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ANOTHER VOICE: Legislation would turn LEED certification even greener

Earlier this summer, I attended the dedication ceremony for Insitu’s new production facility at Bingen Point. Not only will this building play a key role in the future of tech manufacturing in our area, but it meets high standards for energy efficiency and sustainability, and qualified for a high score by LEED for its construction and design.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Energy Design) is a certification system for new construction that awards points for how a building is designed, its energy performance and for the type of materials used in the process. In recent years, we have seen other high profile construction projects in the Gorge achieve high rankings from LEED, including The Fort Dalles Readiness Center, Tofuky’s new plant on the Port of Hood River, and the new music and science building at Hood River Middle School. All of these projects will serve their occupants and the region well for years to come as they provide healthy and efficient places to work and learn.

There is growing concern in the Oregon Legislature for how LEED awards points for the use of certain materials in constructing buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the agency that determines what materials are incentivized through the awarding of points. Unfortunately, USGBC provides little incentive to use Oregon grown and manufactured forest products in LEED certified projects.

LEED has designated the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as the third-party certifier for wood products that, if used, would contribute to a building’s LEED rating. FSC certification sets variable standards across the globe for sustainable practices, allowing some countries to only meet the minimum environmental requirements and export timber of lackluster quality. It’s entirely possible that a LEED certified structure in the Gorge could contain wood products from a foreign country with deplorable land use policies rather than wood produced under the strict standards of the Oregon Forest Practices Act. With a single recognized certifier, the market for available timber products is limited to only a few suppliers. Only 3-percent of Oregon’s certified timberland meets FSC standards. As the desire for more efficient and LEED certified buildings grows, this means that our state-grown forest products will continue to be left out in the cold.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) are third-party certifiers that set global standards and support stronger environmental requirements, including maintaining a smaller footprint and timber of higher quality. Oregon’s land not only meets the requirements of SFI and ATFS, but also exceeds them under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.

While we continue to lobby at the federal level for changes to the LEED system, the Oregon legislature can take action locally. Legislation that would create a set of green building standards, tailored to Oregon’s products, would incentivize utilization of local products in construction projects. This legislation would stimulate our economy and promote healthy business growth, while also staying true to our own strong, environmental standards. With a building certification process that allows Oregon to compete among certified markets importing their product, local economies will see increased revenue and our state will benefit from expanded markets. In the next legislative session I will be working with like-minded colleagues to design a certification system that appreciates energy efficiency and sustainability and also places a value on Oregon produced wood products.

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Mark Johnson of Hood River is the District 26 representative in the Oregon House.

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