November 2005

Going Green: A Guide to Environmental Groups & Programs

Wood & Wood Products presents a summary primer of major environmental programs that are having an impact on the North American wood products market.

By Katie Coleman

It is difficult to talk about woodworking and the environment these days without the conversation quickly turning to topics like wood certification or "green" buildings.

Slowly but surely, more and more wood products companies are taking the initiative or being directed by their customers to utilize environmental materials in their products. Among the most common acronyms that have become part of the environmental movement vernacular are FSC, SFI and LEED.

To help its readers get a better grip on the major voluntary environmental programs and the sometimes competing groups behind them, Wood & Wood Products has assembled this GÇÿGreen Guide.' It is organized into four major categories: Green Buildings, Forest & Wood Certification, Independent Audit Groups and Industry Association Initiatives.

For complete information about any individual program, visit the sponsoring group's Web site.


The Leadership in Environmental and Energy Development system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the dominant brand for green building certification. LEED has led to the creation of a coalition of 32 disenfranchised North American trade associations that want a say in the LEED standard setting process. Leed has also prompted the National Association of Home Builders to develop green guidelines for residential construction. There also exist dozens of local or regional green building programs not listed here due to their number and relatively limited scope.


U.S. Green Building Council / LEED Certification Program

Web site:

Home Base: Washington, DC

Inception: 1993 (USGBC); 2000 (LEED)

Membership: Approximately 5,500 organizations from all aspects of the building industry, including building product manufacturers.

FYI: The USGBC started 12 years ago in what it describes as an effort "to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work." The organization is most well known for its LEED-NC program, which was the first-ever rating system for determining whether a newly constructed building is green.

Although LEED offers professional accreditation, training and other resources, its project certification program is the hot-button issue. Project certification involves a voluntary process by which commercial buildings register with LEED to submit documentation and calculations to satisfy prerequisites in five categories: site planning, energy consumption, water usage, indoor environmental quality and building materials. A building becomes LEED Certified if it satisfies at least 26 of the 67 possible credits available in these categories.

Two of these potential credits are of concern to the woodworking industry: one for using FSC certified wood under the "materials and resources" category, and another for using low-emitting composite wood and agrifiber products under the "indoor environmental quality" category.

So far, fewer than 200 buildings have become LEED Certified, but another 1,700 projects are registered to become certified. The USGBC has extended its brand with the release of LEED-EB for remodeling existing buildings and LEED-CI for commercial interiors. Among new programs in the works is LEED-H for home construction.

While LEED certification is voluntary, several federal government agencies and more than one dozen cities and counties, require any public building projects to meet LEED standards.


North American Coalition on Green Building

Web site: None, its position paper may be found at

Home Base: No dedicated office

Inception: 2003

Membership: Consists of 32 organizations with a material interest in the green building movement, including the American Forest & Paper Assn., the APA-Engineered Wood Assn., the Composite Panel Assn., the Architectural Woodworking Assn., the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. and the Canadian Plastics Industry Assn.

FYI: The NACGB was created in an effort by a diverse range of U.S. and Canadian building products associations to leverage their strength in numbers to lobby for greater input in green building initiatives, including the LEED standards setting process. The coalition has no bylaws, board of directors, budget, staff or Web site. What it does have is a position paper that criticizes the USGBC for not working with "all stakeholders" and suggests that government should not depend on LEED "as a system to ensure green buildings."

The position paper - a one-page document - states that the coalition supports the concept of green buildings, but not the LEED system itself. Its reasons are twofold. First, the coalition says the USGBC does not base its standards on objective scientific criteria. Second, the coalition says any green building rating standards "should be developed through an accredited standards development organization," such as the American National Standards Institute. NACGB implies that the USGBC is not fully transparent and does not allow dissenting views in its consensus process.

The NACGB does not offer a green building program of its own, but instead offers to work with the USGBC to improve the LEED program where it sees faults.

National Association of Home Builder's "Model Green Home Building Guidelines"

Web site:

Home Base: Washington, DC

Inception: 2004

Membership: NAHB is comprised of 800 state and local associations with 220,000 individual members.

FYI: The NAHB says it developed its green home building guidelines "in a consensus process by a group of more than 60 stakeholders representing key players in the green home building industry."

Designed to bring green home building to the mainstream market, these guidelines are available for download on the NAHB Web site. The association says it hopes these voluntary guidelines will help facilitate local and regional green home building efforts. Guidelines focus on the following areas: lot preparation and design; resource efficiency; energy efficiency; water efficiency/conservation; occupancy comfort and indoor environmental quality; and how to educate homeowners on maintaining these systems.

Building America

Web site:

Home Base: Washington, DC

Inception: 1995

Membership: Five teams of building experts that have worked with more than 523 industry partners.

FYI: This program is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Department. It is a private/public partnership that conducts research to find energy-efficient solutions for new and existing housing that can be implemented on a production basis. The program aims to produce homes on a community scale that use, on average, 30 to 90 percent less energy than traditional homes.

