Bamboo flooring has become something of a phenomenon among U.S. homeowners in recent years, a development that is widely touted as good for the environment. Based largely on the high growth rate of the bamboo plant, bamboo is today promoted as a “green” building material. A website dedicated to green resources notes that oak takes 120 years to grow to maturity and that bamboo can be harvested in 3 to 7 year cycles, commenting that because bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource it “has environmental advantages over finite raw materials and long-cycle renewable resource extraction.” This theme also appears in the website of the California Integrated Waste Management Board in a section focused on sustainable building. The reputation of bamboo as an environmentally preferable option to wood appears to have its roots in a November 1997 article in the well-respected newsletter Environmental Building News. Included in that article is the statement: “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.” Today, bamboo flooring is recognized as a green building material by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program, with the result that builders can receive credit toward green building certification for incorporating bamboo into a structure.
In an era in which the environmental attributes of materials are increasingly questioned, and production details increasingly available, it is remarkable that a product such as bamboo flooring has been so firmly embraced by the green movement without vigorous attempts to determine what impacts result from its production and use. Investigation reveals many environmental concerns associated with growing, harvesting, and converting bamboo to useful products. Clearly, the green status currently accorded bamboo products needs serious re-evaluation.