Don't Leed On Me!

Donald E. Smith, CCS

November 2007

We are involved in a project that is going for a LEED certification. Part of our contract requires furnishing fire retardant treated plywood. Our supplier tells us that a "chain of custody” document is required for the plywood. As part of this we are being told that everyone who handles the "chain of custody” document must be LEED certified. While we realize the importance of the LEED Certification program, we do not have a staff member who holds LEED Certification. Is there a work-around or, in other words, how can this situation be handled without causing a problem for the final LEED rating for the building?

The LEED program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council did not originate the "chain of custody” document in question. It was developed by a group of concerned individuals and companies in 1992 in response to growing worldwide concern over the fate of the earth’s forests. They established the Forest Conservation Program, the first of its kind in the world, to recognize responsible forest management practices. The Forest Conservation Program’s primary goal is to identify forest management practices that successfully sustain timber resources while maintaining the ecological viability of the forest and benefiting the world community. This group then formed the Forest Stewardship Council. Certification requirements were then established to ensure end-users that the materials were in fact obtained from a sustainable source.

The FSC promotes responsible management of the world’s forests through the development of voluntary, internationally recognized forest management standards. The most widely recognized forest certification program globally is the FSC certification program.

Now how is all of this a part of a LEED certified building project, and what does it mean to you? As part of the LEED system for certification, credits are earned for doing specific tasks. One is using sustainable materials. For the case in point, fire-retardant treated plywood is a wood-based material that must come from a sustainable source or forest. To document that source, an FSC Chain of Custody document is issued by a manufacturer, distributor or retailer certifying that the material is from an FSC certified source. To earn that certification, the manufacturer, distributor or retailer undergoes a chain of custody certification by an accredited third party. For products used in the building industry, this certification is also necessary to earn USGBC LEED MR credit 7. The certification involves a six step process.

Step 1 – Authorization: The applicant provides initial information to the third party certifier about the types of products to be certified and their location.

Step 2 – Onsite Audit: A qualified inspector audits facilities handling certified products and reviews control systems. Systems for inventory control and production, use of FSC trademarks and logos and sale of certified products are also reviewed by the inspector.

Step 3 – Records Review: The third-party certifier then conducts an audit of the inspector report, producer’s administrative procedures and supporting documentation to assess readiness for certification.

Step 4 – Certification: A final certification decision is then made. The producer acknowledges his findings and takes any corrective actions required as a condition of certification.

Step 5 – Monitoring: Annual onsite audits are conductive to maintain certification by the third-party certifier. This includes unannounced inspections.

Step 6 – Product Claims: Certified companies can use the FSC trademarks to promote their products.

This is interesting: If the materials are stamped with the FSC trademark or are delivered to the site in labeled containers, notice that there is no requirement for LEED certified individuals to sign off on each step of process.

You also might be interested in what AWCI is doing to help you understand the USGBC LEED program. In the works right now is a Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry white paper on the subject, which will be available next year. At AWCI’s 2008 Annual Convention in Las Vegas there will be an educational session on the LEED program. For this hot-button topic, make sure you put this on your "Must Do at Convention” schedule.

About the Author
Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Contact him at smith@awci.org or call (703) 538.1611.