Thursday, August 6, 2009

SFI vs. FSC vs. all the others

In the green building standards world, sustainable forest certification has been a big debate. The USGBC's LEED program only recognizes FSC, NAHB's National Green Building Standard recognizes all forest certification programs, and Minnesota GreenStar requires that any wood not from Canada or the USA is FSC-certified. So who is right? And as a consumer does it really make a difference which product I choose?

Dovetail Partners, a non-profit organization focusing on accurate non-biased environmental information, has written a few articles that outline the differences and similarities between the third-party certified sustainable forestry standards.

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) - summary
FSC - update
FSC and ATFS (American Tree Farm System) - update
PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certficiation schemes) - summary
SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) - summary
SFI - update*
CSA (Canadian Standards Association) - summary
FSC & SFI report - appendix compares many forest certification programs

(*some updates included that SFI became a 3rd party Chain-of-Custody standard, that its stakeholders and board include affiliates beyond industry, and that social issues are addressed)
The truth is, when choosing between certification programs, it depends on what is important to you. But nit-picking through the details may not get you anywhere. Like green building programs, sustainable forest standards often have prerequisites and then need to meet a certain number of points to become certified. But just because one program has specific indicators does not mean that the certified forest fits all of those indicators, just like not all LEED buildings have a green roof even though it's an option in the program.

So - what to do? First, remember that if a forest is going through a third-party certified program, it means that the forest managers are dedicated on some level to sustainability. Secondly, forest in the US and Canada are in general fairly well-managed, so issues of social responsibility are not as pressing (although always important) as in some third-world countries (which is why it's a good idea for imported wood to be Chain-of-Custody certified). Third, choosing local is very important - FSC, SFI, CSA, and ATFS are also all programs local to Minnesota and the United States and/or Canada. Fourth, clear-cutting is not always bad (see Dovetail's report on why clear-cutting is necessary in some places).

And finally - wood itself is a good product. It is one of the most sustainable building materials we have. It is renewable and natural and durable, and if it's local it's helping nearby communities as well. So regardless of what certification program you choose, by choosing wood, you've made a good choice.

If you have more questions on wood certification, please contact me.

Click here to see more of Dovetail's reports on forest certification, sustainable materials, responsible consumption, and green building.

1 comment:

Kevin Matthews, ArchitectureWeek said...

We did a direct comparison of FSC and SFI in ArchitectureWeek recently...

And the New York Times has also picked up this topic, since then...