Though its focus is on energy solutions, its research methods focus on a "systems engineering approach to home building." This means Building America wants to unite segments of the building industry that traditionally work independently of one another - including architects, engineers, builders, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers, community planners, mortgage lenders and contractor trades.

Green Building Initiative

Web site:

Home Base: Portland, OR

Inception: 2004

Membership: 3,000 associate members, including builders, architects, developers, building owners, realtors and others involved in residential and commercial construction. Membership opportunities also are available for product manufacturers, retailers and other organizations.

FYI: This new organization touts itself as the practical alternative for green building solutions. GBI says its goal is "to bring green building to the majority - to give mainstream builders and architects the information and tools to create better living environments."

The non-profit firm works closely with the NAHB and local home builders associations to provide: information on green building approaches that are "environmentally progressive, practical and affordable;" Web-based support such as model guidelines, case studies and online technical assistance; promotional and marketing support for local green building programs; educational seminars for builders and other stakeholders in the building industry; and market research regarding evolving consumer trends and attitudes.

Green Globes

Web site:

Home Base: Canada and the United Kingdom

Inception: 1996

Membership: None required.

FYI: Green Globes is "an online building and management environmental audit" that represents an alternative to LEED. Participants complete a confidential questionnaire of approximately 75 questions - some of which require data input, but most of which are yes-or-no questions - at any project stage. A subsequent report details the percentage of points awarded for best energy and environmental design standards and practices.

The Green Globes program began in the UK and was brought to North America only recently. Two studies have been conducted in an attempt to harmonize Green Globes' standards with LEED's standards. Green Globes says its process is less cumbersome than LEED's and is a team-oriented approach to green buildings.


No single accepted forest management standard exists. Each system, as defined by the types of organizations described in this section, approaches sustainable forest management differently. Still, there are some commonalities.

Most systems will offer two types of certification: one for sustainably managed forests and another for chain-of-custody supply tracking. Most systems also rely on third-party auditors to determine if their standard is being followed, to ensure the legitimacy of the standard and the certifier.

This section begins with an organization called Metafore, which offers a comprehensive guide to forest certification information, and then describes the four most pervasive forest certification schemes in North America.


Metafore / Forest Certification Resource Center

Web site: or

Home Base: Portland, OR

Inception: 1997

Staff: 11 facilitators.

FYI: Metafore is NOT a wood certification group, but W&WP included it here because it is an organization that provides a great deal of information about wood certification and wood certification organizations.

In addition to the organization's Global Wood Initiative, a program designed to disseminate information to global buyers and sellers of forest products, Metafore also offers Wood for Building Green - A Practical Guide, which is a tool designed for architects, designers, developers and builders interested "in building forests by building green." The publication includes information on salvaged wood, recycled content and certified wood products, as well as resources for achieving wood-related green building program credits.

Most useful to woodworkers is Metafore's Forest Certification Resource Center, a comprehensive portal that includes the following highlights: a database of more than 800 certified forests throughout the world and more than 4,500 certified locations supplying wood and paper products; a Forest Certification Comparison Matrix, which provides comparative information on the key aspects of certification systems in North America; and auditor links to 27 auditors working with CSA, FSC, SFI and other forest certification schemes.


Forest Stewardship Council

Web site: (U.S.); (international)

Home Base: Bonn, Germany, and Washington, DC

Inception: 1993 (international); 1995 (U.S.)

Membership: Loggers, foresters, environmentalists and sociologists with national offices in more than 40 countries.

FYI: The FSC is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to encourage responsible management of the world's forests. It says it does this by setting principles, criteria and standards meant to ensure forestry is practiced "in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable way."

To obtain FSC certification, mills, manufacturers and distributors - as well as many retailers - undergo regular evaluations by auditors independent of the FSC. There are 12 FSC-accredited certifiers in the world, and each has its own evaluative process.

Certifiers evaluate both forest management activities (forest certification) as well as tracking of forest products (chain-of-custody certification). A full assessment is conducted every five years to renew the certification, with annual audits supplementing that process.

FSC claims to have more than 140 million acres of forests being managed under its certification program worldwide, including 30 million acres in the United States. FSC also says more than 4,000 companies around the world are part of the FSC chain-of-custody system.

FSC certification is the only wood certification accepted by the USGBC as a credit toward its LEED certification program.


Sustainable Forestry Initiative

Web site:

Home Base: Washington, DC

Inception: 1994

Membership: The SFI program is administered by the American Forest & Paper Assn.

FYI: The AF&PA developed the SFI program "to document the commitment of their members and the program's licensees to keep forests healthy and practice the highest level of sustainable forestry." Participation in the SFI program is a condition of membership in the AF&PA, which has dismissed 17 of its members for failing to meet that standard.

An independent organization, the Sustainable Forestry Board, oversees the SFI program and is responsible for verification procedures. Like the FSC, though, third-party auditing groups ensure the program's members are following SFI forest sustainability and chain-of-custody standards. An average of 1.7 million trees is planted each day in SFI-certified forests, the group says.


