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 BeutlerWorking together on children’s healthcare The Hill's Latina Leaders to Watch CNN launches new digital series on 'badass women of Washington' MORE (R-WA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Warrantless wiretapping reform legislation circulates on Capitol Hill MORE (R-VA), as well as Senators Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers Whatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong Breitbart charts path for 2018 midterm races MORE (R-MS), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharFacebook shifts strategy under lawmaker pressure Competition law has no place raising prices some say are ‘too low’ CNN to host town hall featuring Nancy Pelosi MORE (D-MN), Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranWhite House requests B for disaster relief GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers Whatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong MORE (R-MS), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSenate confirms No. 2 spot at HHS, days after Price resigns Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy Mattis: Staying in Iran deal is of US national security interest MORE (I-ME) and John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal GOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week An unlikely home in DC 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.