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New Jersey Building Materials Dealers Association Opposing LEED for Schools Legislation

In a recent op-ed piece, Keith Coleman, President of Hamilton Building Supply in Hamilton, New Jersey, and Vice President of the New Jersey Building Materials Dealers Association, argues that the Garden State should reconsider a pending bill (S239) that would require “the design of new public schools [to] incorporate the guidelines developed by [USGBC] known as LEED.”

Mr. Coleman writes that he is “deeply concerned with what would happen if this legislation became New Jersey law. Construction costs for schools would unnecessarily increase, with absolutely no benefit to the students and teachers who use these buildings or the taxpayers footing the bill. Such legislation would also set a dangerous precedent that could lead to all new public buildings in New Jersey having to use lumber certified through the U.S. Green Building Council. Such legislation would quickly waste millions of dollars in taxpayer money.” Mr. Coleman’s specific concerns with respect to increased costs derive from the types of wood products his organization’s constituents would need to stock in the event S239 passes:

Under LEED, the lumber can only be handled through the strict chain of custody by those who are certified in the program. If this lumber is put in the hands of a yard that is unaffiliated, it is actually deemed corrupted and cannot be sold as certified. If my company were to become LEED certified – in which we would be permitted to sell this ‘certified’ lumber – it would cost us thousands of dollars to follow the regulations of the program. We’d also have to stock certified and uncertified lumber in all the dimensions, doubling our inventory, and making sure the products were clearly separated. This would double my costs for such expenses as financing, space allocation, administration, insurance and other related expenses.

First, just as a quick housekeeping matter, USGBC does not certify lumber or any other individual type of product that may qualify for LEED points. As we noted here at GRELJ earlier this year in the context of LEED Version 3.0′s MR Credit 7: Certified Wood, this is because of the high level of scrutiny which private environmental standard-setting organizations such as USGBC receive under controlling antitrust law. It is also important to note that USGBC does not certify individual companies, either. While Mr. Coleman’s constituents may choose to stock more FSC-certified or reclaimed wood products, there is no requirement that those constituents become “LEED-certified” in order to do so.

However, I was particularly interested in Mr. Coleman’s concerns about chain of custody and the requirements for individual New Jersey lumber yards to apply FSC trademarks. According to its website, FSC requires that

[a]ny operation making, changing, trading, re-labeling or repackaging FSC certified products needs to be chain of custody certified in order to use the FSC trademarks and to enable its customers to make an FSC claim about these products. Retailers were traditionally seen as the end of the supply chain; today brokers or agents, who neither take physical nor legal possession of the products, and retailers, who sell FSC products to end consumers that do not want to make an FSC claim, usually do not need to become certified.

According to FSC, there are 133 companies in New Jersey that already hold FSC chain-of-custody certificates, which at quick glance seem to be a relatively even split between lumber and graphics concerns. The actual cost to obtain certification is unclear; on its website FSC states that the “costs and timescale for [chain-of-custody] certification vary depending on the size and complexity of the operation. It also depends on the range of products and processes.”

Nevertheless, although Mr. Coleman’s general points here about increased costs that would ultimately be passed along to taxpayers are duly noted, the more critical issue to consider generally is the scrutiny under which I believe LEED-driven legislation will continue to come in 2010. As Mr. Coleman notes, “[w]ith New Jersey teetering on bankruptcy and local school districts facing major cuts in state aid, this legislation is impractical, unnecessary and does nothing to solve the paramount issues plaguing the state.” Whether or not you are convinced of the technical merits and purported benefits of the LEED program, it is indisputable that state and local governments across the country – including those right here in our own backyard – are facing severe budget problems. Legislators will need to demonstrate bottom-line benefits to taxpayers for policy decisions similar to New Jersey’s S239, particularly if voices like Mr. Coleman’s grow louder and more uniform.

In addition to the points that Mr. Coleman raises, it’s also worth noting that S239 does not explicitly require formal LEED certification, nor does it provide any guidance with respect to what “incorporate the guidelines” might mean. I think that this is another good example of the type of ambiguous language that continues to appear in third-party-driven green building legislation. I would suggest that such language is indicative of a more general lack of understanding about USGBC, LEED, and the various iterations of the LEED system; consider Mr. Coleman’s own remarks, for example, where he refers to companies as actually being LEED-certified! These distinctions do mean something, in the context of both legislation (where taxpayer dollars are at stake) and, of course, construction contract documents.

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4 Responses to New Jersey Building Materials Dealers Association Opposing LEED for Schools Legislation

  1. Joe March 11, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    You missed pointing out that the author is missing the forest for the certified trees! LEED and FSC are certainly linked, but certified wood is by no means mandated by LEED or any government that aspires to LEED-based construction.

    Every project’s managers and designers retain discretionary control over which measures make sense and should be implemented for a specific project. FSC wood isn’t required, and gets you only one or two points out of 100+ available. If FSC or other certified wood is significantly more expensive and a project budget doesn’t permit its use, it simply won’t be bought.

    • Stephen Del Percio March 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

      You raise a good point about who is specifying the wood- if it’s a LEED-accredited design professional, then I’d anticipate FSC-certified wood products to make their way into the project’s specifications.

  2. Marshall Leslie March 11, 2010 at 4:32 am #

    In 2008, I prepared a report for Canada’s Department of Natural Resources (NRCan)and WoodWORKS (the market development unit of the Canadian Wood Council)that looked at the requirement in LEED, for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Among many other conclusions, it determined that the cost of FSC engineered wood fabrications averaged 6.9% more than the total fabricated cost of identical products certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The median FSC cost premium was 9.5%. The CSA national standard for certified wood is the oldest in the world and exceeds the requirements of the FSC in several respects.

    The individual that you quote in your blog entry may or may not be a fabricator. Of greater relevance to this gentleman may be our finding that FSC chain-of-custody certification for a distributor can initially be as high as $4,200 for each site, and then $1,200 in subsequent years. Of course, this does not even approach the very real costs of inventory and administration that a distributor must carry.

    Nor does it include documentation. To fulfill the certified wood credit, the project team must submit to the USGBC specific information on:

    1)the wood product type and name
    2)the vendor name and contact information
    3)the material component of each wood product’s cost
    4)the wood material component as a percentage of total project material costs
    5)the FSC certified wood material component percentage of total wood component cost
    6)and finally the FSC chain-of-custody certificate number from the distributor/wholesaler vendor, or on-product label

    All this exceeds the amount of documentation required for any other LEED credit. As a consequence, we discovered that many consultants advise – in writing – that specification and use of certified wood be avoided.

    This is particularly unfortunate because Canada possesses the largest amount of certified wood in the world – certified to any scheme including FSC, CSA and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The disincentives to the use of FSC certified wood are therefore significant. We concluded that the Canadian forest sector would be better off if the USGBC increased its requirement for certified wood from 50% to 100% of the dollar value of material content – but opened its closed FSC specification to the CSA and SFI in recognition of their leadership practices.

    Unfortunately, the USGBC would rather cut its own nose to spite its face, and instead endorses a certification scheme that doesn’t occupy a position of leadership.

    • Stephen Del Percio March 20, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks, Marshall, hope you’re enjoying your vacation. This is such an important issue that really seems to – finally – be getting much more attention. It will be interesting to see what happens during this final USGBC comment period on the revisions to MR-7 and whether the level of conversation around it continues to increase.

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