Bamboo flooring epitomizes “green washing”. That is, selling something as green that is only made to appear green on surface. Though there may be products that are less green and still sold as green, bamboo has become the vanguard of green projects. Like other green wash, all of the potentially green aspects of bamboo are hyped and its drawbacks were not mentioned. Bamboo really is an amazing material. Despite growing very fast, it is hard and has other beneficial properties such as water resistance. It can be grown in great abundance per acre. It can be beautiful. Environmental Building News said, “Environmentally, it’s hard to argue with a wood substitute that matures in three years, regenerates without need for replanting, and requires minimal fertilization or pesticides.” So what is the drawback? To start with, every bit of the bamboo used in the United States is shipped across the pacific. Even if the fuel used in transporting it is not enough to make it less than green, what is the environmental impact of this transportation on marine habitat? Though hard, bamboo is not as hard as it has been hyped to be. Though Bamboo can be regrown it the same location, demand has lead to the clear cutting of forests and monoculture cultivation. Though Bamboo can be grown without much added nutrients, fertilizers and herbicides are being used to increase yields. In many regions of China Bamboo grows on very steep hill sides. Clear cutting the bamboo has caused extensive erosion.
Most Bamboo comes from china, where wages and workers’ rights are far below our standards. Most Bamboo flooring is manufactured with little regulatory oversight. This has allowed for low quality and even hazardous materials to be used. Bamboo is delivered as an engineered product that has lower tolerance for moisture and other environmental impacts.
Even the Bamboo industry has had to admit that “bamboo resources are harvested in a non-sustainable manner.”
Whether building a custom home or remodeling an existing home, building green requires a holistic look at the complete project, including effects half way around the world. Even here in College Station, where we have a well educated population with a high number of design and construction specialists, it is sometimes difficult to get enough information to make these determinations.