Exploring the LEED Timber Traceability Pilot Credit Category, Pt. 3: The Program in Practice

We’re going to wrap up the interview with Jason Grant and our discussion about LEED’s new Timber Traceability pilot credit with a look at how it will work in practice.

Jason, what’s the procedure—who starts it and what role does the manufacturer of the wood product play?

Jason: It starts with a project team deciding to pursue the credit and deciding on which wood products they are going to specify. Next, contractors, sub-contractors and potential vendors will need to be informed of the credit requirements for declarations and maps. The vendors will then need to decide if they wish to participate and then everyone works through the supply chain to see if the requirements can be satisfied.

If a vendor obtains, or can commit to obtaining, the required information, then it will presumably increase their chances of winning the job, and if the potential sale is large there should be adequate incentive for everybody up the value chain to do the legwork. Obviously, this will be easier for products whose supply chains are short and simple than for products that have lots of different components with longer, and/or disparate, supply chains. However, Lacey and EUTR have already driven many companies to understand their supply chains and to inquire into origins, so this credit builds off of what is already happening out there – and it will tend to favor those who are doing the best job at due care already.

How is the information on sourcing kept proprietary or at least protected from competitors?

Jason: Part of what makes the credit innovative is that it incentivizes and rewards transparency about species and origin, which in turn creates accountability. In this case, transparency means that for the qualifying wood products, species and country of harvest information, along with the maps of harvest location, will be posted to a public website. In order for a product to qualify, the tests have to come back positive (or non-negative where positive results can’t be obtained due to insufficient reference data). So yes, success will be public, including maps of the harvest origin of the material.

However, and to be very clear, negative test results will NOT be posted to the public website – although a product that fails a test obviously can’t count toward earning a point! This said, both negative and positive test results will be communicated to the project team who have to know whether or not products qualify.

Finally, it’s important to note that the credit doesn’t require disclosure of any information about the supply chain between the forest and the project, whether it be primary or secondary manufacturers or traders or what have you – so the full supply chain will remain every bit as proprietary and confidential as it would be normally.

You noted that negative test results will not be publicly disclosed. Does that include to the manufacturer?

Jason: As I said, all test results, whether positive or negative, will be communicated to the project team. They need to know the results in order to determine whether or not they have exceeded the 50% threshold and earned a point. It will be up to them to decide whether or not to share results with suppliers, although it seems likely that they would.

Also, as we have discussed, there are many types of tests—a genetic test, a stable isotope test, etc. How will the type of test be determined? Some of these are very difficult to perform on a finished final product. And for a lot of products, like engineered flooring, you might have two or three sources intermixed. How will mixed content material be handled?

Jason: The entity that receives declarations, samples and maps will decide which tests to conduct. This will be done on a case by case basis, and decisions will be based on factors like level of risk, whether or not there is reference data, and so on. As noted earlier, initially this entity will be EIA, but the goal is to transition to a different organization as soon as possible.

As for mixed content material, it depends on the components. Fiber-based composites like MDF and particleboard are exempted from all credit requirements because it’s so hard to determine species and origin. All other components will need to be tested. For example, if you have engineered flooring with an oak wear layer on a birch plywood platform, both components would need to be mapped and tested – but if it’s oak on an HDF platform, it’s only the oak.

How long is the process likely to take? 

Jason: The process of obtaining maps could take a while depending on the complexity of the supply chain, but it can and should happen well before wood arrives at the jobsite so, if it’s possible at all, there should be enough time to pull them together. My information is that generally test results can be turned around in 6 weeks or less.

Is it possible that results/a decision will come after the project’s already built or is this something which can be pre-vetted?

Jason: It’s a possibility, but only 50% of the products need to qualify, so project teams are advised to seek maps and test samples for a higher percentage in case some don’t work out. A solid process for pre-vetting is certainly desirable, but we need to find a way to ensure that any products that get pre-vetted are what gets delivered in the end.

Fortunately, issues at this level of detail are handled in the guidance document that accompanies the credit, and while the latter is hard to change, the former can be modified as we gain experience and receive feedback. As I said earlier, if anyone out there has concrete suggestions for improvement, they are always welcome. Contact information is on my website: http://www.jasongrantconsulting.com/

Sorry I want to clarify this. 50% of the wood used in a project needs to go through the process and be qualified? So if a developer researches say 70% of their material and 20% comes back negative and 50% passes, it’s ok? And how do they select what 50% they are checking—who decides what is checked? Could they, for example, check only the softwood used for framing and not the tropical decking? I think suppliers really want to understand more about the selection process and testing process to be prepared.

Jason: Taking these questions in order: yes, at least 50% of the wood by dollar value needs to be mapped, tested and pass in order to earn the point – so yes, if they try for 70% and 20% comes back negative, they’re good. It’s entirely up to the project team to decide what products they want to map and test – except for wood from high-risk countries, which must be tested and also must meet additional requirements: they must be FSC or PEFC-certified, verified legal or carry a FLEGT license.

One more question on the details. Under Lacey, importers are required to list all possible species if they can’t limit it to a single one and in reality, if you’re not dealing with plantation wood, most commercial names will have multiple species intermixed—US Red Oak for example might consist easily of a dozen actual species sold under that commercial designation. Or in Lacey, you can group things as “SPF” on a declaration. And you can also identify multiple countries of origin—a company might be purchasing from both Oak Germany and France or Hard Maple from both the US and Canada. The answer may be too detailed for the blog, but is there a procedure in place to handle this very common mixing of supply and species?

Jason: In cases where commercial names combine multiple species, just as with Lacey, you declare all of the possible ones – and if you have covered your bases, then a test to ID species will never come back negative. You could identify multiple potential countries of origin in a declaration also, but if this is the best you can do, then that product will not be able to contribute toward earning the point – because If you need to provide a map showing the forest of origin, then obviously you are going to have to be specific about the country.

Thanks for all of this, it’s a lot to think about. So, bottom line: what should a manufacturer interested in offering this option to their customers do in advance?

Jason: Know where your wood comes from.

Well, that’s certainly always true! Thank you for your time and help in introducing this program to the industry. Please come back and tell us how it works out!

For More information:


Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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