Care About Forests? Don't Use The Green Globes Building Rating Tool

Bill Walsh | March 24, 2006

SFI clearcuts 2006

Sierra Pacific Industries' SFI certified

clearcuts in California

Backed by plastics and timber industry trade groups and the National Association of Home Builders, the Green Globes building rating tool continues to rise in national prominence. This week the Healthy Building News asks one of the nation's leading forest preservation groups, ForestEthics [1] to compare how forests fare under the Green Globes rating system. Daniel Hall, Coordinator of ForestEthics Corporate Action Program, has spent over fifteen years advocating on behalf of endangered forests.

HBN: Knowing that ForestEthics and other forest protection groups have a lot of experience with the American Forest Products and Paper Association, the organization that brought Green Globes rating system to the US, I was interested in what you would say to green building professionals about Green Globes. [2]

DH: When it comes to sustaining forests and the wildlife and communities that depend upon them, Green Globes is no guarantee. In fact, Green Globes may even encourage builders to use wood from endangered forests. It does this by classifying as "sustainable" any wood from forests certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Canadian Standards Association, and Tree Farm. These industry systems tend to greenwash endangered forest logging and other business-as-usual forestry. Forest conservation groups overwhelmingly agree that the only credible certification system for commercial forests is the program run by the Forest Stewardship Council [3].

HBN: Why do programs such as the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) compare unfavorably to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?

DH: Well, here in the US for example, the SFI will actually certify the destruction of endangered forests through the logging of rare old growth and threatened species' habitats, replacement of natural forests by barren tree plantations, and excessive clearcutting and chemical applications. The SFI also gives less weight to indigenous peoples' rights and is funded and governed predominately by timber interests. The FSC is an entirely different story. And unlike the FSC, SFI labels are not backed-up by consistent chain-of-custody verification of wood products' origins, nor do SFI labels disclose the presence of any non-certified content in a product. Consumers really need to think twice when they see SFI marketing claims. They should also know that most independent studies also find significant differences between the SFI and FSC.

HBN: Are you saying that there is no guarantee that a product bearing an SFI-certification actually came from a certified forest?

DH: Exactly. And unlike the FSC, the SFI places virtually no restrictions on non-certified content in labeled products. If you're buying certified wood to help conserve forests, the SFI label isn't your friend.

HBN: What about Green Globes, can that system be relied upon by people who care about forest preservation?

DH: Well, if you specified FSC certified wood, then Green Globes will give you credit for that choice, which is good. But Green Globes will also give you credit for using virtually any other wood, regardless of how badly the source forests were managed. Green Globes recognizes nearly all forest certification systems — and unfortunately, there are certification systems that will endorse nearly any logging. So if you're looking for credible recognition of green building practices and more sustainable forest management, Green Globes isn't the answer. In this sense, Green Globes mirrors the SFI, both of which, as you mentioned, are projects of the American Forest & Paper Association.

HBN: How do you respond to those who say that because FSC certified supplies are limited that it is better to seek out SFI certified products than to make no effort at all?

DH: That's a false choice. There's actually a fair bit of FSC certified wood available, and the numbers are growing. Giving preference to FSC certified wood also encourages more forest companies to improve their practices and become certified. But just as importantly, ask your suppliers to make sure they aren't giving you wood from endangered forests. That's the best way to address situations where you may not be able to locate a particular type of FSC wood. Just don't rely on the SFI to protect endangered forests.

HBN: Thanks Daniel. Readers who would like to see a side by side comparison of the FSC and SFI certification systems can download a fact sheet "SFI versus the FSC" at


Health Care Without Harm Wins Prestigious Skoll Foundation Award

On March 15, Health Care Without Harm announced that it was the recipient of a $765,000 award from the Skoll Foundation, an honor given to leaders of organizations that use the most innovative and effective approaches to making social change. Gary Cohen, co-executive director of HCWH, was honored by the foundation as a social entrepreneur. Congratulations!

Jason McLennan Recognized as one of the "40 Under 40" by Building Design & Construction

In its first annual "40 Under 40" competition, the editors of Building Design & Construction have identified Jason McLennan as part of the next generation of leadership in the AEC industry. Jason, who founded and directs BNIM's sustainable design and consulting division, called Elements, is an inspiring and valued participant in the Healthy Building Network. Congratulations Jason!

Read more:


[1] ForestEthics

[2] See HBNews on the Green Globes: "Conflicts of Interest at the American Institute of Architects: Trade Associations Set the Greenwash Agenda" July 19, 2005

[3] Forest Stewardship Council