Responsible Bamboo Farming: FSC certification and why it matters
Do you see bamboo everywhere lately? From paper products to furniture, t-shirts to toothbrushes, it seems the fast-growing grass can be transformed into just about anything.
As an eco-conscious consumer, this is exciting! Bamboo is highly renewable, fast-growing, carbon-absorbing, and requires very little water or pesticides to thrive.
Compare that to traditional paper which relies heavily on old growth forests – or the cotton industry, which requires enormous amounts of water and pesticides for production – and it seems like a no-brainer, right?
Well, in many ways, it is. But we have to put an asterisk on that.
As bamboo enjoys a flourishing reputation for sustainability, demand for the material has grown faster than the plant itself. (And bamboo can grow up to three feet a day!)
Unfortunately, some companies have jumped at the opportunity to make a profit... aaand thrown out all that eco-friendliness in the process. If a company comes in and destroys a forest to plant bamboo, then it’s not exactly a sustainable alternative. The question is, in the face of large global profits, how do we encourage sustainable farming practices?
Luckily, there’s an easy way to be an informed consumer when it comes to bamboo production. The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) offers certification to companies who are growing and harvesting in a responsible, eco-friendly manner. And it’s often stamped right on the label!
Let’s talk about why this certification is so important, what it really means, and how it can affect your purchasing decisions.
The Dangers of Unregulated Bamboo Farming
When producing bamboo on a massive scale, some familiar (detrimental) practices crop up. In an effort to make more bamboo, producers turn to clear-cutting natural habitats and converting them to monoculture (read: single species) forests. These practices have disastrous effects on our ecosystems.
A lesson from the Palm Oil industry:
As a green consumer you’ve likely heard of the plight of orangutans, tigers, and sumatran rhinos due to the palm oil industry. Similar to bamboo, palm oil is incredibly versatile and useful – and it’s actually pretty sustainable! This efficient crop produces more oil over less land than any other crop by far. In fact, if we completely quit using palm oil it would take 10x as much land to produce an alternative.
But the demand for palm oil grew fast – and producers found it so lucrative – that they began converting vast areas of natural habitat into palm oil plantations. Threatened with extinction, orangutans, tigers, and sumatran rhinos became a rallying cry to boycott palm oil and halt the deforestation.
However, many conservationists have spoken out to warn that a full boycott isn’t the answer, since alternative oils might be even more disastrous to the environment. Instead, the key is in the regulation of palm oil, and certifications with transparency that allow consumers to purchase products that have been responsibly sourced. (Check out the RSPO certification on products containing palm oil).
The current state of the bamboo industry:
Can you see the comparisons to bamboo here? In order to help the planet, we need to use bamboo, but grow and harvest it responsibly.
Sustainable bamboo farming ensures that no natural forests are converted for the purpose of agriculture. Eco-friendly production uses farming best practices (such as mixed species and less pesticides), and works with the local communities to create manageable agricultural processes.
The World Wildlife Fund suggests that we look at four different aspects of bamboo farming when determining if it is sustainable:
- Ensuring no sensitive ecosystems are destroyed to farm bamboo
- Assessing whether the rate of harvest is sustainable
- Checking for the use of harmful chemicals
- Evaluating the social impacts of bamboo plantations on the community
Of course, this can be difficult when you’re buying products that have been sourced from halfway around the world. So how do you determine which brands are sourcing bamboo in an ethical manner? With certifications of course!
What Is FSC Certification and What Does It Do?
The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is a third-party, nonprofit organization that sets the standards for responsible forest management – that includes bamboo forests, too! Their stated mission is to end global deforestation.
As the FSC itself puts it:
“FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers, while ensuring it sustains economic viability.”
In essence, an FSC certification shows that the product is meeting basic ethical standards, and that it is not the result of deforestation or illegal activity.
What to Look For on Your Products
There are actually three different levels of FSC certification, each with its own label. When you spot the FSC logo on an item's packaging, you’ll see a small stamp within it: 100%, Recycled, or Mix. It’s important to pay attention to this identifier because the meaning behind each label varies greatly! Here’s what each one means:
This one is pretty straight-forward: A product produced entirely with FSC certified materials, from start to finish. All Cloud Paper products are FSC 100%!
These products are made from 100% recycled content. This can include both post-consumer and pre-consumer material. Unfamiliar with the terms? When you put your junk mail in the green recycling bin, that’s post-consumer material. Pre-consumer material is the reclaimed “waste” from other manufacturing processes. It’s still considered recycled, but it’s never actually been used by a consumer before.
The least transparent label, “mix” can be a combination of FSC-certified material, recycled materials, and/or materials from FSC controlled woods. “FSC controlled wood” is not the same as FSC certified, though the Forest Stewardship Council claims it “mitigates the risk of the material originating from unacceptable sources.”
FSC Mix is the least regulated of the three and is the lowest standard of protection for forest habitats.
We recommend searching for products with FSC 100% or FSC Recycled labels.
How You Can Make a Difference
As a green consumer there’s always some question about how much our choices really make an impact. But when you shop sustainably and choose certified products, you are funding companies that are putting the environment first, not cutting corners to make a bigger profit.
An FSC 100% or Recycled label means your purchase is not the result of deforestation, and that’s something we can celebrate.
It’s important to note that FSC certifications are actually product specific, and not awarded to the entire brand. So if you’re buying pencils with an FSC certification, don’t assume that brand’s printer paper is certified too. You’ll want to check each individual product for the logo.
At Cloud Paper we are proud to say that all our products (toilet paper and paper towels) are 100% FSC Certified.
Our bamboo is sourced from the Chishui City region of the Guizhou province of China, where bamboo has been a crucial part of the ecosystem and economy for centuries.
Cloud Paper is committed to ensuring that our fibers are sourced responsibly and don’t lead to deforestation for bamboo production. But only 33% of the leading bamboo toilet paper brands are FSC certified. Check out our comparison page to see how they stack up.
Check your products the next time you’re shopping, and look for the FSC logo.