Bamboo Flooring- Is It Really Treehugger Green?

Bamboo Flooring Lacks Credible Certification, For Now
Dr Bowyer points out that there is nothing comparable to FSC Certification, ensuring that the forest has been harvested in a sustainable fashion. (We note that FSC looked at this last year but have not seen any certifed bamboo yet)

Other Issues with Bamboo Flooring

  • There is no Fair Trade certification, ensuring that the workers have appropriate working conditions and wages. Considering that it grows like a weed and is being manufactured by rural Chinese workers, and yet sells at prices comparable to local hardwoods, someone is making huge margins on its current trendiness. We think it should be the workers.

  • Almost all bamboos have formaldehyde binders.

  • It's mostly shipped from China, which flies in the face of our obsessions with local sourcing (although there is no local source so it gets a bit of a pass here)and import substitution.

However, like any material, not all bamboos are created equal. Toronto writer David Lasker points out that certain companies, like Teragren, make a point of addressing FSC certification (or lack thereof), Formadehyde (lower than every standard extant) supporting "farmers and their families by paying fair market value for our raw materials and by encouraging proper stewardship of this valuable resource." (Read more in Treehugger here)

Nor are all finishes the same. Canada's K&M; /Silk Road says "Laminated bamboo is hugely less toxic than your typical carpet- Guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Carpet and Rug Institute call for carpets to emit no more than 0.5 milligrams of VOCs per square meter per hour. Vancouver-based Forintek Canada Corp., a wood-products research institute, has certified K&M;'s product at a virtually non-detectable .00563 milligrams."

Nor does it all come from China. Doug Lewis established Bamboo Hardwoods, and "opted to set up his own factory in Vietnam, in part because the farmers supplying him with bamboo own their own land and thus have an incentive not to harvest the shoots prematurely. Lewis also wanted control over conditions in the factory, so he could address environmental and worker safety concerns effectively." (buildinggreen)

In conclusion:
Functionally, it is not intrinsically harder or better than traditional floors.

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.

Right now if we had to chose between bamboo and, say, locally cut FSC certified maple flooring, a strong case could be made that the maple is environmentally a better choice. And don't forget Marmoleum!

further reading:
Bamboom in Salon
More on Bamboo Flooring
What's So Great About Bamboo?
Bamboo Flooring from Smith & Fong Earns FSC Certification

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