We’ve seen cutting boards, bicycles, floors, even houses made of bamboo, but an organic chocolate factory? Evidently, when Ben Ripple and Frederick Schilling, the two co-CEOs of specialty food company Big Tree Farms (BTF) talked about sustainably building their new plant, they put their money where their mouths are. Now, the Indonesian island of Bali is home to what BTF claims is the largest all-bamboo commercial building ever constructed, and soon, it’ll be cranking out tasty chocolate bars by the thousands.
"Bamboo is definitely regarded as one of the most sustainable building materials in the world," said Schilling. "What we’ve done here is created this very, very practical building using bamboo with, obviously, sustainability at the core purpose, but at the same time, we were able to create a very aesthetically beautiful building."
If you’ve traveled anywhere in Asia, you’ve likely seen skyscrapers and other tall structures surrounded by bamboo scaffolding. Indeed, bamboo has been a vitally important building material for thousands of years, and for good reason. Not only does it grow quickly - some species can sprout close to a meter (39 inches) in a 24-hour period - but it also rivals the tensile and compressive strengths of mild steel and certain concrete mixtures respectively. Technically a grass, some of the largest timber species can grow to over 98 feet (30 m) in height and reach 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in diameter.
As amazing as it is structurally, bamboo still has a few limitations that need to be addressed before it can be used in open construction. Savvy builders now know to treat the wood with both borax (fire retardant) and boric acid (insecticide), to help protect the occupants and keep termites and other wood-boring pests at bay. A majority of the interior walls, made from woven bamboo strips, were also sealed with a food-grade coating to satisfy local building code requirements.
BTF’s intention is for its traditionally-styled new 26,500 square foot (2,460 square meter) structure to be a “beans to bar” processing plant that will take the organic cacao from thousands of regional farmers and blend it with locally-harvested coconut-palm sugar to create a truly sustainable (and presumably delicious) new line of chocolates. How sweet is that?