MOSO is a clear example of how global partnerships create green-growth value chains in bamboo
Growing Greener Business: an interview with René Zaal and Arjan van der Vegte
April 2017. Zwaag/NL – Bejing/CN. Created in 1997, MOSO excels in producing innovative bamboo products, from bamboo flooring and worktops to the new bamboo ceiling at Madrid International Airport. As a global business selling to 70 countries across the world, employing people across the whole supply chain, MOSO has learned how to create effective value chains across the world. Here René Zaal (General Director and founder) and Arjan van der Vegte (Senior Manager, Research and Development) discuss what lessons MOSO can provide for other businesses wanting to use bamboo,
How did MOSO start out using bamboo?
René Zaal: “MOSO was founded in 1997, at a time when industrial machinery for bamboo production was first entering the market. This offered a valuable opportunity to expand the bamboo industry, as most bamboo products at that time were handicraft goods made using small machines.”
Arjan van der Vegte adds: “Bamboo is a unique material. In our globalized linear economy, the way we consume results directly in growing waste - 3.5 million tons in 2010 alone - and increasing environmental degradation and deforestation. Bamboo offers an effective solution to some of these problems. Unlike its hardwood alternatives, which take over 50 years to mature and are increasingly scarce, bamboo grows fast - up to a metre a day – and acquires its excellent hardwood-like characteristics such as hardness, strength, and dimensional stability within 3-7 years. These properties make it a renewable and very versatile resource."
“MOSO takes climate change seriously. A few years ago we worked with INBAR on a life-cycle assessment to analyse bamboo’s carbon footprint in various products, compared to tropical hardwood. Overall, we found that if carefully managed, industrial bamboo products can have a negative carbon footprint over their full life-cycle. We have taken part in joint side events at COP21, to showcase bamboo’s possibilities to fight climate change to country leaders worldwide. Bamboo’s ability to combat climate change is an important reason why we make it the basis of all our products today.”
Did you encounter any barriers in building your bamboo business?
“MOSO started by trying to find companies in bamboo-producing countries to trade with, but encountered several problems.” René Zaal sums up: “First of all, we found that a business that works in one country does not work exactly the same in another – not just in terms of business operations and management, but also in terms of marketing and customer demands. Besides that, different countries can have different product preferences, traditions, standards and regulations. Finally, there are more than 1600 different bamboo species, not all of which can be used for the same products! This means that, for example, even though China has been using bamboo for diverse products and for centuries, their knowledge and technologies cannot directly be transferred to another country.
Additionally, to transfer technologies and knowledge abroad, businesses need to know what type of local resources are there, but also how these can be managed and utilised depending on the local infrastructure. On a community level, there is also a lack of education on the multiple usages of bamboo. In many developing countries, people view bamboo “as the poor man’s timber”. A local lack of processing or building knowledge leads to fast degradation of bamboo products."
What are the key lessons you have learned?
“The most successful lesson for us has been to develop partnerships, not only on a national, but also on a global level. MOSO has learned to strongly value partnerships that can provide local knowledge and can communicate with local actors to find solutions for obstacles. This allows for the creation of value chains.”
Arjan van der Vegte gives the example of standards: “The standardisation of bamboo products is crucial for quality control and global trade activities – but it requires the involvement of a number of different organisations to research, publish and enforce. MOSO cooperates with INBAR on the development of new ISO standards."
Another key example of this sort of partnership started this year, with the launch of a Dutch-Sino bamboo project in Africa. The purpose of this project is to develop the bamboo sector in East Africa for the following three years, using Chinese and Dutch expertise in bamboo value chain development, product design, marketing and standardisation. MOSO has an important role to play in terms of sharing ‘lessons learned’ during its own bamboo value chain development. These joint efforts present a concerted effort to use Africa's bamboo resources to reduce poverty and establish green growth and trade, which would not be possible individually.”
Zaal: “China’s long history in bamboo production means our suppliers have an unparalleled understanding of the resource, its abilities and traditional crafting methods. For MOSO, we have found that Dutch innovation can play a great role in supporting bamboo producer nations. Over the years we have improved product quality – by introducing European machines, technical regulations and quality standards to suppliers - and helped shift the debate from volume-oriented trade to diversification: providing custom-made products for new markets and shifting consumer needs. These include everything from bamboo flooring to customised car interiors."
“Finally, our partnership with INBAR and others has helped us to provide the needed processing training to communities, but also educational opportunities. This provides a source of value-added income for communities, particularly those who might be committed to work from home due to disability or their gender. But support is important: to fully stimulate this, development organisations, INGOs and governments have to not only adopt and promote the use of bamboo, but also facilitate and support this legally and financially.”
How successful has MOSO been?
With countless reference projects MOSO is recognised as the A-brand in bamboo products. According to René Zaal: “In terms of materials, we purchase the equivalent of around 800 twenty-foot containers of bamboo per year. This equals around 2000 hectares of bamboo plantation, which in turn provides harvesting and processing activities for over 1000 people working in local communities. We aim for a growth rate of 10-15% in the next five years.”
Arjan adds: “With bamboo being recognised as a sustainable and durable building material, we are only starting to recognise the endless application possibilities. This brings a lot of motivation and gives confidence in a rapid growth in the years to come. MOSO started with 3 persons 20 years ago. We are now working with a team of more than 60 MOSO team members worldwide: 32 in the Netherlands (sales, marketing, finance and logistics, 13 elsewhere in Europe, 4 in South Africa and 15 in China. This number will also grow in the next years.”
For more information, please contact:
MOSO International B.V.
Marketing department / José De Ruijter-Luken
Tel: +31(0)229-265732 / marketing [at] moso.eu
Communications / Charlotte King
Tel: +86-10-1322 819 9024 / c.king [at] inbar.int