The story of a Milanese leader and pioneer company in the cultivation and processing of this extraordinary plant, and the testimony of its president, Emanuele Rissone: “I felt the need to turn to the field of sustainability after becoming a father. The Earth urgently needs good practices.”
By Cecilia Seppia
“If I distractedly happen to leave a tap running in the house, I am immediately told off by my daughters: ‘Dad, turn off the water, it’s a waste!’. Children and teenagers today have understood the concept of sustainability much better than adults. They were born with this attitude towards environmental protection, and it is for them that I too decided to engage in this direction, trying to make a difference”.
Emanuele Rissone, a Genoa-born living in Milan, is the founder and president of Forever Bambù, a leading company and pioneer in the cultivation and processing of giant bamboo in Europe. His career as an entrepreneur that led him to be among the 100 most influential people in Italy, according to Forbes magazine, began at the age of 19 when, thanks to his passion for sport and the myth of Rocky Balboa, he successfully entered into the business of supplement food aimed at improving physical performance.
But then 12 years ago he became a father. “When a child is born, priorities change – says Rissone – and I immediately felt the need to dedicate myself to something that could improve people’s lives, especially future generations. I decided to sell my first ‘creature’ and dedicate myself to my family, focusing not on profit, but on what was best for them, for my girls who are now 12 and 10. However, I needed something stimulating, something worth fighting for to convince me to start a new business! It was at that time that I came across the Giant Bamboo. It is an extraordinary plant, beautiful as useful, which gave me a particular sensation, it was like ‘love at first sight’. Entering a bamboo forest, gave me a feeling of peace, serenity, well-being. It even felt like I was breathing different oxygen. and I was right! Thus, I created Forever Bambù, together with a group of 5 entrepreneurs and experts”.
The Wonders of Bamboo
This plant seems to have truly miraculous properties: it is able to absorb CO2 almost like a powerful vacuum cleaner, purifying the air, the water and the soil. It houses countless animal species, promoting biodiversity, and is also a renewable and highly ecological material capable of replacing many polluting plastics. Investing in this agricultural species, which has proved to be particularly profitable, would also allow many abandoned lands to become productive again.
Rissone states: “With 2,200 hectares planted from 2014 to today, in Italy alone, and over 1,000 investors who have studied and believed in the potentials of this sector, those who invest in bamboo today can say with certainty that they are doing good for the planet in a truly tangible way. We have recuperated vast wastelands, used as illegal dumping grounds, which hadn’t been cultivated for decades, and we have brought them back to their old glory, transforming them into forests that take more or less 8 years to fully develop, produce oxygen, literally devouring carbon dioxide. For our part, we have chosen to grow the forests organically, biodynamically and symbiotically, therefore in a very gentle and respectful way, without using fertilizers and chemical agents. Basically, like the farmers of the past and our grandparents did, using their hands or at most using small means. Some studies show that these forests are able to have a positive impact on the environment 36 times more than a normal woodland or forest: therefore 100 hectares cultivated with bamboo perform as much as 3,600 hectares of a normal forest. This is an amazing figure! Furthermore, unlike a poplar which is cut and replanted and needs at least 12 years to be cut and used again, it takes us an average of 8 years to create these forests, but then every winter we can mow them and every spring they are ready again to do their job”.
The social aspect
Furthermore, this specimen offers advantages in terms of social welfare. Forever Bambù currently manages 250 hectares of plantations in 4 regions of Central and Northern Italy and is expanding abroad, with more than 100 people employed in its cultivation alone. In fact, for this Milanese company, sustainability also involves decent work conditions, fair wages, with regular and consistent contracts.
In addition to the cultivation, there is also the processing of the bamboo’s mature reeds for which other manpower is employed.
After the mowing, the reeds are selected and the so-called ‘chipped’ bamboo – i.e. bamboo flakes – is created, to be transformed into bioplastic, in collaboration with some industries: it is a totally innovative, resistant, non-polluting plastic with a vegetable matrix.
“With this material we are able to produce floors, chairs, tables, furnishing accessories, kitchen utensils,” Rissone explains “but we are shifting towards large-scale industry, which interests us most, because it would mean storing the carbon dioxide for more time”.
The profitability of the giant Moso bamboo is also to be found in the food sector. In fact, the sprout of this plant is one of the key ingredients of many traditional Asian cuisines, and is increasingly used in vegetarian cuisines. In Milan alone, Chinese restaurants – serving the fourth largest Chinese community in Italy, that is over 5,000 people – consume almost 10,000 kg of sprouts a day.
Finally, apart from its versatility and ecological sustainability, giant bamboo is able to bear fruits for several decades: the average life of a bamboo grove is in fact over a century.
Embracing sustainability as the Pope asks
“We were born a year before ‘Laudato si’’, in 2014 – says Rissone – but it was surprising to read that our mission, our goal, was already written in the Pope’s words: that is, to leave our children a better planet than we found it. And committing ourselves to making this marvelous garden that the Creator has given to us flourish again has truly become a vocation. The Holy Father speaks to everyone, believers and non-believers alike, without distinction of any kind, but I believe that those who have the means to do something immediately have a greater responsibility for responding to that call, I mean entrepreneurs like us who work in the economic sector, politicians and those who hold government positions. The greatest satisfaction is seeing the earth turn green again as we do with these wastelands. We have to clean up the planet from the many, too many, waste dumps that are suffocating it. What I would like to say to companies is: ‘Get down to work! Don’t masquerade behind the banner of the green economy and sustainability just because it’s trendy!’ We must first change our mentality and create the foundations for the ecological conversion that Pope Francis is asking us to carry out.”
With these four macro-objectives underlying the project – i.e. capturing CO2, developing and diffusing zero impact products, generating wealth and benefits for all stakeholders in the supply chain, while guaranteeing sustainability, scalability and replicability of the model over time, and, finally, contributing from a cultural point of view to the Green Economy movement – this very year Forever Bambù, has transformed into a benefit company with a dual purpose: the achievement of environmental goals, through an increasingly knowledgeable management of the entire life cycle of bamboo groves, and the achievement of socio-cultural goals , aimed at guiding and multiplying the ecological transition underway, creating and disseminating a successful and innovative green business model.
“What makes me particularly happy and proud of the step I have taken – concludes Emanuele Rissone – is the objective and constant feedback we get from our customers: good practices are contagious and capable of doing great good for the environment.”