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Tallahassee Democrat: Lynetta Usher Griner: LEED is a bad deal for our forests

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Most people intuitively recognize that woodlands fill a vast array of needs, from jobs and products to wildlife habitats and water recharge areas. They do not, however, understand the importance of active, competitive markets in keeping lands forested and operational.

Perhaps the most flagrant example of this principle being overlooked is the criteria that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed for its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

LEED awards points only for wood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The problem with that in Florida is that merely 120 acres of the 16.1 million acres of forest land in the state are certified under FSC. In contrast, almost 3 million acres are certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), collectively.

Economically, LEED’s criteria create a bad deal for Florida’s woodland owners, producers and its consumers.

By monopolizing the market through its exclusionary policies, LEED narrows opportunities for Florida woodland owners and producers, making it harder for them to remain competitive. It reduces the demand for Florida wood, while benefiting those growing and producing timber elsewhere. The decreased demand for Florida wood negatively impacts prices and profits, making it more difficult for Florida landowners to maintain their forests.

At the same time, LEED drives up prices for consumers by requiring “green” building projects to use FSC-certified wood. Most FSC-certified wood comes from other states or foreign countries and is more expensive.

LEED also adversely affects green spaces and the environment. When forest owners find themselves forced to develop their land into more profitable uses, wildlife loses habitat, the air loses its natural filters, our water supply loses areas for recharge and storage, and people lose opportunities for recreation and natural scenic beauty.

In short, the standards represent a lose-lose situation for everyone except FSC.

This year, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature took an enormous step toward leveling the playing field and increasing competition in the marketplace by giving public agencies more flexibility to use wood certified by other programs for building projects. This means that all wood is treated equally when our tax dollars are used to build public facilities such as parks, community centers and schools. When it comes to public projects, Florida woodland owners and producers are now given a fair chance to compete.

Our fight is not over, however. Many private projects also seek the LEED stamp of approval. Inequality still exists in this sector, causing contractors to look to other states or foreign countries for FSC-certified wood to complete structures with the LEED designation.

Working forests work. Like other businesses and industries, they thrive in a free-market system. The Florida Forestry Association, its members and staff will continue to advocate for equality in this vital arena. I hope that others who appreciate and enjoy our state’s forests will join us.

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