Bamboo: Timber for the 21st Century?
One FES alum following her dream to make a difference
At Yale, we are surrounded by professors and classmates who push and inspire us to be creative about how we overcome challenges in the world. Over the past few years, Yale and CBEY have focused this creativity towards using the power of business to create a better world.
But it isn’t everyday that we hear about recent graduates who have taken this message to heart and put into practice.
Recently, I spoke with Camille Rebelo, a 2007 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Like most of us, she was eager to use her new degree to make a difference. She took a job working in forestry and before long, in forest carbon markets.
But she soon learned that while there was increasing global focus to reduce deforestation, including initiatives like REDD+, enough was not being done. The world was still losing 13 million hectares of forested land each year. She realized that part of the problem was that no one was thinking about the demand side. No one was adequately dealing with the fact that demand for timber and fiber is only going to increase in the future.
With this in mind, she set off to co-found EcoPlanet Bamboo with business partner Troy Wiseman in 2010. The goal of EcoPlanet Bamboo is straightforward: make bamboo the timber of the 21st Century. This may seem like a lofty goal, but if you consider the characteristics of bamboo, this target is entirely achievable. Bamboo is incredibly strong and flexible and can be used in everything from flooring to bicycles to bioenergy. Perhaps its most unique property is that it can be harvested without killing the plant takes 5-7 years to maturity, and once mature provides an annual harvest. It needs little water, and because it is so fast growing, the plant can sequester significant qualities of carbon dioxide in short time periods.
In just a few years, EcoPlanet Bamboo has developed several commercial plantations in both Nicaragua and South Africa and with 350 employees, it is the largest company of its kind outside of China. It has secured millions of dollars in investment and plans to go public within the next five years.
But while growth is important to its founders, Camille and Troy remain equally dedicated to conscious capitalism – a business philosophy that is dedicated to its social and environmental impact, as well as its financial growth. The company as in place strict policy for the type of land that is used – proving that reforestation of degraded land can be a profitable enterprise, while being careful to plant only native species of bamboo specific to each plantation location. In addition they have several initiatives in place to protect biodiversity. And it put a special emphasis on choosing locations where rural poverty is rampant, hiring local workers, paying them a fair wage, and offering continuing education programs.
EcoPlanet Bamboo has been recognized for its efforts. In addition to being certified by the Rainforest Alliance for the climate change impacts of its plantations through the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), it is the first entity to achieve FSC certification for a non-tree species. More recently, it was profiled by the World Bank as an example of how for-profit business can be good for the environment and society.
Despite its success, Camille points out that it wasn’t always easy. The company success has been in part “the result of partnering of skills and experience that crosses multiple sectors…[additionally] we were not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.”
Above all, Camille’s and her colleagues’ dedication to their company is a driving force behind its success. When asked for advice for rising entrepreneurs she explains, “It’s not a job, but a lifestyle. You have to be willing to commit everything you have to eat, live, and breathe your dream until it becomes a reality.”
EcoPlanet Bamboo shows that we can use the tools of business to improve our environment and the lives of millions of people. And Camille is living proof that the skills we gain at FES allow us to have a meaningful impact on the world.
Caroline Goodbody is a joint-degree student with the Yale School of Forestry and School of Management. Prior to Yale, she worked 3 years as a staffer for U.S. Senator Cardin. She is interested in the intersection of policy and business and water resource management.