Green Bamboo? …Maybe

September 11, 2009

Have you noticed all the green marketing around lately?  It’s on everything from clothing to clothing to coffee filters to recycled paper.  I’m not about to debate whether recycled anything is green, but let’s take a look at the claims being made about bamboo.

Bamboo, as you may be aware, is the woody stalk of a plant that grows so fast and using so little resources (very few nutrients and a small amount of water) that it’s being labeled as green.  It’s made into cutting boards, clothing, sheets, coffee filters, and flooring.  But are those products truly green?

Let me just ask you a quick question.  Have you seen any bamboo being grown commercially around where you live?  And have you checked the products certification?  There is no global certification standard for using responsibly produced bamboo, and until it’s developed, you may want to the producers for guidance.

Bamboo is popular in clothing, sheets, towels and other textiles because it’s cool against the skin, absorbs water well, and feels soft.  But the process of turning the woody stalks into silky fabric uses a lot of water, energy, and chemicals, according to industry insiders.   Laura Wehrman, owner of Tela Verde, a New York-based company that tracks sustainable textiles for the fashion industry says that it “does not meet the definition of sustainability."  She also says, it’s probably less of a planet-taxing alternative than non-organic cotton or polyester, and has the potential to be greener if manufacturing processes improve.

The group, “Oeko-Tex” certifies textiles that have met safety and environmental standards.  Consumers can check for compliance with this standard.

Bamboo flooring is also growing in popularity because of its low cost and durability.  The Forest Stewardship Council certifies environmentally responsible flooring. Look for the council's symbol when seeking out bamboo construction materials.

One product that is known to be on top of the “ecologically sound” movement is Bambu, a line of tableware available at Target and other retailers.  It is certified organic by a Swiss body, IMO.

Bamboo can be a smart alternative to wood products, but don't assume it's synonymous with sustainability. Most of it is grown and the products produced in Asia, where there is already concern that demand for it is causing clear-cutting of old growth forests. The carbon footprint of shipping it around the world is not insignificant.  So check with companies before you buy, and don't buy new if you don't really have to. 


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