The friction between the private sector and environmentalists is long standing, and historically, rightly so. We’ve been down the path of crop commercialization before, and it’s never in history worked out well for the environment; a new species, a new crop, a new product. A silver bullet plant that can provide exactly what industry and markets needs. And yet typically such plants go one of two ways; the way of Jatropha, which after a few years of being touted as the miracle plant of the biofuel industry, simply faded into nothingness; or the way of oil palm, where industrialization boomed, and with it came a mile wide trench of environmental devastation. Oil palm is not alone – from corn to eucalyptus, the majority of plants that have undergone rapid commercialization have caused a number of environmental and social issues.
No plant is inherently green. And bamboo is no different. It can be grown well, and sustainably, under which framework it can be extremely positive. Or it can be the cause of deforestation, conversion of natural ecosystems, and subsequent environmental and social degradation.
With a suite of new bamboo products seeming to appear on an increasingly frequent basis, we started to look at how commercialization of this crop might be different. This research kept leading us back to a single company that appears to be paving the way for this global conversion of bamboo from a small scale crop turned into handicraft and maybe some flooring, to a real viable fiber, while apparently maintaining all of its benefits.
So why is bamboo forging a path that is likely to be different? Simply, the foremost player currently responsible for the plant’s industrialization at a global and commercial scale is setting a benchmark of sustainability infront as they pioneer and grow the plant at scale, rather than in their wake as an after thought.
EcoPlanet Bamboo did something few private sector companies do. It went after, and actually received independent 3rd party certification within months of its plantation operations being underway in Nicaragua. Forest Stewardship Council forest management certification, validation and verification of the plantations’ climate change benefits through the Verified Carbon Standard, and an additional assurance of the social and environmental benefits through gold level Climate, Community and Biodiversity certification. The Kowie Bamboo Farm followed suit, acquiring Forest Stewardship Council certification within a few months of the completion of planting. Of course, certification schemes like FSC are not bullet proof themselves and often come under issues, but they have proven benefits, and are far better than no external auditing at all.
Through these early moves the company seems to have set the benchmark for what sustainability means in the context of commercially grown bamboo, and why the plant should never be grown otherwise. EcoPlanet Bamboo is coining the term “tree free” and “deforestation free” to describe their bamboo fiber and marketing the company’s focus to only grow bamboo on degraded land with relatively low inputs per ton of fiber output. These benefits all translate into added social impact, with sustainably grown bamboo having the ability to transform lives in underprivileged rural communities.
If EcoPlanet Bamboo can successfully scale its model of stringent certification and conscious capitalism, bamboo is indeed poised to successfully provide the marketplace with a sustainable alternative fiber. Organizations such as the World Bamboo Organization provide an additional – non private sector – layer of attention to ensure that as bamboo continues to get the attention it deserves, it is done so in a positive and realistic manner.
EcoPlanet Bamboo has put out a number of highly informative videos that provide a clear snapshot of how their framework for bamboo is pioneering a path as a truly sustainable alternative fiber for timber and manufacturing industries globally. They also run a Bamboo Plantation Blog that helps both laymen and aspiring bamboo farmers to join them in their framework of making sure that bamboo maintains its positive attributes.