple of decades. Georgia has a system of Best Management Practices, or BMPs, for Forestry that provide a standard for carrying out forestry activities, like logging. These BMPs include recommended practices such as streamside management zones, guidelines for installing stream crossings, and measures to minimize runoff from forest roads to name a few. Where these BMPs have been fully implemented, water and soil resources will be protected from any adverse effects of stormwater runoff from these timber harvest sites. Research has been carried out for many years by many different groups, i.e. academia, state agencies, that show these BMPs to be effective where implemented in protecting soil and water resources. From a state agency perspective, I can tell you that in Georgia, the implementation of forestry BMPs, statistically, is at an all-time high. In fact, our most recent surveys indicate that forestry BMPs, overall, are implemented at a rate of 95%. This means that statistically, 95% of all needed and necessary BMPs are fully implemented.
The second issue being discussed is clearcutting. There seems to be a perception here that following the clearcut of a forest tract that no standing vegetation is left and the area is bulldozed of stumps and other material in preparation for whatever activities are planned for the site. If a tract of land is destined for development, all this is true. But for clearcut forest sites, none of these clearing activities goes on. In fact, not all the trees are cut, only the commercially valuable ones, leaving much of the forest floor intact as well as thriving herbaceous ground cover and some limited, non-commercial tree cover. To regenerate the site back to the next forest, preparation takes place typically in the form of forest herbicides to temporarily control competing vegetation for the machine or hand planted seedlings of the next stand. Forest herbicides are not poisonous to either animals or plants. They are more accurately described as growth regulators that act only on food making processes found in plants. The safety of these herbicides for non-target plants and all animals is well-documented. And typically, most herbaceous plants (food for wildlife) are very tolerant of herbicide applications. Well managed pine stands will retain much of this herbaceous understory for the entire life of the stand. For tracts that are hardwoods (basically any stands that are not pine), typically no site preparation takes place at all. The stands are left to sprout naturally from existing stumps and roots left on the site, as well as from seed already on the ground. Pines cannot be managed this way because they do not resprout.
Under all of the existing certification systems that allow clearcutting, such clearcuts are limited both in size and location. For example, a 30 or 40 acre maximum size clearcut would never have another adjacent stand clearcut next to it within a given time frame. The idea is that openings are good environmentally, especially for their edge, as long as there are adjacent areas of cover nearby. Different types of habitats support different types of ecosystems, so variety is the name of the game.

swgies June 21, 2013 at 10:39 am

I am the owner of a georgia based timber harvesting company. I employ 10 georgia tax payers (sales, income, ad valourem,and property) who all feel that spending their money on LEED certified government buildings that can’t use georgia wood is wrong. They can’t use georgia wood because in georgia there are 24,400,000 acres of timberland and to date the are only 31,757 acres that are FSC certified. There are other certification programs SFI (2,400,000 acres in ga), American Tree Farm (3,000,000 acres in ga).Why is there such a small percentage of land in georgia FSC certified, where the other two certification programs both have over 2,000,000 acres ? Could cost have something to do with it, FSC is not free. Could landowner rights and restrictions have something to do with it, to be FSC certified you have limits to harvest size, and restrictions on what and how you plant. There is a lot of talk that SFI and ATF are all run buy big business and FSC is they only “true” certification. All SFI and ATF certified lands are audited by independant auditors, many of whom do audits for FSC as well. FSC is funded in large part by the enviromentalist movement, they are certainly not without motive.
Several of you have said that it is such a small percetage of people involved it shouldn’t matter, well i am sure that you don’t need to be reminded that it is much harder to get something back than to keep from losing it in the first place.
clearcuts are not bad, terminal harvests are bad.

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