This article looks into the sustainability credentials of bamboo products.
It is based on the findings from the INBAR Technical report number 35, which can be found here.
Bamboo is often lauded for its best-in-class sustainability credentials. The INBAR report uses Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and carbon footprinting to assess the sustainability of a selection of bamboo products. These are the two best methodologies for comparing the true sustainability of various products.
The figure that caught my eye in the study was the finding that showed that if production parameters were optimised, that industrial bamboo products can have a negative carbon footprint over their full life-cycle, from cradle to grave.
The authors provide the following helpful explanation of what this means:
“This means that the credits gained through carbon sequestration, and from burning to produce electricity in a power plant at the end of each product’s life, outweigh the emissions caused by the production and transport processes.”
I thought the study’s finding that energy consumption in processing industrial bamboo products is the largest contributor to their environmental impact was interesting. This makes up 36–53% of eco-costs and 52-63% of the carbon footprint of bamboo products.
A common defence of using timber in Europe and North America is that Bamboo’s transport from South America and Asia will make it less sustainable. In this regard it is interesting that the next largest contributor to environmental impact is international sea transport, which is responsible for 15-25% of the carbon footprint and 28-37% of the eco-costs of industrial bamboo products.
As we can see from the two charts bamboo performs vary favourable as compared to other materials in terms of carbon costs and eco-costs.
However, the key benefit of bamboo and why it wins on sustainability lies on the resource side. Because bamboo is a giant grass species, it is less susceptible to clear-cutting and deforestation and is ideal for reforestation.
The key winning features of bamboo include the following:
- The mother plant consists of many stems connected through a vast underground root system, with new stalks coming up each year.
- Bamboo is harvested like an agricultural crop.
- Due to its extensive root system, bamboo can be planted in areas where farming is not feasible.
- Its fast growth results in a high annual yield
What you need to know
This article looked into why bamboo wins on sustainability through the findings of the INBAR technical report number 35.
The report provided the eye-catching figure that bamboo products can be produced that are carbon negative over their lifecycle.
Energy consumption and international shipping were identified as two pinch points that are responsible for a large proportion of bamboo’s environmental and carbon footprint. Actions taken in these areas would go a long way to making it even more sustainable.
Bamboo was shown to compare extremely favourably in compassion to other industrial materials.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote the benefits of bamboo?