If you’ve done any research on bamboo flooring for your space, then you know that one of the main benefits associated with this flooring type is how eco-friendly it is. By definition, eco-friendly refers to products that have as little impact on the environment as possible. Over the past decade, there has been a huge shift in the market towards home and building materials that are good for humans, animals, and the environment.
In general, bamboo flooring has lots of characteristics that make it much more eco-friendly than other flooring types. From the way the bamboo is grown, to the plant’s comparatively short grow time, and even in the way it is harvested and manufactured, bamboo floors can be a great option for those that place a heavy emphasis on living a “green” lifestyle.
It may be difficult to find a resource that will provide an all-in view of the plant itself and how the qualities of the grass get passed on to bamboo floors, but we’ve written this article to get you up to speed on all of the information that you need before making a final decision.
In this article, we’ll give you a general overview of the grass that is used to produce bamboo floors, the characteristics that help to make bamboo floors an eco-friendly option, and what to look out for to ensure that you’re truly choosing eco-friendly bamboo floors. While a good portion of this article will be related to the woody grass that bamboo floors are derived from, we feel it is important to truly grasp how eco-friendly this option really is.
An overview of bamboo
In order to understand what makes bamboo flooring so eco-friendly when compared to other flooring types, you should first understand the nature and origin of bamboo grass.
Many people who live in the western hemisphere think of bamboo as thae plant that cute pandas like to eat; it is much more than that. Bamboo has been grown and cultivated in China for thousands of years. To this day, China is by far the largest grower and exporter of bamboo in the world.
Due to millennia of trial and error, there have been major advancements in the way that bamboo is planted, grown, harvested, and utilized in hundreds, if not thousands of products. Because of these advancements, bamboo floors are considered to be one of the most eco-friendly flooring options you can find.
Many of the qualities that make bamboo a great flooring option also make it a good material for many other types of products. From utensils, to other building materials, to home decor, bamboo has been trusted by many as an alternative to materials that do much more damage to our environment.
9 qualities that make bamboo an eco-friendly flooring option
While there are so many environmental benefits associated with bamboo floors when compared to other flooring materials, we wanted to provide a list that allows you to see the reasons why anyone who is eco-conscious should seriously consider bamboo floors for their space.
1. It is a renewable option and does not need re-planting
Bamboo spans thousands of acres in the many forests where it is harvested around the world, and two of the many reasons is because of the plant’s ability to grow back quickly and because farmers are able to re-harvest the original plant up to 150 times.
During harvest, the plants are cut from the ground without removing their original roots; this means that for each bamboo plant that you harvest, there is no need to plant a new seed, as a new stalk of bamboo will begin to sprout from the same roots.
2. It grows back much quicker than other options
When you think of some of the most popular materials used for hardwood floors, you probably think of trees like oak trees, maple trees, and hickory trees. One quality that all of these trees have in common is that they all take a considerably long amount of time to grow. All three of these tree types normally take more than a decade to reach full maturity.
On the other hand, one of the characteristics that makes bamboo a much more desirable option for growing is that it can take as few as 3 to 5 years to reach full maturity. What this means is that in less than half the time it takes to grow the wood for the more popular materials, you are able to get up to 3 additional harvests from bamboo.
In addition, bamboo stalks can grow more than a foot per day. Not only are you able to harvest much quicker than other hardwoods, you are still able to get tons of material to use from just one stalk.
3. Safe harvesting practices
In many areas of the world where bamboo is grown (especially in China) bamboo forests continue to be harvested by hand. This process involves individuals or groups of individuals entering these forests with as little as a small axe to cut down bamboo stalks that reach as high as 50+ feet.
While this is not the case in all bamboo forests, when bamboo is harvested by hand it helps limit the amount of heavy machinery that is used during harvesting that could potentially emit harmful gasses into the environment. In addition, many bamboo forests around the world are in developing countries; this gives work opportunities to those who may otherwise have to look elsewhere for work.
4. The grass absorbs greenhouse gases
Bamboo’s ability to store carbon has long been studied and analyzed to determine how much carbon the grass can actually store. In general, most people believe that larger trees are able to absorb the most CO2.
In a study performed in the bamboo forests of Bolivia, a researcher measured the amount of carbon absorbed by a specific species of bamboo per hectare. The study found that, in some cases, this variety of bamboo was able to absorb as much carbon as some large trees, such as oak trees.
Any plant that is able to absorb this much carbon, and helps to ensure there are less greenhouse gases in the environment that lead to climate change should be toward the top of the list for the eco-conscious consumer.
5. Nearly every part of the plant is put to use
As you can imagine, with many of the materials that are used for different types of floors, there are parts of the plant that go unused. Because of the makeup of bamboo grass, you can use nearly every part of the bamboo to produce bamboo floors; this means there is no unnecessary waste during the harvesting and manufacturing process.
As noted previously, the only part of the plant that is not harvested is the root, and that is because it is left in the ground to continue to produce new stalks. In addition, since bamboo has grown in popularity and is being used for many categories of goods that are produced, there is sure to be a need for the material that is being grown for other products.
6. Virtually self-sufficient
In many cases you will find that it takes lots of fine care, fertilizer, or chemicals during the growing process for many of the trees that are grown for hardwood floors. Many of these chemicals and fertilizers can be harmful to the environment and even harmful to the surrounding area and soil.
As long as bamboo is in its ideal environment, it can be left virtually untouched after seeds are planted and even after the stalk is harvested. Bamboo grows best when it is in a climate that is warm, tropical, and humid; many of the countries where it is grown offer this type of climate.
