04:09PM | 05/20/13
Disappointed to see yet another misinformed and misinforming article (by Elizabeth Arnold) on bamboo flooring as a "green" alternative to hardwood flooring. Because it does not involve the cutting of trees, this product category has been repeatedly hyped as a good environmental choice for American homes, and the claim is nonsense.

For starters, unlike trees that can simply be sawn and milled into solid wood flooring, bamboo is a dense hard grass that requires much more processing to become a uniform, flat product that can be put down as flooring. This means higher energy use, and petroleum-based resins or other binders to glue the processed strands together. Add to that the energy required to ship the stuff from Asia, Indonesia, and other tropical regions, then truck throughout the US, and this is a very energy-intensive material.

Bamboo is fast-growing, so groves replenish quickly relative to hardwood forests, but many regions producing bamboo commercially allow unregulated or excess use of pesticides to protect the plants, and in some areas, trees are cleared to make room for growing bamboo. This ironic twist is one of those unintended consequences to many eco products; sustainable forests lose their commercial value and so are removed to grow something that makes more money. Remember, most of these source regions are poor, third-world countries with little or no environmental oversight.

Short of using reclaimed or salvaged flooring materials, domestic hardwood flooring is actually a good environmental choice. It requires minimal processing and energy to produce, typically comes from managed forests, is shipped shorter distances to end users, and with the proper care it can easily last a century, which is plenty long to grow trees for replacement material.

And no, I'm not a hardwood producer or sales rep, or a lobbyist for them. I'm a home improvement editor who has seen dozens of overhyped claims for "green" products, and bamboo flooring is among the most mis-represented.

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