COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The push to promote more "green" buildings to reduce the environmental impacts from their construction and use may not be adequately utilizing the nation's renewable wood products.
The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is quickly becoming the established rating system for green designation. LEED requires Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on wood products in order to receive points as a "green" designation. However, currently only 4 percent of the forests in the United States are FSC-certified. In Ohio, no forests are FSC-certified.
For the Buckeye state, whose forest products industry contributes over $15 billion a year to the economy, there could be many missed opportunities for sales of Ohio wood products, said Roger Williams, a forest management specialist with Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources.
"LEED certification is excluding a significant part of Ohio's economy, and also has an impact on the forest products industry nationally. You can use the wood products in the construction, but you don't get points because the wood is not certified," said Williams, who also holds a research appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "LEED is one certification system, but there are other alternative grading systems that don't exclude Ohio's forests that should be considered when looking at green buildings."
Williams is among a group of Ohio State University specialists, industry professionals and forestry organizations who are striving to create awareness and educate citizens and government officials on other green certification grading systems. Such systems as Green Globes of the Green Building Initiative and the National Green Building Standard from the National Association of Home Builders recognize other rating systems or are neutral in their rating system recognition.
Such alternative rating systems would be beneficial to Ohio timber producers.
"For example, there are over 1,800 tree farmers in Ohio who are SFI-certified (Sustainable Forestry Initiative)," said Kathy Smith, an OSU Extension Program Director in forestry. "Their lands would qualify under other green building systems."
The educational effort has come about as a result of a new bill that has been introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives that calls for any buildings or structures constructed using state monies to meet at least the silver rating of the LEED system. Ohio is following other states, such as Rhode Island, Virginia, and Illinois, that have introduced green building legislation that meets LEED requirements or other equivalent rating standards.
The concern expressed by Williams and Smith is that if the bill passes, almost none of Ohio's wood products would qualify for any future green projects using state money.
Williams added that becoming FSC-certified is more difficult than it seems, especially for Ohio woodland owners. "Most of our woodlands in Ohio are privately owned, and the owners simply can't afford to be FSC-certified. They wouldn't produce enough in revenue for the certification to be worthwhile."
For Smith and Williams, the move toward more awareness of alternative green systems also means more recognition for the nation's renewable wood products as being environmentally friendly.
"Wood is a renewable resource. It has the highest R-value in terms of insulation and the amount of energy expended to produce such products is less than stone, brick, steel or concrete," said Williams. "It's more eco-friendly and is a great resource for carbon sequestration."
Williams would like to see more focus on native wood products than imports, such as bamboo, which is used as a wood substitute under LEED certification.
"If we are talking about reducing our carbon footprint, how much of a carbon footprint do you think bamboo creates? Yes, it's a great source for sequestering carbon, but you have to expend energy in transportation to get it here to the states from Asia. It's also intensively managed. And what about pressures to produce more, including the impacts from fertilizers and pesticides, if they are employed?" said Williams. "I'm just not convinced that it's the ultimate answer. The goal for Williams and Smith is to open the doors to other green certification possibilities that make fair use of all renewable wood products and give Ohio a chance at future green building efforts.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, approximately 30 percent of Ohio's land area is under forest cover. Ohio harvests 300-400 million board feet of timber per year and grows 1 billion feet of wood annually. The industry employs nearly 120,000 Ohioans with annual payrolls of $4 billion.