Healing the Planet with Earth-Friendly Bamboo Products

The business she launched out of her garden bamboo plants could help heal the planet.

By Margaret Heffernan | December 2008

Today Heinricher heads up a profitable multimillion-dollar company, working on species from all over the world and selling them to wholesalers. “If you want to farm bamboo, it’s hard to do without the plantlets, and that’s what we have,” she says.

Her challenge now is to ramp up production to meet demand. That costs money. Heinricher is looking at ways to bring in investors.

“We are at the epicenter of an amazing moment,” she says. “I spend a lot of time deciding where to put my focus: Supporting manufacturers of bamboo products? Selling plants to gardeners? Breeding more varieties? Educating farmers about the economic and environmental value of bamboo forests? Or persuading legislators to line their highways with bamboo for carbon mitigation?”

Now that Heinricher can grow millions of plants, all of that-and more-is possible.

Getting Ahead with Jackie Heinricher
What is the smartest thing you’ve done while running the company?

There was so much opposition to planting bamboo. My neighbors complained about my own garden! People thought I’d gone off some deep end professionally. I’ve faced lots of naysayers every step of the way. My first loan—you can imagine what the bank thought. First there was a moment of shock, and then laughter! Deep down I wonder if it was because I am five-two and wear jeans. I’m an unlikely CEO of a very unlikely company.

Why did you succeed where others had failed?
Recognizing that the plant wouldn’t be produced any other way [unless we did it ourselves] was an important insight.

Who helped you the most?
My husband, Guy. When I mentioned the opportunity to buy the lab, he had a plan the next day for how it could work. Having someone say, Here is how the road is paved—that was just wonderful. “No guts, no glory” is what Guy says even when I’m having a fit about something. He never lets me doubt myself.

What’s your biggest weakness?
Guy thinks I should be more concerned about the bottom line than about saving the world. I have to be reminded to focus on the things that keep the lights on.

Where would you most like to see bamboo growing?
There’s a pilot project in the Mississippi Delta, an economically depressed region. They could plant moso, the 100-foot-tall bamboo used to produce textiles and flooring. I’ve met with an economic development group, landowners, and investors. That project really arouses my compassion.

What do you grow in your home garden?
Our garden is really a park, with about 160 species of bamboo mixed with perennials and trees and all kinds of wonderful plants. I’m very proud that I’m sequestering carbon dioxide-enough to offset our carbon footprints for a lifetime.

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