Bamboo is the king of environmentally friendly construction material!
Bamboo is not a miracle solution to the environmental problems that faces the planet. But it can help to solve some of them even in terms of macro economy. At Asali Bali we are not extremists with the use of bamboo but we actively promote bamboo for some applications, like structure of building and roofing.
Summary of the advantages of bamboo for construction:
- bamboo is an affordable quality construction material abundantly available locally
- bamboo can be a life time material if buildings are designed and engineered properly
- Design, architecture and engineered constructions offer solutions to lower the weakness of bamboo and so increase sustainability
- traditional knowledge mixed up with modern techniques of construction and high quality bamboo poles leads to truly sustainable construction
- Using bamboo avoid the use of energy costing materials like steel or concrete. Why bamboo is a must speaking about ecology?
- Symbol of eternity for the Chinese, bamboo grows fast and continuously
- bamboo is an perpetual and renewable material if plantations are maintained and harvested correctly
- Bamboo grows where you cannot crop like mountain slopes or near rivers
- Bamboo is one of the plant that catch the most carbon in the atmosphere
- developing bamboo automatically means more jobs and development in remote rural areas
- you save trees of natural forest by using bamboo instead of wood
Let’s have a short look on wood which is one of the main competitors of bamboo for construction.
90% of the wood sold in Indonesia comes from natural forest including Bangkirai, Merbau, Meranti. 25% of the millennium natural forest of Indonesia has been clean out for ever since 20 years. And it is the second forest of the world after Brazil.
Until you keep buying wood from natural forest the deforestation will continue at high speed with consequences on the macro ecology of our planet.
We think that it is now insane to use wood from natural forest.
Only 3 wood species are massively planted in Indonesia and so ecologically acceptable: teak, mahogany and albesia. And we have to say that those species are quite properly managed in Indonesia. Among those 3 species only teak has the necessary mechanical properties for construction. Unfortunately teak takes 20 to 25 years to reach those qualities and so only few can afford construction with teak. Some other species like Ulin (or iron wood ) are recycled from old constructions like bridges, warehouses. This is environmentally acceptable but this kind of resource have limits.
Wood vs Bamboo:
Sustainability is not an easy concept. We can find three main aspects to evaluate sustainability of a material :
- Sustainability of a the material characteristics
- Sustainability of this material in a global economic system (transportation, pollution created to produce)
- How this material is used by individuals or corporate companies. Basically wood is a sustainable material as it last long time if implemented correctly. Especially dense fiber species like Teak or Ulin. Of course dense fiber means more time and more energy from the soil to grow. But today who can speak about sustainability without having a glance on the global resource? Let’s say it’s a shame that profit is not compatible with sustainability of the resource.
Managed plantations are very sustainable on the paper. Some organizations like Perum Perhutani in Indonesia shows sharp competences and huge experience. Some teak plantations have been managed since 1649 in Indonesia. But the reality is that illegal logging from plantation forests exists.
Besides managed plantation, the only other way to find wood on this planet is natural forests. And the word sustainability becomes red and blinking. It is just a question of sense. What word will we let to our children? Without primary forest? With too much carbons in the atmosphere? Without tigers? Our individual responsibility as a consumer is now primordial. Awareness in consumption is a requirement for our evolution. We come to a point where it is simply insane to exploit the natural resources of the forest for profit interests. Next time you buy a piece of wood please ask where it comes from and if the answer is not clear find an alternative! Some international labels like FSC try to clarify the situation. If the principle and interest of certified wood is great we are not convinced those labels are totally working. Make your own opinion.
Bamboo seems to be an alternative solution to wood as a sustainable material. It is a fast growing plant, a powerful carbon catcher, light for transportation and a strong material for building structures.
Serious people like the Environmental Bamboo Foundation in Bali has demonstrated much more about the advantage of Bamboo. But unfortunately bamboo has 4 disadvantages:
termites attacks, permanent exposition to the sun and water and some structural weakness ie when it comes to joins and connection. But a closer look shows that good solutions exist:
- Humidity and bamboo is not a problem as long as the bamboo is not permanently in contact with the humid source. Systems of construction can be found to avoid this problem.
- The UV of the sun “eat” the strong but thin skin of bamboo which is structural and protective..
In that case you have 100% of chances to have aesthetically problems as bamboo will become grey and structural ones as cracks will probably occur. Here architecture and design gives solutions.
- For the parasites, a new organic Termite Treatment named Freemite is our preferred solution as it is convenient to use even professionally and is proved efficient to get rid of termites without harming the Nature.
- engineered joins is one of the solution to the structural weaknesses of bamboo. So, is bamboo the nirvana of sustainability? Not for all purposes, but it could be if we consider professionally his limits!
As far as bamboo becomes a fashionable material the demand is growing over the world. The sustainability of the resource is a question. Management of the resource is a key point here as it is so tempting to cut all the bamboos that are near the road access... You should not cut more than 20% of a bamboo clump to ensure a long term sustainability and fast growing. Also some fashionable aspect of bamboo like the roots don’t work for the sustainability of the resource. Because if you cut the first knock near the root of the bamboo it will need 6/10 years instead of 3/4 to be mature again. Consider that point before buying a bamboo with nice root for esthetic reasons only.
Bamboo resource is still abundant especially in Indonesia. And have the advantage to grow in remote areas where it is difficult to crop like slopes of mountains or near rivers.
But the green wave and fashion for bamboo naturally increase the demand.
Development of plantation project at regional scale and training on how to grow and harvest bamboo in managed plantation are key points to ensure an eternal resource and allow an industry of bamboo to grow on times.
Bamboo can last life time if treated and correctly implicated. Bamboo is much less expensive than wood even if high quality bamboo processed correctly has a cost.
Add the pleasure not to touch at the natural forest anymore, then you could have another eye on bamboo in construction, decoration and for so many other purposes.
Regarding housing and building construction, creativity is infinite with bamboo but architects, engineers have to be trained just to be easy with proposing bamboo to their customers.
Changing habits take long time but we have to keep in mind that we are now in a world where consciousness should rise quickly about ecological. No choice.
Let’s be carefully aware of the way we consume and so let's sleep well in a relaxed consciousness!
Thierry Cayot, founder of Asali Bali
Reproduction encouraged if mention of the source.