Is Bamboo The Most Sustainable Material?
Updated: Aug 14
Bamboo is heralded as the most sustainable building material in the world: from eco-friendly products, to sustainably designed green homes, bamboo is a material that has so much green potential, and that is finally being realised all over the world.
The sustainable properties of bamboo are a critical focal point in collectively paving the path to greener living. The plant species has many impressive properties and functions that make it an ideal candidate for eco-building materials.
In this post, we will be taking you on a virtual trip to one of the locations where this material has been used for millennia, Indonesia, to understand more about this strikingly resilient material. Before we get going, however, it’s important to dive into just what makes this material such a superstar in the world of sustainable construction.
The Bio-Basics of Bamboo
Did you know, bamboo is actually a type of grass, not a tree!?
Another surprising fact is that there are over 1,000 species of the incredible grass, and while many of these can be eaten (as seen by the beloved Giant Panda), others are used for heavy-duty construction.
Bamboo is divided into two sections that define just how it grows in nature. ‘Clumpers’ and ‘runners’ are different due to their root types and how quickly they grow. Clumpers are defined by thick roots that spread slowly, while Runners grow quickly and tend to take over as much soil as they can.
Alongside these growth types, bamboo can also grow up to an entire metre per day. This means that one bamboo shoot could be taller than YOU in just 48 hours...talk about fast growing! This also means that it can reach a height of 30 metres in just 2 months, or the height of a six-story building.
The Magical Bamboo of Bali
In 2020, Ben visited Bali, Indonesia to see fascinating bamboo architecture in action.
“We arrived on the mainland of Bali and headed inland towards the bamboo forest in Ubud, we walked across the rice fields… then when we reached the bamboo forests, they looked like they touched the sky,” Ben recalled.
In Southeast Asia especially, bamboo forests take up vast amounts of space, but fret not, as bamboo harvesting has not been classed as deforestation due to its quick regrowth. It also produces 35% more oxygen than most tree species, and captures a huge amount of Co2.
Bamboo > Timber
As we scramble to combat climate change, in the development and construction space, we believe that bamboo could be a vital part of creating sustainable housing for people around the world, while not sacrificing the earth.
Here are 5 more reasons we believe bamboo comes out on top:
Structural bamboo’s tensile strength (or load able to take on per square inch) surpasses that of steel!
Bamboo is more renewable than standard timber, which can take up to 7x as long to reach readiness for harvesting.
Bamboo forests act as immense carbon sinks, or areas which absorb mass amounts of carbon so that it does not remain in the atmosphere.
It can help prevent landslides and erosion! Due to its complex root systems, bamboo helps anchor the soil in place, assisting in rainy seasons, preventing landslides from occurring, and making it difficult for erosion to occur.
There may be even more species of bamboo left to be discovered in the future, allowing for even more uses and potential applications!
The Reality of Bamboo In The Western World
We know what you’re thinking: Why don't we use bamboo as much in the West? One answer is that we do not have the same hot, humid climate as Southeast Asia or even Central America where it is easy to grow bamboo. This, however, does not mean we cannot utilise bamboo within our buildings in different ways.
In 2017, Dutch engineer Pablo van der Lugt gave a TedTalk entitled “Bamboo to Save the World”, in which he talked about the incredible potential of reforesting the world with bamboo, and how this can benefit humans, our climate, and can even change the way industry operates. Bamboo’s practicality also extends beyond just exteriors, and can also be used to create countless other products including:
One of our personal favourite clothing brands is BAM Clothing, ethically made from bamboo, selling everything from activewear to knitwear to cosy basics in completely plastic-free packaging. We can personally attest to their clothes being the softest ever, and a favourite for both winter and summer in our house. They frequently have great sales on too, and even offer a clothing recycling program that helps prevent clothing waste. (Plus, it doesn't have to be just BAM Clothing you're recycling!) For 20% of your first order, use this exclusive link! Read more about their incredible impact in their 2022 Annual Impact Positive Report here.
Keep An Eye Out For Greenwashing
Bamboo has a lot of incredible functionalities and uses, however, if you do decide to opt in for a new bamboo-based product (such as your new eco-friendly bamboo bottle or toothbrush), remember to check out the packaging and manufacturer first! If it’s a bamboo product shipped, packaged, or wrapped in plastic, it may not actually be sustainable.
Greenwashing is the act of making a product, company, or service look sustainable, while it actually is not. Today, ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco’ have become unregulated buzzwords, allowing companies whose products or practices may be unsustainable try to pass themselves off as so. Greenwashing is a serious downfall in the consumer industry, and is something we look forward to diving into more in future content.
So can bamboo save the world? Yes, it can, but it’s going to take everyone.
The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 350 million hectares of the world's deforested land by 2030. One hectare of bamboo captures 1000 tonnes of CO2, while global CO2 emissions per year is estimated to be about 35 million kilotons. In 2017, the Bonn Challenge was able to surpass its initial target of restoring 150 million hectares of deforested land by 2020 ahead of schedule through the cooperation of 71 countries, but we know more still needs to be done.
We hope you enjoyed this blog post and that you now have a better understanding of how bamboo functionalities and uses are helping to secure a greener future for our world.