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 Lynn Herrera BeutlerAmericans want to protect public lands, Congress should listen Progressive group targets GOP moderates on immigration Trump administration rescinds Obama guidance on defunding Planned Parenthood MORE (R-WA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteDems press for hearings after Libby pardon Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes GOP chairmen extend deadline for DOJ decision to turn over 'Comey memos' MORE (R-VA), as well as Senators Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLet's hold Facebook to the same standards as other players in the industry Cindy Hyde-Smith sworn in as Mississippi's latest senator Miss. Dem touts campaign poll saying he leads GOP candidates in Senate race MORE (R-MS), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDem senators call on FCC to protect against robocalls Republicans refuse to back opioids bill sponsored by vulnerable Dem Resolution allowing Duckworth to bring baby on floor headed to full Senate MORE (D-MN), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranChamber of Commerce makes play in Mississippi Senate race for Hyde-Smith Shelby approved as Appropriations panel chairman Cindy Hyde-Smith sworn in as Mississippi's latest senator MORE (R-MS), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenators push HHS to negotiate lower prices on opioid overdose reversal drug Amid struggle for votes, GOP plows ahead with Cabinet picks Senators express concerns over Haspel's 'destruction of evidence' MORE (I-ME) and John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSpending talks face new pressure Bill to bolster gun background checks gains enough support to break filibuster Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA 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.