Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Are bamboo floors really green?


Bamboo Sustainability
Although panda bears enjoy noshing on bamboo, the popularity of the reedy grass as housing material may come at the cost of biodiversity.
Although panda bears enjoy noshing on bamboo, the popularity of the reedy grass as housing material may come at the cost of biodiversity.
Gary Vestal/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images

Before you hop in your hybrid to head to the nearest bamboo-flooring store, you should know that not everything about bamboo is eco-friendly.

First, there's getting the bamboo to you. The type of bamboo used in wood flooring is grown mostly in Asia, so to get the bamboo to the consumer, it must be shipped, which is costly and guzzles up energy [source: Treehugger]. Some U.S. bamboo sellers include carbon offsets in the price of the flooring; however, this only raises the price and doesn't stop the depletion of limited natural resources like oil. It also doesn't solve the questionable labor practices found in countries like China, the main supplier of bamboo.

Second, there's the urea, a type of formaldehyde used to finish many types of bamboo. Formaldehyde is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), which reduces indoor air quality. There are other options for getting the bamboo the color you desire, including heating it, but heating bamboo wood decreases its strength, oftentimes making it less durable than regular wood. For more on bamboo flooring construction, see How Bamboo Flooring Works.

Finally, bamboo has become so profitable that the lower income, rural residents who originally benefited from farming it are succumbing to market pressures. To keep up with demand, farmers are increasingly using fertilizers and pesticides, which leach into the ground and contaminate groundwater [source: Bowyer].

Forests also are being cleared to make room for the more profitable bamboo. While bamboo is good at preventing soil erosion, the initial deforestation and time it takes for the bamboo to establish itself leaves the land vulnerable. Additionally, while bamboo makes a good habitat for a large number of insects, birds and animals, there are other species that only call tree forests home; replacing much of the tree forests with bamboo decreases biodiversity in the region [source: Bamboo Flooring Report].

Now that you've learned the less-than-green side of bamboo flooring, you may be wondering, "What other eco-friendly options do I have?" Read on to find out about alternatives to hardwood and bamboo floors.


More to Explore