Reading Between The Lies: Deconstructing One Industry's Attack On LEED

Bill Walsh - July 12, 2006

With increasing frequency, green building professionals are confronted with critiques of the LEED Rating System generated by the timber, plastics or residential home building industries. In this issue, HBN Founder Bill Walsh helps you read between the lies of the timber industry's disingenuous attacks on LEED and the US Green Building Council membership, thanks to a truly green business leader who passed on this letter from the Weyerhaeuser Corporation who confirmed its authenticity.

Weyerhaeuser: . . . Weyerhaeuser is addressing the issues of green building and sustainability in a responsible manner that benefits both our shareholders and society in general.

HBN: This sentence, in which Weyerhaeuser places the interests of its shareholders ahead of the public interest, is the most honest part of the letter. As a matter of law corporations are obligated to earn profits for shareholders, not to operate in the public's interest. As for the laws that benefit "society in general", Weyerhaeuser spends millions advocating against them, for example, the endangered species act and limits on logging public wilderness lands.

Weyerhaeuser: Unfortunately, we are not currently able to be advocates for the LEED standard developed by the US Green Building Council. We disagree with the Council's lack of a true consensus process . . .

HBN: Weyerhaeuser disingenuously suggests that it supports "true" consensus processes when in the same letter it demands that LEED "recognize other widely accepted certification standards, including those with the strongest support in North America." Those standards are not consensus standards. [1] They are industry standards that have been rejected by the vast majority of stakeholders who aren't timber companies.

The bottom line: Weyerhaeuser disagrees with the LEED consensus process because it fails to recognize industry standards that ignore the consensus of stakeholders active in developing sustainable forest management standards.

Weyerhaeuser: [We disagree with the Council's] . . . failure to tie LEED credits to quantifiable sustainability objectives or results of life-cycle analysis.

HBN: LEED is not tied to Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) because LCAs are notoriously subject to manipulation and often ignore important sustainability criteria, such as health concerns or impacts on Indigenous Peoples. This critique effectively demands a complete rewrite of LEED.

Weyerhaeuser: We also disagree with the Council's reliance on a single forest certification system.

HBN: There is no evidence that Weyerhaeuser objects in principle to reliance on "single" forest certification systems. According to Weyerhaeuser, [2] all its U.S. lands are certified under a single certification system: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) developed by the timber industry. What Weyerhaeuser seems to really disagree with is USGBC membership's decision to rely upon the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the only consensus-based certification system that is supported by the greatest diversity of stakeholders, instead of the timber industry's own standards.

Weyerhaeuser: The most serious deficiency in the LEED standard is its promotion of steel and concrete over wood, despite wood's better environmental performance.

HBN: To say that the most serious deficiency in the LEED system is its promotion of steel and concrete is a huge stretch and an obviously biased one. The LEED system does not explicitly promote any one material over another. LEED offers indirect credits to steel and concrete for attributes such as recycled content, local manufacturing or other potential contributions to other LEED objectives, provided that they apply.

Wood similarly benefits from indirect credits as salvaged materials and regional sourcing when they apply. Wood also tends to help buildings achieve a higher R-value compared to concrete or steel and so there are potential points that accrue there as well. The last thing the USGBC should do in response to legitimate questions about whether LEED's credits are too generous in some areas is to lower its standards on wood.

Weyerhaeuser: We welcome . . . a green building standard that reflects the best science, promotes the use of wood, and promotes good forest management. In that case we hope to be enthusiastic.

HBN: The letter concludes prematurely, without ever stating the specific criteria that Weyerhaeuser believes constitute "best science" and "good forest management." That's because they don't want the reader to be as informed as the USGBC membership was when it rejected these very arguments.

Chances are you would reach the same conclusions if you really knew what Weyerhaeuser stood for.


Footnotes

[1] The timber industry is pushing for LEED's acceptance of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). For more information, please see https://www.usgbc.org/ShowFile.aspx?DocumentID=1423

[2] Personal conversation between Niaz Dorry of HBN and Cassie Phillips of Weyerhaeuser, July 11, 2006.


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