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Japanese Forest Bathing is a thing

It isn’t surprising that forest bathing – spending time in a forest or other green space – is good for you.

Forest bathing or Shinrin yoku is becoming very popular in some countries. Countries such as Japan, in particular, take this practice very seriously.

But more than just hokem or new-age hippy-ness, there is growing scientific evidence to back up why spending time in green spaces is good for our health.

A recent analysis in the scientific journal, Environmental Research, drew on data from multiple previous studies. The combined studies tracked a total of 290 million participants from 20 different countries. The study suggested a correlation between spending time in green spaces and several health benefits:

  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduces risk of Type II diabetes

Above all, the participants were also more likely to describe their own health as “good”.

Why is forest bathing is good for our health?

There are many contributing factors to why spending time in green spaces is good for us. They include:

  • Promotes physical activity
  • Social interaction
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Improved air quality

Other theories include an increased exposure to the microorganisms can strengthen the immune system. But also that particular chemicals emitted by trees may actually affect our health in different ways. Some compounds have anti-bacterial properties whilst others may actually increase the activity of our immune system.

Forest bathing as a therapy

“Green prescriptions” have been given to people with various ailments since the Victorian age. And the connection between greenery and health contributed to town planning and the addition of so many parks during the 19th century.

The NHS provides advice to their GPs on the physical and mental benefits of visiting green places. The NHS states that 6-8 months after receiving a green prescription, 63% of patients are more active and 46% have lost weight. Encouraging physical activity outside in good quality green spaces is, therefore, a valuable tool in disease prevention.

Forest Bathing and Biophilic Design

Of course, the principles behind forest bathing and biophilic design are the same. We are innately connected to nature and benefit from being close to natural things such as water and plants. Biophilic design takes these principles and incorporates them into our urban and interior spaces.

How can I incorporate forest bathing into my lifestyle?

You may already be subconsciously seeking out nature for relaxation. Going for a walk is an obvious idea but for many people living urban lives, access to good quality green spaces may be difficult. So if you’re in a pinch what can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to nature’s sounds, such as birdsong and running water, to help de-stress and relax.
  • Make sure you have greenery in the form of indoor plants or even artwork depicting natural scenes.
  • Make time at the weekend to visit a green space such as a local park or a garden that’s open to the public.

At Floresy, we understand the importance of greenery in our home and work environments. If you want to increase the greenery in your space, without increasing your water consumption or the time it takes to maintain your plants, our artificial products are here to support your needs. Give us a call today to find out how we can help.

Is bamboo fabric really eco-friendly?

The manufacturers and retailers of bamboo clothing and textiles are singing its praises. They say this wonderfully soft fibre is so eco-friendly, you’re saving the planet just by wearing it. Too good to be true? Probably.

Following our recent blog post on the sustainability of bamboo as a wood alternative, we are looking at bamboo fabric with the same objectivity. So what do we already know about bamboo as a fabric?

  • Bamboo fabric is super soft, strong and lightweight.
  • It has good drape characteristics and allows the skin to breath making it ideal for clothing.
  • Bamboo also imparts it’s absorbent and anti-bacterial properties into its fabric form which is great for medical uses.
  • Plus textiles made from bamboo require less energy to wash and dry than other natural fibres.

Doesn’t that all sound fabulous so far? It almost reads like an advert from a retailer of bamboo clothing…

However, as with any resource or product, we need to look at the entire process – from harvesting to retailing – to understand the impact on the environment. It’s worth noting at this point that nothing has zero impact. When you cut down a tree or harvest a cotton crop there is an energy cost and direct effect on the immediate environment (“Hey, where’s my tree gone?” said the squirrel). Among other things, sustainability considers how that cost is balanced against providing income and education for farm workers and how easy it is to replace or regrow a resource.

Eco-recap on growing bamboo

Whilst there are energy costs associated in its transportation, the production of bamboo can be super-sustainable:

  • It grows at a fast rate, absorbing C02 from the atmosphere as it matures.
  • Growing in its natural environment, bamboo does not require irrigation or pesticides.
  • Bamboo production supports small-scale farming in areas that are too inaccessible for large machinery.
  • It has a larger utilised biomass than cotton i.e. more product per plant per acre.
  • Once harvested, bamboo continues to grow so there is less destruction that leads to soil erosion.

