Wood Certification

A little while ago we visited a green pavilion with “sustainable” oak floors. We were intrigued by the concept of sustainable oak since oak trees are protected by law and the meaning of sustainable is often skewed by marketers.

After some research we found that there are more than 50 certification systems worldwide, the two largest being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both are third-party certifiers in that they are independent and non-governmental.

In North America, the three additional certification systems endorsed by the PEFC are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. Currently only 10% of the forests in the world have been certified as sustainable.

The Forest Stewardship Council was the first established third-party certification system and many others followed suit. There is criticism that the abundance of certification systems results in consumer confusion in relation to standards, therefore allowing some systems to uphold laxer standards.

LEED only accepts certification systems that adhere to the USGBC Forest Certification Systems Benchmark. A draft is available here.

Currently only Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood is eligible for LEED points. FSC accredits its associated certification bodies and checks compliance through audits.

The FSC has 10 general principles for responsible forest management:

Principle 1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles – to comply with all laws, regulations, treaties, conventions and agreements, together with all FSC Principles and Criteria.

Principle 2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities – to define, document and legally establish long-term tenure and use rights.

Principle 3: Indigenous peoples’ rights – to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of ownership and use of land and resources.

Principle 4: Community relations and worker’s rights – to maintain or enhance forest workers’ and local communities’ social and economic well-being.

Principle 5: Benefits from the forest – to maintain or enhance long term economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest.

Principle 6: Environmental impact – to maintain or restore the ecosystem, its biodiversity, resources and landscapes.

Principle 7: Management plan – to have a management plan, implemented, monitored and documented.

Principle 8: Monitoring and assessment – to demonstrate progress towards management objectives.

Principle 9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests – to maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests.

Principle 10: Plantations – to plan and manage plantations in accordance with FSC Principles and Criteria.

The FSC certification promotes forests that are exemplary of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable management practices. Sustainability has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, so the certification ensures that forest managers ensure the long-term health of the forest in question.

FSC also provides chain-of-custody certification, which takes into account all companies that have touched the lumber before it is purchased by a consumer.

The detailed standards can be found at www.fsc.org.

The certification systems promote responsible building practices by allowing builders to work with sustainable materials. At EcoBrooklyn, we try to work mostly with materials salvaged from dumpsters, which is the most sustainable option available. It is rare we buy new wood any given year.

Certified woods offer an acceptable last option alternative. But as a green building company we are skeptical of certifications. Most of them are simply labels that allow the consumer to feel better about their purchase and allow the producer to sell more, but in reality not much has changed. Trees are cut down, habitats are destroyed.

It is impossible to reproduce that. Even when companies replant trees, they do it as a mono-culture with one species of tree. That is like saying elevator muzak and Mozart are the same. One is lifeless. The other is full of life.

Understandably our view is not main stream. If it were then most construction would come to a screeching halt and we would love that. But realistically certifications are a move in the right direction for mainstream builders. With time hopefully the certifications will get more and more stringent.

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”


One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.


The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.


https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website


http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

LEED Wins Law Suit Despite Bad Energy Efficiency

Last week a judge dismissed Henry Giffords law suit against USGBC. Gifford had pointed out that energy audits of LEED buildings showed no greater energy savings than normal buildings of the same class, and in fact LEED buildings showed WORSE energy savings in many cases. Green Source Magazine speaks about it here.

USGBC countered his claims by publishing study of their own that showed superior energy savings of LEED buildings, but this study was later proved to be false.

The Hearst Building is a LEED project criticized by Gifford. It claims to have motion sensor lights that turn off when rooms are empty but as you can see the building is lit up late at night when people are not in the offices.


The judge dismissed the suit against USGBC not based on Giffords claims about energy efficiency, however. The judge simply said that the energy efficiency claims don’t do enough harm.

Bottom line, LEED is better than nothing but that isn’t saying much. I would do LEED if there was money in the advertising budget because a LEED certified building can fetch higher rents and sale prices.

