80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design stage, which is why it’s imperative that we change the way we design and develop new products. We are excited by the possibility of a new aesthetic and new product categories as we design with materials that are rapidly renewable or have a lower carbon footprint – like bamboo. Natural materials have different environmental impacts as they are grown and harvested. Read on to learn how bamboo is different.
Bamboo looks like a tree, but it is not!
Bamboo is a renewable resource because it is actually a member of the grass family, even though it is typically mistaken as a tree. This is an important distinction because when you harvest a shoot of bamboo, the root system does not die like a tree would during some types of logging practices. Instead, it regrows using rhizomes, just like grass would when you mow your lawn.
How bamboo grows and propagates
Just like grass, bamboo uses rhizomes, a continuously growing horizontal underground stem that puts out horizontal shoots that eventually grow into new stalks of bamboo.
The bamboo we use to make products is a species known as Moso bamboo which grows quickly. Moso bamboo grows up to 3 feet/1 meter per day during a rapid growth phase in its first 45-60 days and only takes 4-5 years for the stalk to reach maturity at 4-5”/10-12cm in diameter. A birch tree, on the other hand, can take 40-50 years to reach a size suitable for harvesting.
How bamboo is harvested
When bamboo is harvested, it keeps its root systems intact. This is valuable on many levels because it allows the soil to stay in place, acting like a sponge to retain water while preventing erosion, soil loss, pollution, and flooding, as well as filtering out any toxins. This also allows bamboo to regenerate, which is why it is a renewable resource.
Soil, roots, and carbon; bamboo rocks!
Allowing the soil and roots to stay in place keeps more carbon stored within the ground, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If bamboo roots died upon harvest, like tree roots do, during some types of logging practices, the carbon kept within the roots and soil would be released into the atmosphere. Instead, it is contained, allowing the soil and roots to act as a carbon sink instead of a carbon source. Project Drawdown even credits bamboo production as an approach to curb greenhouse gas emissions. As a socially and environmentally responsible company, Copernicus has a goal to use more and more bamboo in our manufacturing moving forward.
The world’s natural internet
Did you know there is a huge network underground in any forested ecosystem? Under one footstep is 300 miles of a system of fungi or mycelium, called the world’s natural internet because it transfers critical information between plants. When roots and soil are kept intact, like in bamboo farming, this amazing network can thrive.
What is mycelium and why does it matter?
Mycelium is the root system of mushrooms which decomposes in the soil to create nutrients for all plant and animal life. It also stores a lot of carbon instead of dispelling it. Mycelium grows under trees, bamboo, lawns—almost everywhere! This network keeps the root system, the soil and everything around it, intact. The logging that happens for the creation of conventional classroom furniture tends to disturb this delicate underground framework. For example, in a natural environment, like a forest, some species of trees can regrow from their stumps with the help of suckers. This is beneficial after a fire or storm and in addition to seeds already in the soil, it can help a natural forest regrow. However, logging practices reforest by planting seedlings and some remove the stumps altogether, which has benefits and drawbacks, read more in this research paper.
The Tree Lifecycle
The Bamboo Lifecycle
The benefits of using natural materials to make our products may not always jump out at us – but what happens above ground is just as important as what’s happening underground. Bamboo farming is regenerative, which helps keep the soil and roots intact. As you can imagine, this has a more positive, less disruptive impact on the environment than harvesting lumber.
Helpful resources for educators
Learn more about the importance of mycelium
In her book, Suzanne Simard shares all about the wisdom of the forest.
For every bamboo product purchased, we will make a donation to conserve natural panda habitat through the World Wildlife Fund*.
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