Well, this sounds even better! Bamboo is great to grow and its great to wear. Sign me up!

But between plant and product, there is a significant area that needs exploring before bamboo can claim it’s eco-credentials.

Turning bamboo into fabric

Bamboo is not naturally soft. It’s a hard, woody plant that requires significant processing to turn into a textile. There are two methods for this: chemical and mechanical.

Chemical production of bamboo fabric

Those of you currently wearing any bamboo clothing may wish to slip into something with a higher cotton content whilst reading this.

The leaves and stalks of bamboo are effectively cooked-up in a vat of toxic chemicals including carbon disulfide, chlorine and sulfuric acid. Because it isn’t a closed loop system, the resulting cocktail, that is a risk to the environment, gets into waterways and landfills. Plus, these chemicals pose serious health hazards, including neural disorders, for the workers employed in the manufacture of bamboo fabric using this method.

Great.

This manufacturing process is neither eco-friendly nor sustainable. And it’s this method that produces the silky soft, wearable fabric that gets bamboo all that positive attention.

Mechanical production of bamboo fabric

Good news is that the mechanical method is more eco-friendly than the chemical method (but it would be difficult not to be). The bad news is that it is more expensive. The woody bamboo is crushed and left to ferment in a mushy mess using natural enzymes that break down the fibrous structures. The natural fibres are then mechanically drawn out and spun into yarn. This process is basically the same for making textiles from flax or hemp and the result is a linen-like fabric. It’s labour intensive and produces a low yield of fabric.

The reality is the vast majority of bamboo textile is not organic. Or at least any claim it has in being a truly organic fibre has limitations. Bamboo fibre can be organic – but it’s rare, expensive and unlikely to be fully traceable.

Bamboo and China

Any commodity, where it’s production is overwhelmingly dependant on China is not sustainable. China has one of the most unregulated markets in the world and hardly the best track record on workers rights. Plus a significant pollution problem. So even if bamboo is a better crop for the environment that does not automatically make it sustainable. At least not yet. China is stepping up with new environmental policies, mostly in response to the smog issues across its cities. So perhaps there is hope yet for Chinese bamboo to save us all. If only if wasn’t on the other side of the planet…

Here’s a handy infographic on bamboo

bamboo sustainable infographic

Bamboo infographic

It’s easy to be defeatist. Trying to make good, sustainable choices for our businesses and personal selves sometimes feels impossible. We, as consumers, often only have access to the information that retailers want us to know about their products. The result is we are sometimes left feeling naive, conned or like a failure when we’ve tried so hard to make the right choice.

But the positive in all this is just that – choice. Is bamboo fabric a better choice for the environment than organic cotton from a fair trade source? Maybe, maybe not. Is it better than polyester? Yes. Can bamboo production help protect deforestation in South America? Yes. Is the farming of bamboo across China likely (if not already) to be exploited if the west continues to view bamboo as a magic bullet? Probably. Is it a competition of bamboo vs cotton? No. Is it about making informed decisions? Yes.

The use of bamboo is a step in the right direction. It shows we are looking for alternatives. But bamboo, certainly for European consumers, shouldn’t be considered the final destination of that search. It’s a stepping stone in our journey towards sustainability.

 

Is bamboo sustainable for use in interior design?

The driving force behind any construction material is how cost-effective it is. Sadly this often results in practices that exploit the environment including the people used in the production process. With growing concerns over the impact of humans on our environment, bamboo is potentially one of the success stories. But is bamboo sustainable enough?

Why is bamboo sustainable?

Bamboo is a fast-growing plant. Incredibly, some species grow up to 1.2m per day! The plants can reach a harvestable height within 3-5 years. So whilst wood is still a renewable resource, trees used in the timber industry will take between 20 and 60 years to reach suitable felling heights. Bamboo has a higher yield because it “outgrows” trees.