But if you are a genuine NY green contractor you are going to build to much higher standards than LEED anyway, so why take money away from the construction budget to get it LEED certified? For a plaque? Better to use that money on more solar panels or something.

LEED Marketing Mania

What is manufacturer’s’ obsession with telling me how many LEED
points I can earn by buying their product?!
From the advertisements you’d think every house being built is going for LEED.
But the manufacturers know they aren’t. They are betting on people
saying, “Heck, if it good for LEEDS then it’s good for my little
house. Give me two!”

It’s a big marketing game and pretty much every one is involved. I got
LEED accredited the other day and when my girlfriend asked me what the
benefits were I was, “Well, I guess it looks good on my business
card.” The main benefit of me studying and paying money was

Nobody is knocking on my door to certify their house. I’m not even
sure I’ll certify my own building!

But I like to be involved in the game and right now that’s the biggest
one in town. And what a racket it is.

LEED Study Guides

Everyone and their mother is getting LEED certified. Remember the story about Rockefeller overhearing his shoe shine boy talking about stocks? This prompted Rockefeller to conclude that the market had reached a bubble and was about to collapse. He took all his money out of the market just before it crashed.

Now I’m seeing the same thing about LEED certification. People who will probably never use the knowledge are getting certified. To be LEED certified is cooler than wearing designer clothes.

USGBC has managed to create an aura of moral integrity rarely seen in the building industry.

Whenever an entity has the moral high ground there is usually only one direction for them to go.

LEED has some serious flaws:
– the tremendous green washing that companies do around the LEED points. For example “Soy Based” spray foam, which in reality has minute percentages of soy. But you get points for using it.
– the fact that a building can be LEED certified and be LESS energy efficient than an AVERAGE normal building.
– the fact that people lie and cheat to get the points. For example I know a trash removal company who will give me a form saying they recycled my garbage if I want.

BUT and this is important, having said that I think LEED is a great step in the right direction. It has some flaws but they can be adjusted. If all houses were LEED certified I do think the building industry would be greener.

Here are some resources so your mother can pass the LEED exam:

South Face
I’ve not used them but I’m told you can register to take the course and then you can start downloading the power point presentations.

U of F
Not used it but it is a website from the University of Florida that provides excellent sample quizzes and study guides (i.e. flash cards; summary tables; and acronym information). Best of all it’s free!

LEED Education
Again not used but this website provides some free content and some that requires purchase. I have only briefly reviewed their website but it seems like a good source.

Additionally, I have heard could things about the following information that is available for purchase:

Green Exam Prep
I like these guys best over all others. This one 7 hour online course and the 8 practice test is basically all you need to pass the test IMO.

USGBC Colorado
Study Guide prepared by the Colorado Chapter of the USGBC. You can purchase it for $50 from their website. I got it. They are great. No green washing here. Very solid materials and integrity.

Not used them. But they look minorly interesting. They offer study-materials – this website is from the Cascadia Region Chapter of the USGBC. They have created flashcards that are available for purchase from their website for $35 for non members.

There are other sources for study out there but I don’t recommend them. They range from useless to absolute crap.

LEED for Homes Q and A

Here is a useful Q & A on LEED for homes.

Presented by O’Brien & Company.

How does the “no additional lumber” address cases of historic/cultural design, in
particular on an infill project in a historic neighborhood or a gut rehab of a historic

This credit has been revised to a 10% cap on the waste factor in the lumber order, so the
“additional lumber” language is no longer moot.
How does LEED for Homes apply to historic homes?
The LEED for Homes rating system can be used for gut rehabs of homes, including
historic homes. LEED for Homes is evaluating innovation applications for deconstruction
of existing (e.g., historical) homes on a case-by-case basis and may consider
establishing some performance threshold for deconstruction in a future version of LEED
for Homes. In addition, wood salvaged from historic homes may be reused in new
How is material salvaged from deconstruction treated (is it salvaged? Resource

