If you spend any time reading our Facebook comments you’ll see lots of different people asking the same question:
"Where do you get your bamboo?"
It’s an obvious ask - Naked Sprout are a UK-based company making toilet rolls out of bamboo. There aren’t any bamboo forests in the UK, so where does it come from?
The basic answer is that our bamboo comes from the the Hunan Province in China, where bamboo is sustainably grown for commercial use in forests that have been cultivated for the purpose.
But we’ve heard the question enough to be able to read between the lines. People who ask this question are normally motivated by a more nuanced concern; that we don’t really know much about our bamboo before it reaches us, or worse, that we don’t care about the social or environmental cost of harvesting it, pulping it, and transporting it to our factory.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s get into it.
What is “Supply Chain Monitoring?”
As a sustainable business we have a responsibility to understand how our products are made - from raw materials to the point they’re sold, and beyond. It might not be a legal requirement, but we consider it to be an ethical one. If we want to sell our products as a genuinely sustainable alternative to traditional tissue products we need to know every detail of our supply chain.
In the case of the bamboo in our tissue products, there are some key stages to be aware of. Bamboo is grown, it is harvested, it is pulped, and then it is transported to our factory.
We keep our supply chain small, with only four suppliers and one manufacturer, so we can fully trace our rolls back to the pulp supplier. This is unusual in our industry; many other factories purchase tissue ready-made as large “parent” rolls ready to be cut down to smaller rolls, and have no say in how, or where, their raw materials are sourced.
This small team of suppliers means we can easily monitor what is happening at every stage. Our chain is monitored twice - by ourselves and by the Forest Stewardship Council - in a belt and braces approach.
We’ll go first.
Our bamboo arrives at our factory in the form of pulp that has been mechanically mashed by our suppliers. Bamboo pulp is a brown, fibrous mass that doesn’t take up too much space in shipping, but it doesn’t look much like the tall green poles we all recognise as bamboo.
Our bamboo suppliers are based at the heart of the huge bamboo forests in Hunan Province. One of the forests where our bamboo comes from has one billion acres of bamboo! How do we know we’re getting the right pulp, from the right forests?
Our FSC-certified bamboo pulp is sold by weight. When our suppliers at the heart of the bamboo forest have pulped our bamboo they weigh it, and then issue an invoice for that exact amount. This isn’t a simple round figure, bamboo is an organic product and the season and growing conditions will make a difference to how much of an area of bamboo forest equals how much weight of the final pulp.
So the weight of the raw bamboo pulp is the basis of our trade with the supplier, and we pay a fair price. The raw material weight is recorded on the invoice. When we receive the pulp back at the factory we weigh the material again to confirm that both weights match up. Once the weight is verified it’s recorded using specialist software against every batch of bamboo toilet roll we make. The result is that we can trace every pallet, box, and roll of Naked Sprout back to the batch of pulp used to create it, and the FSC-certified forest where it grew.
This system means we know exactly where the pulp has been produced, and the route that it has taken to the factory, and we can be sure of the climate footprint of that route by road and sea, between the forest in South-West China, and the factory in North-West Spain.
So that’s our raw materials verified, but what about the sustainability credentials of the forest itself? For enhanced monitoring, our bamboo suppliers are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
The FSC is an international organisation that provides the most respected and widely used certification system for responsible forestry.
Their checks take into account the management of the forest. They know where our bamboo is grown, and they have carried out their own independent auditing of these commercial forestry projects, taking into account sustainable farming of timber stock, fair employment of workers, and the land rights of local communities. All suppliers with FSC certification are obliged to undertake annual auditing.
The FSC audits and certifies our suppliers for their forest management, and they audit and certify Naked Sprout according to their chain of custody requirements as well. All FSC-certified suppliers verify their raw materials by weight, and keep records of the weight of products going in and out so that they can prove no raw materials that have not been certified have been introduced into their supply chain. They also monitor supply levels of finished products, so that they know the amount of products sold matches their records of what has been produced.
So our whole process, from growing the raw bamboo to producing the final rolls in our factory is fully compliant with FSC certification, and all materials are fully traceable from raw material grown in responsibly-managed bamboo forests, to the final tissue products produced in our factory.
What it means
These checks mean that we know where our bamboo comes from, we know the conditions there meet the best, internationally-recognised standards for responsible forestry, and we know how the product gets to us.
We put this knowledge to use. We display our FSC certification on our boxes, so that our customers can be assured we are meeting the best standards of responsible timber certification. And a further benefit of this painstaking approach to supply chain monitoring is the transparency we can offer our customers. Our calculations of our CO2e footprint take into account the full detail of our supply chain on the ground and the actual distance that the bamboo has to travel to reach our factory. In 2023 we completed two independent life cycle assessments that calculated the footprint of our entire supply chain, and from 2024 we’re printing our numbers on our boxes too.
So if you wondered where our bamboo comes from, now you know. It’s grown, harvested, and pulped in bamboo forests that are monitored by the FSC, and when we make our rolls we can trace them right back to their roots.
We have more information about our FSC certification here, and if you’re interested in more of the details of our production processes you can read our series of blogs about our life cycle assessment.
Interested to try toilet rolls that are fully traceable from root to loo?