I had the great pleasure to participate in an exciting workshop yesterday hosted by the White House Rural Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The event touted the positive environmental and climate benefits of building with wood and also announced the launch of some great new initiatives from USDA. Participants at the workshop included architects, builders, designers, wood manufactures, foresters, state officials, university leaders, and federal agency representatives.

USDA event Vilsack_cropped_sml

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

It is encouraging to see workshops such as this one take place. We know, and research has continuously shown, that wood from responsibly managed forests is an excellent choice for any new construction or renovation project. Third-party forest certification standards like SFI® offer a proof point that the forest has been managed for multiple values – and will be renewed. In fact, the USDA in 2011 highlighted that fact when they released a report about the benefits of wood in construction, saying “Sustainability of forest products can be verified using any credible third-party rating system, such as Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, or American Tree Farm System certification.”

Yesterday’s keynote remarks from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed the environmental, economical and practical choices for building with wood. “Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced,” said Vilsack. “Building stronger markets for innovative new wood products supports sustainable forestry, helps buffer reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and puts rural America at the forefront of an emerging industry.”

At the workshop, USDA Secretary Vilsack also announced a new $1 million partnership with WoodWorks to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials. USDA also committed up to $1 million to launch a forthcoming prize competition to design and build high-rise wood demonstration products from rural domestic manufacturers and domestic, sustainably-managed forests; the competition is also supported by the Binational Softwood Lumber Council.

In follow-up to the workshop, SFI joined over 50 other members of the forest and conservation community in a letter to thank USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chairman Michael Boots for the support of wood use in building construction.

The White House Rural Council and USDA are urging stakeholders to move forward with the ideas discussed at the event and to share ideas for actions and partnerships. SFI is looking forward to being part of the next steps and will be seeking examples of commercial construction that features wood certified to the SFI certified standard. Know of a good example? Drop me a line at nadine.block@forests.org.


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