Taryn Holowka

Illegal logging is a pervasive and global problem. This practice includes removing trees from protected areas, failing to pay taxes and fees for timber, cutting protected species, stealing wood from the rightful owners and/or removing more timber than allowed from a given area. It causes enormous damage to forests, habitat, local communities and the economies of producer countries. And it’s not a small industry—illegal logging accounts for 50–90 percent of all forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, such as those of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and 15–30 percent of all wood traded globally. Even more surprising, trade in illegally harvested timber is highly lucrative and estimated to be worth between USD $30 and $100 billion annually.

Earlier this month, USGBC, developers of the LEED rating system, introduced a new pilot Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) credit in LEED that is designed to help rid our buildings of illegal wood by promoting the use of wood that is verified to be legal. While LEED has always rewarded leadership in materials specification, this new ACP seeks to leverage LEED’s unparalleled market power by focusing attention on the significant need for more comprehensive and effective legality verification of building products. The pilot ACP is designed to address a critical piece of the supply chain and to reward project teams who proactively verify that the wood they are using is legal.

Why now? The LEED rating system was introduced in 1999 as a solution for the built environment, so that we could build our buildings better. It was developed as a series of green strategies that, if implemented, could impact serious global issues such as land degradation, potable water consumption, human health and energy conservation, to name a few. Over the last 17 years, LEED has emerged as the world’s most widely used rating system. And with that role comes enormous responsibility to ensure that LEED is not only inspiring leadership and change, but that it is also continuing to address global issues, such as climate change and illegal logging, as best it can.

Today, it is possible to meet the requirements of LEED credits focused on wood and still have illegal wood in a LEED-certified project, because LEED projects receive credit for a percentage of the wood on the project, rather than on all wood used. With this pilot ACP, we are building on the robust infrastructure that has been developed around responsible wood sourcing and chain of custody to test an approach to prerequisite requirements.

The tier structure that is part of the referenced ASTM standard includes a framework that allows us to address more than legality. In order to achieve the point, under the new pilot ACP, project teams must satisfy all requirements.

This ACP sets the stage for future development to ensure the materials used on LEED projects are minimally acceptable. It is the first step in the journey toward LEED working to weed irresponsibly sourced materials out of the supply chain.

Our goal with this ACP is to see how it works in the forestry industry and test an approach to minimum requirements in LEED, while also gaining experience that will help inform how we approach potential minimum responsible sourcing in other industries.

USGBC has a vision that buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation. Its mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves quality of life. LEED has served as the critical tool for accomplishing that mission. It has always stood for leadership and inspires project teams to seek innovative solutions that are better for our environment and better for our communities.

As part of that, today we are taking a stance on illegal wood in our buildings. We are joining that fight and hope that LEED’s prominence and influence can help jump-start this important effort to reduce illegal logging around the world.