The interest among businesses and consumers in building and purchasing sustainable goods has been a mutually beneficial relationship for both the environment and economy. Our policymakers at the state and federal level can further this growth by endorsing common-sense regulations that create incentives for our builders, foresters and retailers to harvest, distribute and sell sustainable timber.
Like many other industries, the forest products sector faced numerous challenges over the last decade. However, the rise in the demand for sustainable goods provides great opportunities for our businesses, giving them more outlets through which to advertise and sell their materials and finished products. A means stable forest products industry means a more stable Georgia, as this sector ranks second only to food products in its impact on wages, salaries, and third in total employment.
Many businesses embrace forest certification to improve the stewardship of their property, keep their land viable for the future, and gain credibility among a consumer base knowledgeable about sustainability. Across America, three of the most widely known organizations that certify forestland are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
Certification benefits foresters; unfortunately, government regulations are interfering with what should ideally be an open market for competing programs. The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system – followed by federal government agencies and hundreds of cities across the U.S. – only gives sustainability credits to wood certified by FSC. These credits are essential to entering LEED projects nationwide, which number in the thousands. However, this policy blocks nearly all of Georgia’s wood from LEED recognition. According to its website, FSC certifies no land in Georgia, while ATFS recognizes nearly three million acres of land and SFI certifies two and half million acres of forests. By giving preference to FSC, LEED’s standards minimize commerce in Georgia’s timber industry and effectively block our wood from numerous building projects.
Thankfully, last year Governor Deal provided relief to our building community by issuing an executive order that places wood products certified by SFI, FSC and ATFS on a level playing field when it comes to gaining access to state building and renovation projects. This contrasts with regulations that adhere to LEED and exclude a majority of states’ timber from being part of the construction of homes, schools, offices and other structures.
Governor Deal – in addition to the building, forest products and agriculture sector – understands that promoting competition will spur economic growth and improve the quality and quantity of sustainable goods in the marketplace, much more so than picking winners and losers, which is the effect of LEED’s standards for wood.
More needs to be done, however, in other states. Our businesses should be able to sell their products outside Georgia without meddlesome overregulation. As policymakers, it is incumbent upon us to remove, rather than impose burdens on the private sector industries that supply jobs and tax revenues in communities throughout our state. Hopefully, the General Services Administration, which is currently reviewing green building rating systems, will hear the facts from those on the ground in Georgia and other heavily forested states, and promote a system that levels the playing field for producers of forest products.