American Tree Farm System

Web site:

Home Base: Washington, DC

Inception: 1941

Membership: 51,000 family forest owners.

FYI: ATFS's certification scheme requires, "Tree farmers share a unique commitment to protect wildlife habitat and watersheds, to conserve soil and to provide recreation for their communities while producing wood for America."

Certification of tree farms under the ATFS is overseen by the American Forest Foundation, which requires farms to meet its Standards of Sustainability for Forest Certification to become a Certified Tree Farm. Like previously mentioned certification programs, ATFS certification is voluntary. Unlike FSC and SFI, its inspectors are not from a third-party group. Instead, ATFS "established minimum education and experience requirements for certifying foresters and forest technicians, and it developed a national standardized training curriculum for its inspectors." Farms are re-inspected every five years.


Canadian Standards Assn.

Web site:

Home Base: Toronto, ON

Inception: 1919

Membership: 9,000 members "from all walks of life."

FYI: CSA's Forest Products Marking program identifies products based on both forest management and chain-of-custody standards. The CSA mark is recognized throughout Canada, the U.S. and other countries. The CSA conducts annual surveillance audits, as well as unannounced audits, to assure on-going conformance with its requirements.


Organizations like FSC and SFI develop forest certification standards that require third-party auditing groups to assess whether operations comply with those standards.

In addition to legitimizing the forest certifiers' programs by virtue of their independent nature, these auditors have the technical expertise needed to confirm a forest's management system and chain-of-custody practices.

Here is information on the three best-known firms involved in auditing North American forests and chain of custody certification.


Scientific Certification Systems

Web site:

Home Base: Emeryville, CA

Inception: 1991

Staff: Seven professionals and technicians, who report to three main


FYI: This group is an accredited certification body for the FSC. It has certified more than 14 million acres in the last 12 years on land ranging from small 100-hectare parcels to 2.5-million-hectare forests. SCS also offers chain-of-custody certification and has audited and certified more than 500 manufacturers, distributors and retailers who make or carry certified wood products. These chain-of-custody certifications span 29 countries on five continents. The organization also certifies environmentally preferable products.



Web site:

Home Base: Richmond, VT

Inception: 1989

Staff: Not available.

FYI: SmartWood claims to be the first independent forestry certifier, and it helped establish the FSC in 1993. A part of the Rainforest Alliance, SmartWood says it has certified more than 69 million acres in more than 50 countries. Products made from SmartWood-certified operations include lumber, paper, furniture, flooring, musical instruments and non-timber forest products such as maple syrup and Brazil nuts. SmartWood says none of its certificates have ever been appealed formally.


SGS Systems and Services Certification Inc.

Web site:

Home Base: Rutherford, NJ

Inception: 1878

Staff: International structure with more than a dozen offices around the globe.

FYI: SGS is an accredited auditor with FSC, SFI, CSA and a European certifier called Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes, according to Metafore. SGS's Web site says its FSC-accredited Qualifor program has issued more than 1,000 chain-of-custody and more than 190 forest management certificates in more than 60 countries.


Several wood-related North American trade associations have played an active role in developing green programs, including the two described below.


Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn. International's "Sustainability Guidelines"

Web site:

Home Base: Grand Rapids, MI

Inception: 2005

Membership: More than 260 office and contract furniture manufacturers and suppliers.

FYI: BIFMA released its voluntary guidelines, designed by its Sustainability Subcommittee, earlier this year. According to the association, the guidelines are meant as a "roadmap for any office furniture [company] desiring to become ... more sustainable" and "as an add-on to a company's existing environmental management system."

In addition to these guidelines, the association is developing a standard and testing procedure for VOC and formaldehyde emissions from furniture. BIFMA hopes the USGBC will incorporate its furniture emissions standard within the LEED certification program.


Composite Panel Assn.'s

"Environmentally Preferable Product" Program

Web site:

Home Base: Gaithersburg, MD, and Montreal, QUE

Inception: 2003

Membership: Available to members and non-members of the CPA.

FYI: The phrase "environmentally preferable products" was defined by the federal government in 2002 as "products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose." The CPA adopted this voluntary specification and certifies products to the federal standard through its Grademark Program.

The Grademark Program is an independent branch of the CPA that functions much like third-party auditors for forest certification schemes. It may certify all grades of particleboard and MDF engineered and produced for all applications as EPP certified.

To be deemed environmentally preferable, products must meet two requirements: First, 100 percent of the fiber used in certified products must be either recycled fiber, recovered fiber or a combination of both; second, products must meet ANSI formaldehyde emissions standards. Forty-four mills, representing nearly two-thirds of the North American capacity of particleboard and MDF production, are participating in the EPP program. The CPA is currently working on the development of a downstream program that would allow wood products manufacturers to promote their use of EPP certified panels in their products.


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