Is bamboo really the sustainable hero we’re looking for?

You might have noticed your colleagues sipping their Dalgona coffees through reusable bamboo straws, or quietly admired the sleek grace of that new bamboo boardroom table. You may have seen the new bamboo fashion labels, or even been served your favourite dish on a bamboo dinner plate lately.

Bamboo is getting a lot of attention again. From bamboo coffee cups to bamboo toothbrushes, flooring, furniture, and even fashion, bamboo is embraced as the earth-friendly wonder material for anyone investing in eco-conscious life and business decisions. But is bamboo really the sustainable hero we’ve all been looking for?

It’s true that bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It requires no toxic pesticides and very little water. It produces more oxygen than trees. It can repair damaged soil. And as a giant grass, it naturally regenerates. It’s like a super plant that’s incredibly versatile, lightweight, and hardwearing.

So of course, we’re looking forward to the day that forest-friendly bamboo products become the go-to alternatives to plastic, Styrofoam, single use packaging, and unsustainable toilet and tissue papers. But that doesn’t mean that bamboo is the sustainable answer every time.

From seed to final product, the question of sustainability is such a layered one. So it is up to us as individuals, and as brands, to respectfully interrogate the impact our product choices make on the environment at every stage.

Even at the ‘seed stage’, bamboo can lose its eco credibility when trees or native vegetation are cleared just to plant the bamboo. Or when profit-over-planet farmers use pesticides and chemicals to boost their yields even though the bamboo doesn’t actually need any chemical help.

And later, when we look at some of the bamboo manufacturing processes, they can be surprisingly harsh. Transforming bamboo into a soft, wearable texture, for example, can often involve chemicals that are incredibly harmful to the environment and highly toxic to living creatures.

So we applaud those who are restoring degraded land with their bamboo farms, who are creating integrated ecosystems and adhere to a strict framework of climate change benefits. Those who are bringing a positive impact to the rural communities surrounding them, and who are implementing green manufacturing technologies without the toxic waste streams and high footprints.

There are even those who are creating chemical-free manufacturing technologies for the production of green, alternative textiles from certified bamboo resources.

Across multiple industries, bamboo could be so much more than the timber of the 21st century, but it is up to all of us to partner with the true champions of change and support products that are clean from start to finish.

It’s worth that little extra interrogation. Because this is not ‘the new marketing strategy’. This is the new economy. And when we get it right, the possibilities are endless.

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