By Guest Columnist DAVID FREEDMAN, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council, Georgia Chapter

Can the forestry industry and the green building industry co-exist in Georgia?

Most Georgians would think the answer to this question is, “yes.”

Both industries support protecting natural resources, clean water and clean air; preserving green space; utilizing local building materials and creating jobs.

However, a recent executive order initiated by the forestry industry and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal is an attempt by the forestry industry to inhibit the growth and popularity of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system.

David Freedman
David Freedman

While the Georgia forestry industry has never embraced LEED, or its recognition of lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the LEED rating system has significantly contributed to a better environment in the state.

The executive orders signed by Gov. Deal and Gov. Paul LaPage of Maine prohibit their respective state agencies from using the LEED rating system until it gives equal recognition to the American Tree Farm System, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the FSC.

Georgia has 29 LEED certified buildings; notably, Georgia was among the first users of the LEED rating system for state buildings and has received national recognition for its green building initiative.

Of those 29 buildings, only two included certified wood, which cost roughly $200,000. It is hard to imagine that a $200,000 loss in revenue had a significant impact on Georgia’s $23.6 billion forest products industry.

These 29 buildings used an average of 25 percent less energy than a code compliant building, 29 percent less water than a code compliant building, diverted 67 percent of generated construction waste from Georgia landfills through recycling and alternative uses, and 19 percent of the total building materials were manufactured and extracted, harvested and/or recovered within 500 miles of the site, mostly in Georgia.

One of the goals of the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED rating system is to transform the marketplace and promote the use of more environmentally-friendly materials, which has benefitted many Georgia industries.

For example, the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus carpet program, recognized by the LEED Rating System, has directly increased demand for a sustainable good produced here in Georgia.

Because of LEED, many other Georgia companies producing brick, concrete, floorcovering, and aluminum use recycled product content, reducing the demand for virgin materials. Georgia’s architecture, engineering and construction communities have also benefitted from the green building movement in terms of increased need for professional services.

The LEED rating system is intended to set a high standard for the buildings certified through its process. It currently recognizes only the FSC lumber designation because LEED believes it to be the standard of highest environmental rigor.

Representatives of the Georgia forest industry disagree with this decision. However, abandoning the whole LEED certification program solely because of its acceptance of FSC lumber does not improve the environment nor protect jobs in Georgia.

Both Georgia’s green building industry and forestry industry share the common goals of protecting our environment and natural resources and supporting the state’s economy.

The Georgia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is proud of the over 1,500 LEED certified buildings in the state. We are committed to working in a collaborative fashion with the forestry industry and other business sectors in Georgia to promote the design, construction, renovation, and operation of buildings that minimize the adverse impact to the environment and the building occupants.

We are all responsible for improving the quality of life for future generations of Georgians.

Please click on the link for more information about the U.S. Green Building Council’s Georgia Chapter. 

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  1. I think what people really need to keep in mind here is that LEED does it’s due diligence in choosing which companies to accept. It is not a FAILURE of LEED to refuse to accept FSC, SFI, and other certifications that do not hold up to their scrutiny. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but even I have heard of numerous instances where these forest product certification companies were found to be lacking in their observations, records, and enforcement of their standards. What good is a certification if there is no real enforcement of the standards?  Worthless.  It is really a shame that Governor Deal is playing at some more back patting and cronyism and he is willing to undermine a credible and beneficial program like LEED Building for the sake of pandering to an industry that hasn’t yet managed to reach consistency and INTEGRITY toward their standards.

  2. As president of the Georgia Forestry Association, I agree with Mr. Freedman that the forestry industry and the green building industry can co-exist in Georgia – in fact, it’s happening today. Governor Deal’s executive order raised standards for state buildings while protecting Georgia forest communities, promoting job opportunities and encouraging Georgia landowners and growers to practice science-based sustainable forestry that protects healthy forests so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come. Georgia has almost 5 million acres of forests certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) standards, which offer proof points of sustainable forest management, yet neither of these standards is recognized within LEED.

    This failure by the USGBC to recognize SFI and ATFS certifications is a disincentive for growers to use best practices of sustainable forest management or even to keep their land in trees. The conversion of forest land to development poses a much bigger threat to the environment than the state’s use of green-building standards other than LEED. It’s baffling why USGBC refuses to recognize all forest certification standards, and it is high-time that they took a stand that would be positive for our nation’s forests.

  3. Acceptance of the LEEDS standards should be a “no brainer” for Georgia State agencies and the non-recognition of the SFI and ATFS standards are side issues that could be worked out. It’s wrong to use your political muscle to stifle innovation and acceptance of something as important as LEEDS standards.

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