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What do Tabasco Sauce, Bamboo, and Oregon have in common?

| Friday August 27th, 2010 | 2 Comments

ban-startup-fridayHow do you thrive as a newer, bamboo focused business in a tough economy, one that’s halved the market in recent years, and actually grow by 40% in that same time? Be everything a customer could need. Do more than people in your category are known for. Operate in a way that others may disagree with, while holding fast to what you know, deeply, will work. And be your own source of materials, via Tabasco sauce. Come again? More on that, later.

It’s generally presumed that if you’re getting timber bamboo, it’s for flooring, and it will be coming from one of the Asian countries that grows it and knows it best. To be sure, Bamboo has many ecologically beneficial qualities as compared to wood, but when it needs to get shipped long distances, the benefit is blunted. Cheap cost often trumps ecological interest, and it’s only when our society adopts a “full cost” perspective ,including the impacts of their purchases, this will cease to be the case.

Bamboo Revolution has decided to take matters in their own hands, literally, finding and ultimately aiming to cultivate their own high quality bamboo, domestically. In Oregon, a state not known for its sunny weather. And expanding beyond what we typically think of as uses for bamboo, its begun exploring using it for bioremediation at toxic brownfield sites, in conjunction with local government.

Unlikely? Perhaps. Happening? Yes.

How? They found out that on Avery Island, Louisiana, home of Tabasco sauce there was a long standing, long suffering grove of high quality, Japanese grown Moso bamboo. It was planted by E.A. Mcillhenny in 1910 in cooperation with the USDA, an early experiment in starting a domestic stock of bamboo.

Work stopped on it in the 1940s when he died, but the hardy bamboo remained, and became just part of the scenery, mostly unnoticed until perhaps 10 years ago, when bamboo began to show up on the radar as a resource.

Fast forward to 2009, and two bamboo companies with differing markets but the same aim – grow their own supplies – came together, approaching the grove lease holders, offering to help restore the land and bamboo plants, in exchange for being able to take 200 live plants back with them to Oregon. Bamboo cultivation expert Dain Sansome of Bamboo Valley led the effort.

As of this time, it’s succeeding, the plants sprouting new shoots.

Bamboo Revolution has the ability to do everything from be a source of bamboo to area architects and contractors to doing the work themselves, with a keen eye for design strongly in evidence in their showroom. Look around you, and just about everything floor to ceiling is based on bamboo, in unexpected uses that take it far beyond being a green flooring option.

In a living, breathing example of bamboo’s possibilities, Coava Cafe sits in the front corner of the space, looking both high end and earthy, definitely unique. Beyond being a one off demo, they’ve designed the interiors of several other Portland area establishments.

In true start up fashion, the decor of the cafe came by necessity:

Bamboo Revolution, keeping many plates spinning, hasn’t yet gotten around to making tables for the cafe. So it brought out bamboo processing equipment, putting planks of bamboo on top. Meant to be temporary, I was told customers have gotten quite attached to sitting at their favorite piece of equipment!

I was pleasantly surprised at Bamboo Revolution founder Mike Pullen’s reasoning for doing as much as possible in house: responsibility.

Rather than be able to blame people in other parts of the process for problems, he’d rather Bamboo Revolution take full responsibility for and pride in what they do for their customers. No excuses. Just solutions.

He told me of the continued expansion of their budding hub of creative, sustainable businesses, now taking over the building next to theirs, bringing in others, creating a financial and community ecosystem of sorts.

Will its pioneering effort to cultivate, literally, a thriving domestic bamboo market succeed? Time will tell, but with the ability to execute both the commodity and the bespoke well, and a clear commitment to sustainably processing what they sell, things look promising for Bamboo Revolution.

Readers: Where else are you seeing organic collaborations of businesses succeeding? Who’s doing business in a different way that has something we can learn from? Please share, below.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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  • Bill S.

    Bamboo certainly has the potential to be a helpful resource. My concern is that it is a non-native fast-growing plant – like kudzu.

    Can we control it so it doesn’t become yet another invasive species with unintended consequences?

    • Paul Arthur Smith

      Great question Bill. I’ll see if I can get Bamboo Revolution to come by and answer.