I first became aware of bamboo’s potential as a renewable resource a few years ago. A good friend of mine was participating in a project called The Alabamboo Make and Ride, in which a team of young participants built bicycles using bamboo for the frames. Then, over the course of two months, the team rode their creations from Alabama to San Francisco. The goal of the project was to promote the movement to bring sustainable bamboo production to Alabama. According to the project’s website, the United States is the world’s largest importer of bamboo, and there is little to no domestic bamboo production.
The truly fascinating thing about bamboo is that it appears to be a prime candidate for widespread sustainable production. The plant grows rapidly without too much tending, and some species sprout as much as 4 feet in a single day. It has a high strength-to-weight ratio, which is valued by builders for construction applications. Possibly the most exciting thing about bamboo is that it has a very efficient carbon sequestration rate, meaning that it traps carbon from the atmosphere at a higher rate than many other plants.
Using bamboo as a source material for various products isn’t a new idea. It can be (and has already been, to some degree) used to create many different products, including paper, fishing rods, bicycles and skateboards, textiles, furniture and wood flooring.
What is new is the idea of developing a domestic network of commercial bamboo farms. The economic impact of domestically producing bamboo could be a financial bright point, especially as the U.S. continues to try to rebound economically. Bamboo thrives in hot, humid climates, much like you’d find in Alabama, as well as most of the southeastern part of the U.S., making large portions of the country prime real estate.
While there are a number of groups devoted to the promotion of bamboo production throughout the U.S., they could certainly use some help getting the message out. Every day, people come into contact with products that COULD be produced using bamboo. The negative feedback a lot of consumers have toward bamboo-sourced products is that they tend to look like they were made from bamboo. Though aesthetically pleasing to some, to others, bamboo looks out of place when set against the décor of their home.
The beauty of bamboo is that it can be used as a source material without telegraphing the bamboo look. The many uses of bamboo fiber are limitless. Best of all, companies can tout a sustainable message related to the source material, even if it doesn’t LOOK like bamboo. And that’s key. The magic trick here from a marketing perspective will be to promote the benefits a consumer will likely care about as they purchase a home-related product – its beauty, style and performance. Then position the fact that it’s green as the cherry on top. It gives folks a reason to feel good about the thing they wanted to buy anyway.