This Week in Wood: Sustainability Battle Versus Steel Heats Up

EWP Steel Framing

Expanding the amount of certifiable wood acreage available for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits in architecture could put a squeeze on the competing steel industry, if a push by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) comes to pass. SFI is an alternative wood certification program backed by much of the wood industry, that would expand certification for green buildings beyond the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which currently holds a monopoly over the process.

LEED is a green building certification program run by the U.S. Green Building Council, which currently only accepts FSC-certified wood. The 56.8 million acres of certifiable forests in the U.S. that currently qualify for LEED credit under the FSC would expand to 131.6 million acres with the addition of SFI certification. That means certified-sustainable wood grown right here in America would become more plentiful, reducing the need to import wood from overseas. Maine and Georgia have both already eliminated FSC’s exclusivity for green building certification, and more states will likely follow.

What does that mean for steel? With wood more readily available, many builders would choose it over steel for its aesthetics and ease of construction. Wood and steel both have their benefits and drawbacks when it comes to use in sustainable structures. While steel mining and production is almost always an environmentally harmful process, wood that is grown and harvested sustainably actually helps support healthy ecosystems. Steel is generally stronger and more resistant to fire, but it also conducts electricity.

Compared with steel and concrete, wood has the lowest total energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, solid waste production and use of other ecological resources in its production and processing. It also has natural insulating properties that make it an important part of the overall energy efficiency of a building, lowering heating and cooling costs. Steel framing requires extra insulation to prevent what’s known as thermal bridging, a process in which the metal transfers large amounts of heat or cold from the outdoors in.

What do you think – will an abundance of certified sustainable wood harm the steel industry?

Photo: Ell Brown

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