We may be settling into 2010, but one unresolved legal development in 2009 could have a broad impact on the future of the green building industry. On October 20, 2009, the Coalition for Fair Forest Certification ("the Coalition") filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (pdf), alleging anti-competitive behavior by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC):
"[T]he Coalition asks that the FTC investigate through the Bureau of Consumer Protection the deceptive and unfair trade practices arising out of FSC’s forest certification standards; investigate through the Bureau of Competition concerns about anticompetitive activities and monopolization arising out of USGBC’s LEED rating system and preference for FSC-certified products; and provide guidance to standard-setting organizations concerning behavioral standards for compliance with antitrust law."
My law firm represents many of the forest product companies involved in this complaint (another law firm submitted the letter), so I will not be discussing the allegations made against the FSC. Nor will I debate the merits of one wood certification versus another. But I will continue to keep you updated on the status of this complaint and I will be discussing allegations made against the USGBC and the potential impact of these allegations on green building regulations.
First, some background on the connection between USGBC, LEED and FSC:
"Under the LEED system, points can be awarded in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation & design process. Credit 7 under the materials & resources category addresses the issue of certified wood, with the intent of encouraging environmentally responsible forest management. The requirements for the credit are:
'Use a minimum of 50% (based on cost) of wood-based materials and products, certified in accordance with the Forest Stewardship Council’s Principles and Criteria, for wood building components including, but not limited to, structural framing and general dimensional framing, flooring, finishes, furnishings, and non-rented temporary construction applications such as bracing, concrete form work and pedestrian barriers.'"
According to the Coalition’s complaint, forest product companies that do not supply FSC-certified wood can not contribute to LEED materials & resources Credit 7: "[T]he three standards most widely adopted by forest owners in the U.S. and Canada - SFI, the Canadian Standards Association ("CSA") Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the American Tree Farm System - receive no points under LEED, creating a substantial disadvantage for American-sourced wood products."
Among other actions, the Coalition has asked the FTC's Bureau of Competition to investigate the USGBC’s preference for FSC-certified wood:
"The Coalition also believes that the exclusionary actions of USGBC and its exclusive endorsement of FSC-certified products . . . warrants investigation by the Bureau of Competition concerning issues of possible monopolization, attempt to monopolize and conspiracy to monopolize the fast-growing certification marketplace. In examining the issue, the Coalition invites the FTC to use USGBC as a case in point to provide specific guidance to USGBC and other standard setting organizations."
It’s this last sentence that has really caught my attention.
How do you think the FTC should respond to the Coalition's complaint?
Photo: Travelin' Librarian