‘Bamboo-zling’ the competition


How SEAD Industries and Maxis are changing the property development landscape with bamboo

IN a world of rapid development with towns turning into cities, and cities into capitals, the concrete jungle becomes a common sight for city dwellers.

From massive steel structures, architectural marvels, high-rise buildings to towering skyscrapers, all these megastructures have resulted in foreboding impacts on our surroundings.

While society globally seems to be completely engrossed in urbanisation and modernisation, it’s high time that we look to alternative sustainable architectural design concepts, construction techniques, and construction materials.

One such material that can usher in the new era of sustainable architectural design and structures of the future is bamboo.

According to Loo: “There’s a lot of bamboo that gets used in construction locally but unfortunately, it’s the maintenance of the bamboo that is lacking so lots of problems arise despite it being a very strong structural material.”According to Loo: “There’s a lot of bamboo that gets used in construction locally but unfortunately, it’s the maintenance of the bamboo that is lacking so lots of problems arise despite it being a very strong structural material.”

SEAD Industries co-founders Lucas Loo Ze-Xian and Toh Hua-Jie are breaking ground in sustainable development using this locally sourced composite material.

SEAD Industries comprising SEAD Build and SEAD Plant is an impact enterprise that plants, harvests, and turns bamboo into building materials.

Impact enterprises are defined as “financially self-sustainable and scalable ventures that actively manage towards producing significant net positive changes in well-being across underserved individuals, communities and environment” – according to researchers at Fuqua School of Business of Duke University.

Bamboo being a ‘no-brainer’

Prior to founding SEAD Industries with Toh, Loo had been an executive director and co-founder of a resort in Banting, Selangor, that used bamboo in its construction.

That was the beginning of his journey with bamboo.

“We started looking at sustainable materials and bamboo was a no-brainer,” Loo said.

“I hated bamboo initially. Before I founded the resort, I was in the consulting line for a resort management company, and wherever they had bamboo, they had problems.

But bamboo is versatile, malleable and importantly, it grows fast. In fact, it’s the fastest growing plant with some tropical species’ new shoots growing an impressive four feet in just a day, reaching maximum size within five to 15 years.

Is it as strong as steel?

You’ll find it’s near impossible to break a large bamboo cane in twain. Bamboo’s tensile strength is stronger than steel: 28,000 per square inch for bamboo versus 23,000 for steel.

In some countries like Hong Kong, construction workers use bamboo in place of traditional scaffolding and it’s a technique that dates back centuries.

Compared to iron rods, bamboo is less expensive, faster to build with and easier to transport.

The larger impact

For Toh and Loo, SEAD Industries trains, equips, and empowers fringe communities whom they depend on and work with for their bamboo supply.

“Bamboo that is harvested gets made into floor planks, wall panels, and even entire buildings. We have also started planting bamboo to restore lands in Perak degraded by tin mining,” explained Toh.“Bamboo that is harvested gets made into floor planks, wall panels, and even entire buildings. We have also started planting bamboo to restore lands in Perak degraded by tin mining,” explained Toh.

In a nutshell, SEAD Industries is taking a two-pronged approach in championing new sustainable methods of property development.

“When we talk about sustainable materials, lumber while renewable takes hundreds of years to regrow into suitable sizes for harvest,” said Loo.

“Bamboo is the only material in the world that leaves a net positive impact on the environment.

“For example, in the period after a tree has been chopped down, carbon is sequestered in the logs but since a tree had to be felled to retrieve those logs, now there’s one less tree to capture carbon dioxide.”

With their bamboo nurseries, SEAD Industries practises selective harvesting.

“We have a sustainable bamboo harvesting programme aka rural empowerment, and this is one of the initiatives where Maxis, Yayasan Hasanah and the Finance Ministry has come on board to support us.

“We train orang asli communities in sustainable forest management skills by teaching them sustainable farming methods that stimulate the growth of bamboo, allowing young shoots to sprout quicker and absorb more carbon (up to three times the amount) from the surrounding environment,” Loo added.

These community members can even get certified under SEAD Industries registry which allows them a steady, viable income.

“Under SEAD Plant, we’ll be taking 40 hectares of ex-mining, semi-abandoned lands in Perak to employ bamboo-based agroforestry to plant bamboo and companion crops which will help draw up the water table, create topsoil, and improve soil fertility,” Loo explained.

So other than providing forest-edge communities with a steady income, bamboo also helps to restore and rehabilitate degraded lands through SEAD Plant’s programmes.

Featherstone believes that Maxis’ tech capabilities can help SEAD bring the bamboo industry into the forefront of environmentalism.Featherstone believes that Maxis’ tech capabilities can help SEAD bring the bamboo industry into the forefront of environmentalism.

Maxis enterprise practices head Claire Featherstone said: “We really liked the proposal by SEAD not only because their work utilises sustainable materials, but also because their social business model empowers and improves the lives of bamboo farmers and harvesters with technology.

“We are thrilled to be working with SEAD to offer our tech expertise to help further their mission. Importantly, it is an opportunity for us at Maxis to continue playing our role in supporting environmental best practices,” she added.

Structural change for structural integrity

While the properties of bamboo are not news to folks in the property development and construction field, they bring their own set of problems which might be a factor to why bamboo isn’t as mainstream in commercial developments.

Up until two decades ago, climate change was not as pressing of an issue compared to current times.

“In Malaysia, we have building codes – prescriptive codes and descriptive codes,” said Toh.

Both building codes lay out guidelines for what material you can use for the building depending on the load requirement or fire resistance among other considerations.

“Without a stronger push or political will from authorities, it becomes hard for bamboo to break through into the mainstream since there are concerns on fire safety standards,” Toh continued.

“The building codes were set to prevent man made disasters, but the codes are currently restrictive in what types of materials can be used for construction.

“Reasonably, we can’t expect everyone to suddenly shift to bamboo without an incentive. So here at SEAD Industries, we want to make the downstream processing a commercial viability to enable the upstream processing,” Toh added.

Read more about the Maxis Awards and how it empowers local heroes here here.

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