There’s no doubt about it: lumber is really of the greenest building materials on the market. But don’t expect to get LEED points for just any lumber. In order for the Green Building Council’s program to award points for lumber though, it has to be FSC-certified lumber. Despite the fact that FSC Certification has its limits, when it comes to LEED points, nothing else matters. Because most builders realize that using FSC-certified lumber causes both their costs and their lead times to increase, many simply forego the FSC credit and focus on accruing LEED points in other ways.
Awarding of LEED Points for Lumber
Not only are LEED certification points for lumber limited to lumber certified by the FSC, but it’s also quite minimal; only 1 of 110 potential points can be earned by using wood products. Most customers aren’t interested enough in LEED Certification — let alone a single LEED point — to pay 5% more than they otherwise would for their home. Because it’s much less expensive to achieve the majority of the other 109 possible LEED points, it’s possible to skip FSC lumber and still achieve a “platinum” LEED rating. While the initial aim of the Green Building Council may have been to encourage the use of FSC lumber, their requirement has actually been counter-productive. Plenty of FSC-certified lumber is sitting in lumber yards, weathering and depreciating. Many proponents of green building wish the LEED points for lumber were more open to other certification schemes or criteria.
Making the LEED-Savvy Customer Happy
Customers interested in LEED credits are usually concerned about having a building made from truly environmentally friendly building products; even if you can’t earn them that single LEED point for lumber without using lumber that’s FSC certified, you can ensure them that you’re using responsibly and legally harvested lumber. You can provide documentation that proves it was harvested using sustainable forestry practices, in keeping with local provenance. Since the LEED rating will barely be affected, most customers will probably be happy with such verification.
We can hope that the Green Building Council will someday award points for wood products that aren’t stamped “FSC” and even award more value to natural lumber in general. Unless or until that happens though, we need to keep informing customers of exactly what FSC does and doesn’t mean and what green building truly means. While LEED points may help reward some green building, they fall far short of telling the whole story; theoretically, a building could qualify as LEED “platinum” without actually using any lumber. We think that’s a problem — a big one. But as long as we keep raising awareness and championing the cause, we retain hope that the system will someday show more respect for the great benefits of using any legally and responsibly harvested lumber.