The following is a guest post from Senator Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla)
Some in the media and in politics fail to understand that just because a favored policy of a lawmaker or interest group is described as “green” does not mean it will yield positive environmental outcomes. In addition to failing to stimulate conservation, these policies also may curtail economic activity in a way that hurts many businesses and timberland owners. This can certainly be the case in the forest products industry when policy intended to promote “green building” results in the diminished use of Georgia-grown wood thus reducing the incentive to tree farmers to continue planting and managing environmentally beneficial timberland.
A good example is approach of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) which has failed to heed the advice of a growing chorus of critics who take issue with its definition of “sustainable” timber. The organization’s “LEED” building rating system, which many cities, states and federal agencies use as binding guidelines for energy-efficient building projects, only recognizes a small fraction of Georgia’s wood as being sustainably managed.
Only lumber “certified” by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is formally recognized by the LEED system. Wood certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), by far the majority of Georgia’s certified wood, is not.
This policy can adversely impact heavily-forested states such as Georgia, whose timber industry supports 160,000 jobs. Millions of acres of our forests are certified to ATFS and SFI standards, while just over 30,000 acres are recognized by FSC.
This means only a small amount of Georgia’s lumber and other wood-based building products is formally recognized by LEED as sustainable resulting in its being blocked from LEED projects, many of which are funded by taxpayer dollars. This USGBC framework ignores the benefits of all certification programs, including SFI and ATFS.
The USGBC and the politicians and bureaucrats that enforce its standards either willingly or unknowingly cater to environmental activists seeking to monopolize the use of FSC in certification markets. These activists rarely have an answer to the question of why FSC timber should receive preferences, given that according to the FSC’s own data 90% of it is found outside the U.S., much of it in nations that enforce few environmental protections on logging.
On a positive note, more public officials, when presented with the facts, are taking steps in the right direction. Governor Nathan Deal’s 2012 Executive Order that leveled the playing field for businesses that use materials certified to ATFS, FSC or SFI standards on state-funded projects is an example of common-sense policy for green building.
More welcome developments took place at the federal level late last year, when the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense endorsed the Green Globes rating system as a potential substitute to LEED. Green Globes, unlike LEED, treats all certified wood equally. If more jurisdictions used Green Globes rather than LEED, the customer base for our natural resource-based businesses would grow.
Does this mean FSC is a bad option for businesses or builders? Not at all.
According to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, FSC holds businesses to low standards in South America and Asia, but they impose strict requirements on American foresters. The issue is the relative scarcity of FSC lumber in many states, including Georgia. Those looking to improve sustainability should promote inclusive policies for wood, a sustainable and renewable building material by any objective definition.
Promoting competitive markets, in which timber certified to the standards of ATFS, FSC and SFI is allowed to enter, will increase the amount of sustainable wood in our buildings and provide economic relief to the forest products industry, not to mention encouraging Georgia farmers to continue planting trees.