7. Helps to prevent erosion
According to YouMatter, soil erosion is the process by which agents like water, wind, and mass movement cause the deterioration of soil. The effects of soil erosion include blocking rivers or canals which causes overflowing, and landslides.
The reason why bamboo helps to prevent soil erosion is because the roots remain intact even after harvesting. Because the same roots will stay in place and grow additional stalks, there is no soil treatment that takes place, no burning of trees, and therefore no damage to the soil.
8. It can be re-used in the same space or new home (i.e. it’s recyclable)
One of the interesting qualities that help to make bamboo floors an eco-friendly option is that they can be reused. While this may not be the case for engineered bamboo floors, which only use a thin layer of bamboo, strand woven and solid bamboo floors can be re-finished multiple times.
Essentially, instead of having to go out and purchase an entirely new set of bamboo planks to install, you can simply give your bamboo floors a facelift and re-use them. This may be a slightly easier process for floating bamboo floors versus those that are glued or nailed down.
9. Many brands offer low or ultra-low VOC options
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are often a concern when it comes to bamboo floors and many other types of hardwood floors. VOCs can be used during both the manufacturing and installation process for bamboo floors and, in high enough amounts, may cause consumers to worry about the health ramifications.
In a separate post, we’ve covered the many concerns that consumers have when it comes to the safety of bamboo floors and what different manufacturers are producing to alleviate some of these concerns. There are a select few bamboo flooring brands that are actually producing bamboo floors with amounts of VOCs that are so low that they are undetectable.
Certifications and what they mean
When shopping for bamboo floors or doing further research on what different bamboo brands have to offer, you’ll want to know what special certifications are out there that help to ensure that the brands are abiding by best practices when it comes to producing their bamboo.
Here we’ll give you a high level view of a couple of the most important certifications and what they mean.
The Forestry Stewardship Council is an organization that sets the standards for responsible forest management. It is a highly credible organization that is trusted by many of the leading “green” organizations around the world (e.g. Sierra Club, WWF, etc.).
For more than two decades, the Forestry Stewardship Council has offered growers around the world an opportunity to certify themselves and show that they are abiding by the standards set forth by the organization for forest management.
In order to become FSC-certified, a grower must meet all of the principles and criteria laid out by the organization; the grower’s forest is then audited to ensure compliance. Brands that successfully prove that they have met the requirements are then able to show the official trademarked FSC symbol, which shows consumers that their product came from a forest that was responsibly managed.
Look out for the FSC badge as you begin your research process. Brands that have met the requirements are sure to call this out on their packaging.
Typically more widely recognized when compared to the FSC certification, LEED certification is the premier certification when it comes to “green” and sustainable buildings. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED “provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings“.
The good news is, there are bamboo flooring brands whose bamboo floors are eligible for LEED credits. As with the FSC certification, brands will likely display information related to their LEED-eligibility on their sites or on their packaging.
The downside of bamboo floors
While we may have painted a rosy picture for bamboo floors and their eco-friendliness, it is important to understand that there are still things to consider before moving forward.
Bamboo can be grown at the expense of other plants and crops
Although the quick growing and renewable qualities explained above make bamboo a good option when compared to other hardwood floors, it may take the space that was once used or needed for other crops.
Due to the rise in popularity, there are examples of countries that have reduced the growing space for important food crops in order to make room for in-demand bamboo. Especially when considering that many of the countries that are growing bamboo are still developing, this can potentially have an impact on the population’s health and well-being.
Harvesting practices have changed due to demand
Because farmers are having to produce bamboo floors at a much quicker pace than normal, it has caused them to reconsider the manual harvesting practices that have been used for hundreds of years.
Many bamboo forests are being harvested using heavy machinery that is burning fossil fuels and harming the environment. This is also causing issues with individuals who depend on bamboo harvesting for their employment.
Fossil fuels burned by the ships carrying bamboo products across the ocean
What has been an interesting development over the last decade is that many of the countries that are growing and exporting bamboo are in the eastern hemisphere, while the majority of the demand is coming from the western hemisphere. This is causing a rise in the number of ships needed to get the bamboo transported from countries like China and India, to countries like the U.S and Canada.
These ships are burning harmful fossil fuels all along the way and potentially offsetting the many environmental benefits that bamboo floors have to offer.
What to look for when you’re ready to make a decision
If you’ve read this entire article and feel good enough about what you’ve learned in regards to how eco-friendly bamboo flooring is, you may want to know how to move forward from here.
Look out for the FSC and LEED labels on brand websites and packaging
As mentioned above, these certification symbols will likely be clearly labeled on the packaging and should give you an early signal that you’re buying from a brand that is looking out for the environment.
Check out our “Best Of” list
Because we know that many readers who are researching bamboo floors are likely looking for the most eco-friendly bamboo flooring brands, we took the time to put together a list for you.
Perform your own thorough research on each brand
If this is important to you, take the time to look past the surface-level information provided by most brands. You’ll be surprised with how much information you can find online about the growing, harvesting, and manufacturing processes for the most popular bamboo flooring brands.
Wrapping things up
While we know it can be quite intimidating to try and find accurate and valid content related to how eco-friendly bamboo floors are, our hope is that this article helps to clear up any doubt, but also helps to ensure that you’re keeping everything in mind before making a final decision.
Bamboo floors can be a great choice for the eco-conscious consumer and will help with making sure that you are thinking of your environment while sprucing up your space.