The USGBC hopes to finish work by year-end on a proposal to allow wood certified by groups other than FSC to qualify for points under LEED, according to USGBC's vice president for LEED technical development Brendan Owens. That's at least half a year longer than some observers had expected the group would need to resolve this long-simmering issue.

USGBC aims to create a benchmark that would be used to assess whether a program has the qualities needed for USGBC to recognize it as a certifying body, Owens told lumber dealers and distributors March 17 during a green building forum co-sponsored by the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association and the National Building Material Distribution Association.

"We've had a long history with this issue, and we are working to create a position in the market that respects LEED's position as a leader," he explained. "... We're redrafting the benchmark [and] hope to conclude by the end of the year." One key, he said, is whether remaining concerns can be handled through a second public comment period that would take place later this year.

The USGBC issued its original request for comment on Aug. 8, 2008. That proposal generated 1,800 responses—roughly 60 times more than USGBC normally receives when it is seeks comment on a particular credit in its LEED program. It's partly because of the high volume of responses that USGBC has taken so long to act, Owens indicated.

Wood certification has been one of the most contentious product-related issues that USGBC faces with regard to LEED. LEED doesn't give points for wood certified by SFI, Canadian Standards Association, American Tree Farm System, or similar groups that tend to be much more supported by the timber industry. Most other green building groups—particularly the Green Building Institute's Green Globes system and the NAHB-led National Green Building Standard—recognize a number of certifying bodies.

According to an executive summary of the original proposal, the proposed new LEED language would make non-FSC certification systems eligible to earn points provided they meet measurable benchmarks in four areas: governance; technical standards/substance; accreditation and auditing; and chain of custody and labeling. Owens did not indicate how, or whether, USGBC had revised its proposal as a result of the comments it received.