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Sunshine State News: Timber Certification Monopoly Hurts Florida Industry, Consumers

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Founded in 1923, our company’s tree farm was one of the first 50 to open in Florida. Back then, we harvested timber to build wire-bound wood crates, which carried Florida’s fresh citrus to grocers and community markets in the Southeast.

If there is one thing we’ve learned about longevity in this business, it is that, in order to stay around, you must preserve the land and the timber. Since its inception, Neal Land & Timber has been investing in the land and caring for our environment. Today, these best practices are better known as sustainable land management.

Since forests are a renewable resource, today’s timber industry understands that the business is more than just cutting down trees. It involves respecting the land, the water, and the wildlife as well.

Our industry recognizes such stewardship through forest certification, which is a voluntary third-party process. Landowners who meet a certification program’s standards for responsible forestry management are awarded the right to put the program’s label on their products, making it clear to consumers that their products are eco-friendly.

In Florida, where nearly half of our land is covered by forests, two programs have each certified over 1 million acres – the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). These programs and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which has certified 5,000 acres in the state, are the three most prominent forest certification programs in the country.

Unfortunately, ATFS and SFI-certified wood has been blocked from building projects in Florida and around the country because the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program only awards points for wood certified by one program: FSC. In Florida, FSC certifies less than 1 percent of the combined acres certified by ATFS, SFI, and FSC, so LEED’s sole recognition of FSC-certified wood clearly puts almost all certified wood in Florida at a serious competitive disadvantage. As a result, FSC-certified wood is likely purchased from other states – or even other countries – to get LEED’s wood credit.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott took a positive step and approved legislation that revises a law from 2008 favoring LEED for new state building projects. Under the new law, state agencies have more flexibility in using wood certified by multiple certification programs – not just FSC. This is welcome news as it means that many more forest owners in Florida can compete to supply wood products for state building projects.

While Florida and a handful of other states took a stand against LEED’s FSC-only policy over the past few years, the fight must continue. Many private projects seek the LEED stamp of approval, but as long as it only recognizes FSC, it will hurt our local economies.

Consumers should always have options, and forest certification programs are no exception. To that end, LEED should be expanded to recognize multiple certification programs. Doing so will foster competition, which will result in benefits for consumers, the economy, and the environment – a win-win-win scenario.

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