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Problems With Bamboo Flooring: Choosing sustainable flooring options

As consumers become more aware of how the products they choose can affect our environment, many look to those that are considered ‘green’ options. How a product is harvested and manufactured, how far it is shipped to reach those consumers – in short, just how sustainable a product is becomes increasingly important. Greg Gaylord has represented Gaylord Hardwood Flooring at many home shows where a frequent question is whether we carry bamboo flooring. When he enquires why the interest in bamboo, the response is always the same, “Because it’s green.” Sounds good, but is bamboo flooring truly a green choice? Let’s take a brief look at the harvesting, production and shipping factors involved with bringing both bamboo flooring and hardwood flooring to the market.

Why Hardwood Flooring is the Greener than Bamboo Flooring

Harvesting: Moso bamboo, the primary species used for manufacturing flooring, can grow up to 47 inches in 24 hours, reaching a height of over 7 feet in 40-50 days. It’s best harvested when it reaches maturity at five years. Compare that to hardwood trees that take 40-60 years to reach full maturity and it would seem bamboo is a more sustainable resource. Not so. The majority of bamboo timber comes from China where existing forests have been cleared to make way for bamboo plantations. The deforestation leads to soil erosion and loss of habitat for flora and fauna, which is then compounded by the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Contrary to popular belief, hardwood forests in North America are harvested very sustainably. In fact, growth in our forests is far greater than removal, and the trees that are sprouting today will not be needed for 100 years. “Loggers mark the mature trees in a forest and these are the only trees to be cut down,” Greg explains. “This practice also provides more sunlight for the smaller trees, which allows them to one day reach maturity, too.” Chisholm Lumber, one of our lumber suppliers, has been harvesting the same land since 1857. “To me, that is a great example of sustainability,” Greg adds.

Manufacturing: Manufactured bamboo is cut-to-length, ripped into thin strips and laminated together with glues that contain carcinogenic chemicals like urea-formaldehyde. It’s milled into a tongue and groove and then finished. Often, this is done with few regulations on the manufacturing plant, glue, finish or waste, in plants with up to 80% of the electricity coming from coal generation. The hardwood flooring process is much simpler. Logs are sawn into lumber, the lumber is milled into flooring, and in the case of Gaylord hardwood flooring a 0% VOC (volatile organic compounds) finish is then applied. Hardwood flooring takes less water and energy to produce than any other flooring option. The only by-product is sawdust, which can be made into wood pellets or used for horse bedding among other things.

Shipping: A product’s biggest impact on the environment is the issue of shipping. The environmental impact of shipping Canadian hardwood flooring in Canada is minimal compared to shipping bamboo flooring from China. Because the majority of bamboo timber comes from China, it must be shipped to North America in huge container ships then transported by truck to vendors. Data collected by British and European marine industry insiders based on the engine size and quality of fuel typically used by these container ships shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships pollute more than all the cars in the world do. “To put this in a more local perspective, one container ship coming from Shanghai to Montreal will pollute roughly as much as all of the registered automobiles in Canada driving 70,000 kilometers,” explains Greg. At Gaylord Hardwood Flooring, we believe in educating consumers before they make flooring choices. If choosing a green flooring product is important to you, choose sustainable hardwood, a product that will last a lifetime without negatively impacting our environment.


1 comment

By Melanie B, on

Thank you so very much for this article! I recently viewed a home that had bamboo flooring and I thought that was fantastic (because I, too, thought that was “the new Green thing”). I had completely forgotten all about shipping distances! Thank you for this very well explained educational article. I will think twice about doing bamboo flooring in my new home and go with hardwood.

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