First Car Wars, Now Wood Wars – The Next Battle for US Steel Industry

MetalMiner has extensively covered the trend of light-weighting in the automotive industry as it pertains to the growing use of aluminum and high-strength steels. But sometimes the battle extends beyond metal against metal, and becomes one material choice versus another.

In the case of green construction, the debate between wood and steel tilts heavily toward steel (no pun intended), but wood advocates have begun pressing the US Green Building Council (USGBC) – which manages the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system – to open up the number and types of wood certification programs eligible for LEED credits.

It Sounds Straightforward Enough, But…

In reality, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) initially represented environmental organizations including the Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth and World Wildlife Foundation, but has since garnered the support of hundreds of additional organizations and has become the de facto standard for wood certification under the LEED program.

But now the wood industry and its customers have come together to push an alternative certification program called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (FSI), which would vastly increase the amount of certifiable wood acreage available for LEED credit.

And therein lies the issue for the steel industry.

Under the FSC, approximately 56.8 million acres of certifiable forests qualify for LEED credit – but under the SFI, 131.6 million acres qualify.

This would harm steel’s prospects as a green material of choice, should more wood qualify or become available for credits.

What’s the Controversy?

At its most basic level, the controversy involves a debate between two standards and two sets of interests – the FSC and the FSI (the latter backed by the American Forestry & Paper Association, but now run as a non-profit).

Some argue that since the FSC certification process only includes about a quarter of the available certified forests in the US, all other forests in the US do not qualify for LEED credits. This in turn, the argument goes, unintentionally creates greater demand for imported wood products.

But imported wood products presumably do not qualify for LEED credit. In fact, the FSC certification process probably does more for “greening” new construction because it encourages architects and builders to consider alternative materials – such as domestic steel – that can make use of recycled content and also qualify for credits under the ‘local regional materials’ point category.

Conflict Minerals conference
Sure, wood is conflict-free…but what if your company buys base metals?

In the meantime, FSI has garnered the support of lawmakers in Alabama to allow other wood certification programs to count toward LEED credits. By expanding the number of forests and wood available for LEED projects, are we actually creating greener construction?

What do you think?

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