Is Bamboo Flooring really green?
Tipster Brad installed a bamboo floor and says "The environmental benefits are great, but the flooring itself is awful". We have had mixed experiences with it ourselves and decided to look more closely.
Before we look at the environmental issues, let's look at its utility- is it all it is cracked up to be? One of the major benefits touted by vendors is how hard and tough it is. It's Not. The popular carbonized darker bamboos are comparable to Black Walnut, considered a soft hardwood, and the lighter natural colours test comparable to maple. (colour is achieved not by staining but by heating, and the longer it heats the softer it gets) It is like any wood floor- it is damaged by dents, scratches and the killer of all wood floors, high heels. Jazzy aluminum oxide finish or not, it is a natural material that should not be marketed as being harder or more durable than conventional wood flooring. (::Hardwoodinstaller.com)
Is Bamboo Flooring Environmentally Better?We summarize a remarkable report by Dr. Jim Bowyer for Dovetail Partners
Bamboo flooring can be green...
There is no question that bamboo is a renewable resource- it is a grass and grows very quickly. Where oak takes 120 years to grow to maturity, bamboo can be harvested in three. It is recognized as a green material under LEED and as they said in Environmental Building News, "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."
From a social perspective, 6 million people in China work in bamboo and 600 million people worldwide rely on income from it.
...but it isn't as green as it could be
However it is clear that bamboo is not necessarily being managed in a sustainable fashion. It is true that it naturally regenerates, but forests are being cleared to grow it and it is becoming a monoculture. Although it is claimed that fertilizers are not necessary, in fact they are being used to increase yield. Research quoted in the report:
"Recently, bamboo expansion has come at the expense of natural forests, shrubs, and low-yield mixed plantations . . . It is common practice to cut down existing trees and replace them with bamboo."
"As forestlands tend to be in hilly and mountainous areas with steep slopes, clearcutting has resulted in an increase in erosion until the bamboo becomes fully established . . ."
"Natural forests in the vicinity of bamboo plantations have sometimes given way to bamboo as a result of deliberate efforts to replace them or because of the vigorous natural expansion of bamboo in logged over forests. This process has also had a negative impact on biodiversity."
"The intensive management practices employed involve manual or chemical weeding and periodic tilling of the land to keep the soil clear of undergrowth. These practices increase erosion and result in single-species plantations over large areas."
"The intensive use of chemicals (pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers) [associated with growing bamboo] also affects the environment . . ."