Salvaged or reused material is eligible for recognition under MR5, Environmentally
Preferable Products; in cases where it is not listed as an alternative for a given building
component, the builder should submit a credit interpretation request for consideration by
the MR-TASC. If the quantity of materials being reused in substantial enough (i.e.,
comparable in magnitude to the other measures in MR 5), the request for an ID credit will
be granted.
Is a list of builders participating in the pilots available? If not now, when?
USGBC has asked the pilot builders if they are open to having their contact information
made public; a response is expected in coming weeks. USGBC plans to post this
information on the LEED for Homes website at www.usgbc.org/leed/homes.
What are the registration fees?
There is a $150 fee for project registration, with $50 per unit for certification.
Those are fees due to USGBC from builder. Other applicable fees (e.g., for certification
services) are at the discretion of the Provider. Fees for the third-party certification will
vary with the level of experience of the green home builder, the home size, the desired
certification level (i.e., Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum), and the distance that the third
party has to travel to conduct site visits at the LEED Home. Earth Advantage (EA),
Portland is the Provider in the Northwest. O’Brien & Company has been contracted by EA
to represent perform ratings on its behalf in Washington.
Can verification be done by the same person doing technical
assistance/consulting? (Who’s doing quality control of verifiers?)

The official certifier of LEED Homes is an authorized LEED for Homes Provider. All
LEED raters or verifiers must be contracted to a LEED for Homes Provider. It is up to the
discretion of the Provider to determine who is qualified to deliver on-site verification
services. Providers are responsible for recruiting, training, and supervising qualified
LEED raters in their local markets. LEED Home raters must meet qualifying criteria. In
particular, since LEED for Homes requires ENERGY STAR for Homes qualification, the
rater must be qualified by ENERGY STAR NW through its performance testing and
verification training.
Also, all individuals offering verification services related to LEED for Homes are required
to submit a declaration stating possible conflicts of interest. This declaration needs to be
provided to the builder and any other parties who might be affected by potential conflicts
of interest.
As pilot raters in Washington, O’Brien & Company is providing some guidance to design
teams to help them leverage integration opportunities and optimize their design. O’Brien
and Company works under the supervision of the LEED for Home Provider Earth
Why won’t LEED Home Builders be able to hang their hats on a LEED AP? We
should be able to use that Brand.

The current LEED AP designation does not indicate any familiarity with LEED for Homes;
rather, it represents knowledge of other LEED rating systems, which relate to commercial
buildings. USGBC is considering whether to develop a comparable exam and
credential for professionals who are conversant with LEED for Homes. Currently,
qualified LEED for Homes support is available to builders via their local Providers. LEED
APs that are qualified in green home building are encouraged to develop business
relationships with the LEED for Homes Provider in the markets that they serve.
Will there be a LEED for remodels?
The challenge with a LEED program for remodeling is that remodeling by its nature is a
“one-off” business, with few economies of scale and in most cases, no buyer (in most
cases, the client already owns the home). Thus, the remodeling market poses challenges
with respect to the creation of a viable (i.e., sustainable) business model for USGBC.
Further, the LEED Rating Systems are generally used to assess the whole of a building.
In remodeling, only parts of the home are affected. Thus, it is difficult to asses the greenness
of a building when only part of it has been upgraded. For the time being, we
suggest that remodelers use LEED for Homes to provide guidance with respect to the
goals and principles — and in some cases, e.g., plumbing fixtures, performance
specifications — that can be referred to in the remodeling process. USGBC may tackle
the remodeling market sometime in the future. Note that LEED for Homes can be used
for gut rehabs.
Will there be a LEED for existing homes (recertification process) given frequent

This represents a challenge similar to remodeling; and besides the fact that there are no
economies of scale, it remains to be seen whether there is any significant demand
potential. Since the seller is the homeowner and not a builder, s/he stands to gain no
professional reputation benefit by offering the LEED brand. In the future LEED may
achieve sufficient consumer brand recognition that prospective buyers will look for a
LEED label on a used home as well as a new one — and be willing to pay for it — but it’s
likely to be quite a few years before that happens.