Timber gains green ground after GBCA’s revision on credits

News /
12 April 2010

A number of ‘green’ construction sites have started accepting timber certified under the Australian Forestry Standard, reversing an FSC-only policy stringently adhered to for many years.

This follows the decision in December [implemented January 1] by the Green Building Council of Australia to revise its timber credit to allow equal consideration of the AFS and Forest Stewardship Council schemes.

This is good news for an industry that has more than 90% of its wood products under AFS certification. But generally, such news is very scant and since the GBCA u-turn there has been little feed-back on the extent of Australia’s AFS-wood flow to green building projects.

“This might simply mean all is going well and that there is a general acceptance of AFS certified products,” says Jim Bindon, managing director of Big River Timbers, Grafton, NSW, one of the biggest producers of formply.

“There has been little noise from building sites about green star, so it’s good news that our sales reps are reporting no resistance to our AFS certified products.

“Admittedly, a lot of the green sites accepting AFS wood are government projects and we’re unsure at this stage how private project operators are responding to equal opportunity timber credits.”

Gary Holmes, sales manger of Austral Plywoods in Brisbane, has noticed an increased acceptance of the company’s AFS certified products by green star buildings.

“We have posted the GBCA media release about its acceptance of both schemes on our web site and we are receiving about three to four positive inquiries every day on AFS. They say they now have a wider choice.”

The GBCA’s FSC-only proviso in its green building rating system came under enormous pressure last year, intensified by a meeting of the Primary Industries Ministerial Council that advocated the council “re-examine a green building rating system that discriminates against the Australian forestry certification scheme”. The GBCA is an independent not-for-profit organisation backed by a range of organisations that pay membership fees. Its main connection to government is through the voluntary green-star program.

The Australian chapter of the FSC also boasts the backing of two conservation groups – the Australian Conservation Foundation and the more hard-line Wilderness Society, who sit of the FSC board.

But governments have no formal role in the council’s program, which is voluntary and state and federal governments last year applied heavy political pressure for GBCA to change its environmental standards.

A meeting of Primary Industry Ministers in November (which included federal forestry minister Tony Burke) called on the council to accept the AFS scheme. The Victorian and Queensland governments were the main drivers of the pressure. Now government projects have ‘opened’ to AFS certified timber products.

Leading project management and construction company Bovis Lend Lease – considered the greenest of the green on its choice of green star building materials – has used a considerable amount of AFS certified wood products, including formply, in three major projects it is managing for the Queensland Government.

These include the new Gold Coast University Hospital, which gives Bovis a contract valued at about $1.4 billion out of a total project cost of $1.55 billion; the new $600 million Supreme and District Courts building on George Street, Brisbane; and the $287 million Robina Hospital on the Gold Coast.

It is believe the law courts building will use more than 20,000 sq m of AFS hoop pine plywood for bench tops in 32 court rooms.

The GBCA acceptance of AFS accreditation has seen timber awarded one point and now industry interest centres on the second stage review.

“The second stage is a proposal by GBCA to evaluate certification schemes to achieve two points – still not a huge reward for a material that runs rings around steel and concrete,” the chief executive of AFS Ltd Kayt Watts told T&F enews. “The move to the second stage has not commenced. For GBCA to do so, there needs to be some internal adjustments as to how they go about conducting this evaluation.

“The big issue is that GBCA cannot re-invent the process or criteria which identify what is sustainable forest management. This has already been done by the forest certification schemes.”

Ms Watts said AFSL followed a rigorous and credible process determined by Standards Australia and ISO procedures, which included public consultation and a strict governance model.

“GBCA has advised AFSL that it will consult with us prior to commencing a second stage,” she said.

[AFCS has the only sustainable forest management (AS 4708) and the only chain of custody (AS 4707) certification process that meets Australian standards]. GBCA’s technical manger for materials and certification Shloni Bonet told T&F enews the council was working on the second stage, which involved “significant criteria” and was committed to complete this review during 2010.

“The first point in the new credit is awarded where legality of timber products is assured, and all certification schemes provide that assurance,” Mr Bonet said. “The second part will involve determining if timber is sourced from well-managed forests that do not degrade the conservation value of those forests. It’s all about governance and forest management.”

One of the key architects of the AFS scheme and a board member Dr Hans Drielsma said industry should be cautious about how much pressure it puts on GBCA in regard to the second stage criteria, in view of the ground won by AFS.

Dr Drielsma, who is executive general manger of Forestry Tasmania, said moving to the second stage could be “quite problematic” – for the GBCA and the industry. “When the time comes there will be those who will endeavour to differentiate between the two schemes when considering extra points,” he said.

“Arguments for another point might bring on another fight.

“At the end of the day, one point isn’t so bad, if you consider AFS didn’t get a look-in on GBCA before December last year.”

Dr Drielsma added: “But don’t get me wrong. Industry should still push for a higher recognition of timber from a carbon-efficiency point of view.”

General manger of the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia Simon Dorries said this interim arrangement gave AFS and FSC and equal opportunity going forward to review their schemes to maximise the credit points they could achieve.

He said engineered wood products had the ability to gain up to three Green Star rating points– one point for forest certification, one point for low formaldehyde emissions (E0 or E1) and an extra point in Office Fit Out for super E0 (average 0.3 milligrams to a maximum of 0.4 milligrams emissions).

“All Australasian manufacturers of EWPs can meet the specification of EO or E1 certified under a JAS-ANZ accredited system,” he said.

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