EcoPlanet Bamboo is changing the world, one fallow field at a time
Bamboo has long been marketed to eco-conscious consumers for a range of niche products. Yet outside of China, where most bamboo goes into three products—shoots for food, bamboo handicrafts, and flooring—bamboo was not a viable raw resource for the world’s largest timber and fiber manufacturing companies or industries.
Why not? Because there simply wasn’t a source that could meet security and volume of supply, nor meet the increasingly stringent environmental regulations of western markets.
Untapped potential in a myriad of markets that could be disrupted by a sustainable bamboo fiber led EcoPlanet Bamboo CEO and Co-founder, Troy Wiseman, to take on the challenge.
“Combined forest landscape restoration and avoided deforestation through a market-driven solution is central to our mission,” he said. “We started the company to address the world’s increasing demand for wood and fiber products.
“These markets continue to drive deforestation across the world—not just in developing countries, but in places such as Canada and Northern Russia, and for products such as toilet paper that we use for a few seconds before throwing away.”
Plantation-grown timber takes too long to get to market. There are too few plantation forests in the global south with sustainability certifications. Both factors diminish the ability of plantation forests to become a realistic alternative to deforestation.
“We wanted to come up with an alternative that could be achieved within a realistic time frame and that could produce the increasing volumes of fiber that exploding middle class populations around the world require,” Wiseman added.
Restoring Degraded Forests to Disrupt Fiber Markets
EcoPlanet Bamboo’s “new generational plantations” are grown only on degraded land and focus on parts of the globe where deforestation has been extreme. The company has fully-established bamboo plantations in Nicaragua and in the eastern cape of South Africa, and has additional plantation development underway in the Ashanti region of Ghana.
Combined, the company’s current land holdings have the potential to supply global fiber markets with an annual yield exceeding one million tons of bamboo fiber—a volume sufficient to really disrupt global markets for target products.
“When we first started in 2010 no one was really talking about alternative fibers. Between 2013 and now, EcoPlanet Bamboo has seen an exponential increase in interest and levels of commitment from major players, particularly in two industries: pulp for paper and packaging, and pulp for sustainable textiles,” Wiseman said.
However, the company's research proves the uncomfortable reality for many global firms aiming to drive a market shift towards responsible, renewable, and deforestation-free fiber: it goes beyond just sourcing the fiber itself.
Although bamboo is always marketed as an environmentally friendly alternative, the reality is that the manufacturing process—if not carefully designed—can be very inhospitable to the planet and negate the benefits of the bamboo fiber itself.
“The reality is that current processing in China for our key target markets—paper, packaging, and textiles—is a dirty industry. You lose most of the benefits of your renewable, sustainable bamboo fiber if it’s manufactured in a way that leaves a wake of nasty environmental waste.
“The really big players, the world’s biggest clothing and paper brands, they aren’t willing to make the switch to an alternative fiber without a fully encompassing solution.”
EcoPlanet Bamboo has been developing the resource base of a sustainable alternative fiber. At the same time, the company is heavily investing in the bamboo-based technology solutions necessary to provide a new generation with a product that meets the strictest environmental standards at every step of the supply chain.
The company’s industrial and product development teams have worked with a suite of scientists and other technology partners to refine these technology solutions. Together, they developed a sample product that meets the specifications, quality, and, most importantly, price of the wood and fiber products they hope to displace.
Today, EcoPlanet Bamboo is ready to provide an integrated solution.
The fiber from the company’s plantations in Nicaragua and South Africa approaching maturity will be used in technology developments that focus on sustainable packaging and sanitary paper product solutions.
“Now that we can provide that end-to-end solution, we truly believe that deforestation-free bamboo can take an increasing share of established wood and timber markets,” Wiseman added.
Committed for the Life of the Planet and its PeopleAt this stage in the EcoPlanet Bamboo company lifecycle, all eyes are on the scalability of the enterprise. Wiseman laid out his three-step outline for the company’s expansion plan.
“The first is to take all of our existing bamboo plantation operations in Nicaragua, South Africa, and Ghana through maturity and successfully develop onsite manufacturing entities for carefully selected target end products. This is well underway with our plantations in Nicaragua and South Africa approaching their first harvest.
“The second is a global expansion, particularly with a focus on the textile industry. Our current plantations are not targeting this end product, but we have been working on the technology solutions and the opportunity is significant. We have been considering various options in Southeast Asia for this expansion.
“The third is to take everything we have learned and apply it to a smallholder and outgrower farmer model. This will allow the cost of production of a ton of bamboo fiber to drop significantly, and in turn allow us to really target local markets based off contextual drivers of deforestation: for example, charcoal markets across Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The human aspect of the company’s mission is designed to empower and sustain communities hard-hit by deteriorating landscapes and a lack of opportunities for social improvement and sustainable development. For EcoPlanet, that imperative extends for generations.
“We provide jobs, and of course the training that goes with those jobs, to any individual who has a good attitude and wants to work. Our aim is for these jobs to be permanent and long term,” said Wiseman.
“We are a fair and equal employer but we go far beyond that to try and empower women because that tends to have an even greater flow down effect on local development. We maintain a minimum female employment of 25 percent across all of our operations, including through to senior management positions.”
“Our dream is to restore millions of hectares of land across the world to enable our growing populations and those with increased spending power to shop, consume and increase their quality of life, but without that taking a disastrous toll on our planet,” Wiseman stated.
“The reality of being an entrepreneur and doing something that no one else has before is that there are always ups and downs, periods of fast growth and periods of reflections. But not once in have we ever wavered from that mission.”
EcoPlanet Bamboo is leading the industrialization of bamboo as a viable and environmentally attractive alternative fiber for timber manufacturing industries. The conversion of degraded land into certified bamboo plantations is coupled with innovative technology development to provide bamboo-based solutions for products and markets that currently contribute to the deforestation of our world’s natural forests.