This week the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced it has created a new ‘alternative compliance path’ in its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. While USGBC focused its announcement on the fact that this new path will discourage illegally sourced wood, what it really does, is open the door for builders to use more responsibly sourced building materials, including wood from family forests certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

This news, that LEED will now accept wood from ATFS and SFI certified forests, is truly a milestone for family woodland owners, Tree Farmers, forestry leaders and forest conservation in America. And we have many Members of Congress to thank for this, especially Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Herrera BeutlerOvernight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Overnight Healthcare: New GOP health bill on life support | ObamaCare insurer threatens to leave over subsidies New ObamaCare repeal bill on life support MORE (R-WA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteLawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills Senators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Rob Thomas: Anti-Trump celebs have become 'white noise' MORE (R-VA), as well as Senators Roger WickerRoger WickerNet neutrality fight descends into trench warfare Ryan praises FCC chief's plans to roll back net neutrality FCC head unveils plan to roll back net neutrality MORE (R-MS), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDem labels infrastructure ‘top thing’ Trump can accomplish Wyden pushing to mandate 'basic cybersecurity' for Senate Senators press the FCC on rural broadband affordability MORE (D-MN), Thad CochranThad CochranMcConnell: Senate will pass short-term funding bill to avoid shutdown Lawmakers push one-week stopgap funding bill Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups MORE (R-MS), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Angus KingAngus KingThe Hill's 12:30 Report Senator: No signs of GOP 'slow-walking' Russia investigation Republican Sen. Collins considering run for Maine governor in 2018 MORE (I-ME) and John BoozmanJohn BoozmanMedicare’s coverage decisions need more input from physicians GOP lawmakers call on FCC chair to soften data services proposal Senate Republicans eyeing alternative tax reform plan MORE (R-AR) just to name a few, who led letters upon letters on this issue.

While some may note that LEED is a private sector standard, much of the federal government uses or has adopted the LEED rating system or the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes rating system for use in its policies for building constrution.

In addition, family landowners make up the largest ownership group of forests in the U.S., collectively owning more than one-third of the forests across the country, more than the federal government or corporations. These 22 million families and individuals, whether they own ten or 100 acres, steward our forests, providing local sustainable wood fiber while also conserving clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and ensuring the overall health of our forests.

That is why more than 100 members of Congress, as well as dozens of governors, state foresters and state legislators helped the American Forest Foundation by weighing in on the issue over the past few years, expressing concern to USGBC that the LEED rating system failed to recognize and support wood use from their states’ residents who were voluntarily doing right by the land.

Now, USGBC’s new path will level the playing field in the market and reduce barriers to using wood products when the federal government uses the LEED system.

And that is not the only posititive outcome.

This new path encourages the use of more American-grown wood. Previously, USGBC only recognized wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). With more than 80 million acres certified by ATFS and SFI in the U.S., and 33 million acres certified by FSC, opening LEED to ATFS and SFI, in addition to FSC, means more American-grown wood products can be used. 

Stimulating markets for wood products ultimately helps family landowners to continue to conserve their forests. Annually, landowners incur costs for management practices.  Markets that want sustainably managed wood, encourage landowners to earn income to replant, restore and keep forests as forests. This recognition could have a real impact in the marketplace as some estimate that half the commercial buildings in the U.S. are being built today to a green standard.

While this announcement is progress, there is still more we can do to encourage wood use.  Wood products used in construction store carbon and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions when manufactured, when compared to alternatives like steel and concrete.  

As officials continue to find ways to offset emissions, building green can help. Today, policies still exist that discourage the use of American grown wood, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent federal procurement guidelines that leave out wood from ATFS or SFI certified forests. If we are to conserve our forests for the long-term, especially our family-owned lands, we must remove unneccessary barriers that prevent wood use.


Martin is president and CEO of the American Forest Foundation.