Bamboo points way to green construction in Indonesia's Bali

SIBANG KAJA, Indonesia - Strong, light and cheaper than steel poles, bamboo is ubiquitous across Asia as scaffolding.

So much so that in recognition of the material's versatility, the Indonesian island of Bali has made it an emblem of sustainable construction, replacing buildings of concrete and steel with far greener alternatives.

An entire school, luxury villas and even a chocolate factory are the latest structures to rise from bamboo skeletons as the plant's green credentials and strength are hailed.

The factory, which opened last year and produces organic drinking chocolate and cocoa butter, is the latest in a string of buildings on the island, including homes and businesses, to be built of bamboo.

Erected in the village of Sibang Kaja between the resort island's smoggy capital Denpasar and the forests of Ubud, the factory is the initiative of specialty food firm Big Tree Farms, which claims the 2,550-square-metre (27,500-square-foot) facility is the biggest commercial bamboo building in the world.

"Bamboo is unmatched as a sustainable building material. What it can do is remarkable," Big Tree Farms co-founder Ben Ripple, 37, told AFP.

"It grows far more quickly than timber and doesn't destroy the land it's grown on," said Ripple, an American from Connecticut. "Our factory can be packed up and moved in days, so if we decided to shut it down one day, we're not going to damage the rice paddies we sit on."

The 100 hectares (247 acres) of paddies sit inside a so-called "bamboo triangle," with the factory, school and villas standing at each of the three points.

Such ambitious bamboo projects in Bali are mostly driven by eco-conscious foreigners.

With studies showing construction to be one of the world's least sustainable industries - eating up around half of the globe's non-renewable resources - sustainable construction is slowly taking root around the world.

It is among the key topics for discussion at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which opens June 20 in Rio de Janeiro.

In Sibang, the tawny brown bamboo buildings with their grass thatched roofs appear to be rising from the earth.

The three-storey chocolate factory is pieced together using a complex system of scissor trusses and bolts, thanks to clever architecture.

It resembles the traditional longhouses found on Borneo island and was made with more than 18,000 metres (59,000 feet) of bamboo from Bali and Java.

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