Sourcing Sustainable Bamboo Flooring

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

Bamboo flooring has developed quite a name for itself as a green flooring option. Even though MOTHER EARTH NEWS has covered why to choose bamboo, our initial research left us worrying that bamboo had been thoroughly greenwashed. We read of bamboo monoculture forests being planted after a native forest was clear cut, we knew the transportation from overseas would add many pounds of CO2 to the product’s environmental impact, we worried the resins and glues that hold the strands of bamboo together were highly toxic in many products, and we’d heard that bamboo is soft and easily damaged. Turns out, we were wrong. At least sometimes.

As with most other topics in this blog series, the answer to whether bamboo is a sustainable flooring choice does not have a simple yes or no response. The answer depends on which company you buy your bamboo flooring from, which determines the conditions of the forest from which the bamboo was cut, the types of resins and finishes used, and the durability of the product. In the August/September issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, in the Ask Our Experts department, a reader asked about how to find sustainable bamboo flooring. (Needless to say, I was intrigued as well.) The main kernel of information that we took from the response by Chris Magwood, author of Making Better Buildings, was:

Choosing bamboo flooring that meets the FloorScore standard — developed by Scientific Certification Systems and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute — will help ensure your choice is healthy in terms of indoor air quality. Buying bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) will also help you know you’re purchasing responsibly. Keep in mind, however, that FSC certifies some monoculture plantations — and in those cases, even if the plantations use sound practices, much of the environmental damage would have already occurred. Ask questions and research options to find out whether the bamboo you’re considering came from a monoculture operation or a more diverse, sustainable forest.

Through our conversations with Gerould Sabin, owner of Elements of Green in Kansas City, we were able to find a bamboo flooring product that is, indeed, green (well, it’s actually Fossilized Mocha, but you know what I mean). We were able to look through samples, get a feel for the product, and compare several brands to find something we were comfortable with environmentally, aesthetically and financially. We ended up with Cali-Bamboo, which has an FSC-certified line and uses low-VOC resins and sealers. If you’re interested in pursuing other sustainable flooring options, you can check out his website or search “sustainable flooring” at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website.

Photo of finished bamboo floor by Flickr/designbuildinhabit.

Next in the series:A Closer Look at Recycled Countertops
Previously in the series:Which Windows Are Best for a Passive Solar Home?

­­­Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!

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