The Green Building Battles As Eco-friendly Building Takes Off, the Fight Is on to Define What It Means to be Green
As many as one in every five new homes and a quarter of municipal buildings and office towers are expected to qualify as “green” buildings two years from now. But what does that really mean?
There is no single standard. Instead, a broad array of organizations has emerged to certify the “sustainability” of everything from component parts (such as windows and rain gutters) to entire houses and offices. Right now, there is intense competition between these “green building” logo programs to determine which will gain market preeminence.
The stakes are high not just for the country’s environmental future, but for the construction industry, also. Green building, which represented just 2% of the construction market in 2005, will comprise as much as 20% of the residential construction starts and 25% of commercial starts by 2013, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s Green Outlook 2009 market intelligence report. By then, green building will be worth between $93 billion and $140 billion a year, estimates McGraw-Hill.
With so much money riding on green building, one of the most heated fights is taking place in the logging industry, where a long-running rivalry between the country’s two most successful forest certification bodies erupted in 2009. Wood is used in 90% of the homes built in the U.S. It takes the equivalent of one acre of clearcut forest to build a single 1,700-square-foot wood-framed home. Much of it comes from U.S. and Canadian forests.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in 1993, is the oldest and most widely respected of a half-dozen or so sustainable forest certifiers in the country. But FSC has not had as much success expanding the number of acres bearing its label as its chief rival, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or SFI, launched by the American Forest & Paper Association in 1995. After decades as a satellite outfit of the timber industry’s largest trade organization, SFI became independent in 2007 and has poured millions of dollars into advertising its pine tree-and-leaf logo.
SFI president and CEO Kathy Abusow is fond of comparing the difference between her organization and FSC to a sort of “Coke vs. Pepsi” debate. She points out that only 10% of the world’s forests are certified, so all efforts to protect them should be welcomed.