Bamboo is our material of choice at Rhizome because of its incredible potential to impact sustainability holistically. Bamboo is integral to everything we do because it can positively impact social, cultural and economic sustainability, alongside being one of the greenest materials on the planet.

At Rhizome, we aim to leverage ALL of bamboo’s potential for sustainability—not just the factors that dove-tail with ecological sustainability. We constantly endeavour to allow producers greater participation in the making of our products including during our design phase. Bamboo is the poster child of the sustainability movement because it is ecologically sustainable due to the following factors:

Bamboo is one of the most renewable materials on the planet. It regenerates quicker than other plants and is one of the fastest growing plant species. Since bamboo is a grass, each plant sends up new poles every year. This means that if the bamboo clump is mindfully harvested, it regenerates without replanting and does not cause a complete loss of green cover, such as when trees are felled.

Bamboo is a super carbon sink. Bamboo incorporates 7-30% more carbon than other fast-growing wood species.

Bamboo controls soil erosion. Bamboo’s underground root and rhizome system creates a ‘mesh’ which holds the soil together and reduces soil runoff. It is ideal for protecting mountain slopes from landslides and riverbanks from erosion.

Bamboo rehabilitates degraded land. Its rhizome network captures water, and its leaf fall creates mulch—which retains moisture and rehabilitates soil.

Bamboo purifies water. It absorbs high amounts of nitrogen which makes it a good solution to treat wastewater.

All of the factors that make bamboo ecologically sustainable have inspired an explosion of bamboo-based design. However, most of this design uses industrially-processed bamboo—where the bamboo pole is broken down into smaller components and then pasted together to form standardized forms, boards, and panels. These industrial bamboo avatars generally use a lot of glue for lamination—which is often formaldehyde-based and very unsustainable. Industrially laminated bamboo composites are also more difficult to deal with during their end-of-life phase.

Industrial bamboo value chains diminish the value added by bamboo-working producers, forcing them lower in the bamboo value-addition chain. From being involved in everything from growing to skilled assembly in traditional value chains, they become deskilled primary production-line workers in industrial value chains. This is ironic because bamboo inherently has the potential to impact the socio-economic and cultural sustainability of marginalized bamboo-working communities.

Bamboo is inherently a pro-poor material because:

Cultivating bamboo can be done by the poorest of the poor. Unlike agricultural crops, bamboo does not depend on rain-fed farming. Its shoots emerge at the onset of the rain, which makes it less vulnerable to erratic rainfall and climate change. This makes it an ideal choice for small farmers without access to irrigation.

Working with bamboo can be done by the poorest of the poor. Unlike wood’s radial fibres, bamboo’s fibres are linear. This means it can be processed by the low-cost and simple tools available to marginalized communities.

Women can process bamboo easily. Since bamboo is lightweight it is more easily processed by women using minimal equipment. This has made them proficient in crafting various bamboo products, contributing to sustainable practices at our studio.

Bamboo is part of traditional indigenous knowledge. Bamboo has been widely handcrafted by indigenous communities and bamboo-working processes are part of traditional and indigenous knowledge.

Bamboo adds to small-farmer security. Bamboo can be harvested as required. Unlike agricultural crops, it does not provide a one-time flush income. Since it is a perennial plant, it can be harvested on demand during lean periods and crises. This allows small farmers to plan and save adding to their economic security.

All in all, we use clean material (ecologically sustainable), we ethically produce through our team of craftspeople whose skill sets we build constantly (socially sustainable), we use indigenous knowledge as a starting point for our work (culturally sustainable) and we aim to provide livelihoods and share profits (economically sustainable). Bamboo is integral to doing all of these because it is our vehicle to holistic sustainability.