Is Bamboo Flooring Really Green? We Still Don't Know.

Little Blue Hen/CC BY 2.0

What could be greener than bamboo? It grows so fast, and makes pandas so happy. Six years ago I wondered in Bamboo Flooring- Is It Really Treehugger Green? and after reading a report from Dovetail Partners among other documents, concluded that it is not as green as it could be, that choice of supplier is important, and that there needed to be better third-party certification.

Now Nadav Malin and Jessica Boehland at Environmental Building News have looked at bamboo again, and what is surprising to me is how little things have changed.

The good news is that there doesn't appear to be widespread replacement of natural forests for bamboo plantations; not much of China has been natural for thousands of years. Concerns about the poor pandas also appear to be unfounded:

One of the myths about bamboo flooring is that it is taking food away from endangered Giant Pandas. While they do rely almost exclusively on bamboo shoots and leaves for food, pandas no longer occupy the lowlands where bamboo is now harvested for industrial uses. So, the remaining pandas eat only species that grow at the higher elevations that represent the remnants of their habitat.

However there still isn't anything equivalent to FSC certification for bamboo.

Jeff Hayward, Asia Pacific regional manager for the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program, notes that “while there is great potential for bamboo if standards could be arrived at that would settle these questions, the FSC has not produced such a process or standards in China.”

Bamboo is not a solid material cut into boards like wood, but in fact is made of strands compressed together with glue, which depending on the supplier, can be formaldehyde free or not. The stuff still varies all over the place in terms of hardness, depending on the quality and the colour, but it is still marketed as being harder than wood. There are still all kinds of questions about the manufacture and handling of the chemicals used to preserve it, glue it together and to seal it.

The authors note that no bamboo products are Greenguard certified, and one company that does testing for Greenguard has seen mixed results. “We’ve done testing on some bamboo floors that look great, others that don’t,” reports Steady [of Air Quality Sciences, Inc.]

Six years ago I wrote:

Choice of supplier is important. You can't just pull it off the lumberyard shelf and assume that it is a green product- you have to check out the source. And you have to trust them, as there appears to be no third-party certification process. While there are benefits accruing from using a renewable resource, until one can find an FSC or equivalent approval rating, a Fair Trade seal, formaldehyde free, it does not get five hugs from Treehugger.

Today, Nadav Malin and Jessica Boehland write in BuildingGreen:

Whether through FSC or some other program, industry leaders need to create a system that backs up their claims about resource management and manufacturing practices with the credibility of an independently verified, third-party certification program. And, given their dependence on questionable urea-formaldehyde binders, they need to start participating in North America’s existing testing and certification programs for chemical emissions from their products. Certification programs do add to the cost of doing business, but they are the best way to prove the environmental merits of bamboo products.

I know that things move slowly in the architecture business, but six years is a very long time. It is shocking to me how little things have changed.

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Tags: Bamboo | China | Green Building

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