When you cut down a tree for its wood, you kill the tree. When you cut down bamboo, it continues to grow as the base and roots remain intact. This helps prevent soil erosion often associated with deforestation. The continual growth of bamboo also means it is continually taking carbon from the atmosphere. Plus bamboo forests spew out more oxygen than hardwood forests by 30%.

Bamboo happily grows in inaccessible areas where it wouldn’t be possible to farm timber such as slopes and smaller plots of land. It grows in abundance across Asia and is sometimes seen as a problem plant because of its fast-growing and prolific nature. Furthermore, growing bamboo in its natural habitat means its production also has a much smaller impact on the local ecosystem including no requirement for irrigation or fertiliser.

Because of its suitability for small-scale farming, bamboo also supports local economies and their small, independent farmers. Communities are safe from deforestation or exploitation by logging corporations as well. Bamboo can be cut by hand eliminating the need for energy-consuming machinery.

Bamboo also has potential as a biofuel. It is a high-carbon material and so is an obvious choice for converting into a biofuel. India is leading the way by using bamboo as a biofuel due to the plant’s abundance in its northern region. Whilst its use as a fuel is still in an experimental stage, it has the potential to contribute to greener fuels industries.

How does bamboo compare to hardwood as a material?

Bamboo is waterproof meaning it is easier to clean and has better stain-resistance than hardwood. This is a great plus when using bamboo as wooden flooring. Whilst all wood has antibacterial properties, bamboo is particularly so making it “cleaner” overall when compared to normal wood.

Hardness is an important factor when considering a construction material. For wooden flooring, the hardness of the wood effects how durable the flooring is. The hardness of wood comes from its fibre density. Hardness is measured using the Janka Hardness Test. This equates to the force required to embed a steel ball half its diameter into the wood.

Natural bamboo has a hardness of 1300-1400 which is comparable to birch (1260), beech (1300) and oak (1360). Carbonised bamboo (heat treated to darken its natural colour) has a hardness of 1000-1100 which is still hard than pine (870).

Bamboo scaffolding is the norm across China but bamboo can even be an alternative to steel for reinforcing concrete. So regardless of the question is bamboo sustainable, it’s certainly extremely versatile.

Bamboo sustainable alternative wood

Is bamboo a real alternative to wood?

What are the environmental impacts of bamboo?

Bamboo cannot be grown on a significant, sustainable scale outside of Asia so all of the bamboo products in use in the West are imported. Around 80% of bamboo is grown in China, so there is the emission cost in transporting it around the globe to Europe and the USA. However, the environmental impact of shipping bamboo across the Pacific may not appear all that bad. It is comparable with logging transportation across the Americas, including within the USA itself.

Asia has less regulation than western nations regarding the use of pesticides and other chemicals used in the farming process.

With the demand for bamboo increasing so too is the financial temptation. Local farmers may choose to destroy local habitats in order to increase bamboo growth opportunities.

When asking is bamboo sustainable, it isn’t just the growing and harvesting that requires consideration. The ease with which the material can be transformed into a usable product is important too. As bamboo is a slender plant it requires additional processing to create planks. Timber can quickly be cut into ready-to-use planks. Bamboo needs to be glued together and that requires an adhesive – which is an additional chemical. There is also an additional energy cost to consider especially if the bamboo is carbonised to create a darker shade. However, there is less wastage unlike when turning timber into planks.

Bamboo as a textile is a bad idea due to the significant chemical use in its production.

There is no official grading system for the quality of bamboo used in flooring or furniture so quality-control of a final product may also be an issue. You can look for the FSC logo on a bamboo product which will mean that it has come from a more sustainable source.

Conclusion

Whilst there will always be an impact with using natural resources, it’s important to understand the relative impact each material has so we can limit or even mitigate the environmental costs. So, is bamboo sustainable? Well, it can be and where you are on the planet is a big factor. The use of bamboo in western countries may ease the rate of destruction of the rainforest in South America. But if all it does is shift the deforestation to other places on the planet, then there is no real benefit. As with any natural resource, it needs proper management otherwise it will become no different to the hardwood forests.

Discover ideas for using bamboo plants in your interiors from our blog post artificial bamboo tree inspiration.