The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released its latest draft of its LEED Rating System and a few points are drawing criticism from some in the industry.

First, in the section, Responsible Sourcing of Raw Material, new wood products must be certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) “or better.”

Organizations, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), have long tried to convince the USGBC to recognize other certification programs.

“This new language raises more issues than it resolves,” says Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of SFI. “Who will decide what is ‘better than FSC’ and on what basis?”

She adds that currently LEED only recognizes forests certified to the FSC, which account for about one quarter of North America’s certified forests. The rest are certified to three independent standards in use across North America – SFI, Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS), all of which are endorsed by the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

“SFI is a strong advocate for green building and for all credible forest certification,” says Abusow. “With 90 percent of the world’s forests not certified to any standard, it’s time to break down LEED’s artificial barriers and raise understanding of forest certification and the important role it can play in green building.”

There is also a new section in the latest draft labeled, “Additional Chemical Avoidance” and one of the products on that list is PVC.

This was a topic of discussion among some attendees at the meeting of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) who met last week in Washington, D.C.

“There seems to be a welling up of concern over PVC again,” said Ric Jackson, director of external affairs, Quanex Building Products.

Allen Blakey, vice president of Industry and Government Affairs for the Vinyl Institute, says his organization is astonished to see PVC added to the USGBC’s  list of chemicals to avoid. According to Blakey, PVC is a material that’s been studied for some time by the USGBC itself.

Blakey notes that the “USGBC has failed to live up to its claim of ‘technical rigor’ in LEED credits as well as its own procedures for balance, fairness and ‘consensus.’ It has ignored scientific studies (including its own TSAC review), as well as studies for the European Commission and others, that found PVC’s life-cycle health and environmental performance as good as, or better than, the performance of competing materials.”

He adds, “We are very disappointed that the USGBC has made this move; they’ve turned their backs on their own their own studies.”

Comments are due March 20, and USGBC members will then vote on the final draft.


  1. I spoke with one of the originators of USGBC who dropped out because it became all about the fees and one example is how FSC is the only certifier of the top four recognized. This is in violation of the Sherman Anti-trust act of 1980. Look it up. 10 years in prison with sustantial fines for violation like this. FSC is a small example. Many smaller companies can’t navigate the FSC Chain of custody and the high fees.
    SFI, CSA, ATFS and PEFC are being harmed by this exclusive arrangement between USGBC and FSC.

  2. As a professional forester and lead environmental management system auditor, I could argue on environmental grounds that even some non-certified but local and legally produced wood products are superior to any certified product. Similarly, I could argue that certain FSC certified products are environmentally inferior to local non-certified products or to products certified to other standards. That USGBC has entered into a monopoly relationship with FSC is an indicator of the aggressiveness of the ENGOs behind the FSC organization. FSC has as much to do with geopolitics as it does with environmental integrity. All sustainable forest management certification standards are a product of a consensus, widely held opinion, or in the case of FSC, ENGO opinion on what constitutes “sustainable” forest management. That FSC is considered more stringent in “some” of its somewhat mercurial regional standards is no guarantee that its preference ensures an environmentally “superior” choice for all products labeled FSC. USGBC could develop some basic environmental procurement criteria that could consider certification along with other factors such as distance to usage, source commitment to land in forest use etc. A forest product from any reasonably sustainable forest management (legally administered by most or all North American jurisdictions) is “greener” than any other alternative building material and therefore USGBC’s intransigence on this issue calls its own legitimacy into question.

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