Once seen mainly in Chinese scroll paintings and in the mouths of cuddly pandas, bamboo is soaring to fashionable new heights across the design world these days. A highly regenerative and thus sustainable resource loved by environmentalists, bamboo is actually a grass and the fastest-growing natural building material on our planet. Growing three times faster than trees, it is capable of topping 15 metres in 18 months. Unlike timber from felled trees, which must mature for 30 years or more to be a viable building material, bamboo can be harvested as timber after three to five years of growth. It also offers impressive tensile strength that outperforms even steel. 'Bamboo shoots out of the ground like a train,' says Bali-based jeweller John Hardy at his residential compound built from salvaged wood above the Ayung River in the island's lush interior. A relatively new convert to bamboo, which he calls 'endlessly sustainable', Hardy plans to make a second career of bringing bamboo design to the world as he has done with Balinese traditional silvercraft. With his wife, Cynthia, Hardy is funding the construction nearby of the Green School, a pre-kindergarten through junior high school built entirely of bamboo. Due to open in September, the classrooms, public spaces and living environments will be filled with furniture made by the Hardys' nascent design firm PT Bambu. The 58-year-old Canadian native is also enthusiastic about the new John Hardy Ltd jewellery showroom in Hong Kong. The 14th floor, 13,000 sq ft waterfront industrial space in North Point welcomes arrivals with a dense cluster of black bamboo. Illuminated display cases and video screens embedded in the criss-crossed stalks ingeniously show off the bling while surrounding the reception desk is what chief executive Damien Dernoncourt calls sliced bamboo: shaved sections of stalk lined up alongside one another that create an irregular pattern recalling Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi's imbalanced exteriors. One can't help notice the relaxed atmosphere that pervades the work environment, and the laid-back Frenchman says smiles are the most calculable human improvement attributable to the bamboo. The space was a concrete shell when they signed the lease last May. The intention was to 'show you can have a green office in Hong Kong', says Dernoncourt as he points out a natural fibre floor laid without any glue, non-toxic water-based paints, energy-saving lights and brick walls sealed with mud, not cement. The air-conditioner is set to 23 degrees Celsius instead of the standard Hong Kong office Arctic chill. This summer the roof will be painted white to limit heat penetration and lower the interior temperature further. Before passing through the 'moon door', a circular glass pane outlined with bamboo that turns 360 degrees within its bamboo frame, the financier veers left to show off a mini-rice field growing on the terrace facing Victoria Harbour. Waxed bamboo desk units designed to accommodate three people each interlink throughout the main work area for about 70 staff. Early prototypes caused splinters and left gaps between the bamboo strips, through which paper clips and other office essentials slipped. The attractive multi-hued desktops appear at least as spacious as the traditional competition and two deep drawers accommodate standard supplies. Staff seem to have adapted to their new workstations, although they say bamboo chairs would have been asking too much. His hands on one of the ergonomic swivel variety, Dernoncourt says the goal was not to 'overdose on bamboo but rather to reflect our brand's Bali heritage, modified to Hong Kong'. Dernoncourt says the line has blurred between home and work spaces (his marriage rests on a pact to eliminate the BlackBerry from the bedroom) and he was adamant that the showroom 'bring home into the office', which is why his favourite Chinese antiques are scattered around the space and there's a bamboo-floored yoga room with shower and changing facilities and a homey lunch room equipped with energy-saving appliances and an Ecovision recycle bin, like those used in Hong Kong schools and government buildings. 'We don't know how long bamboo will last in these forms, but we are a good beta tester,' he says. For now, each desk costs about HK$12,000, but Dernoncourt says costs will fall as production levels rise and economies of scale kick in. Leaning against an interior wall held together by beeswax, he says the company's green innovations go beyond the eco-chic confines of the new showroom. Although all the bamboo in the space comes from Indonesia, the company has been planting stalks on Nusa Penida, an island near Bali, for the past three years to offset the carbon footprint it makes though such activities as printing advertising materials and travel. Instead of buying carbon credits, as many eco-conscious businesses do, the firm works with local farmers to build water tanks and make other improvements to the bamboo fields, and then buys their harvested stalks. In a clever piece of cross-marketing, the firm has introduced a bamboo-inspired silver jewellery line, carried by Lane Crawford. Each piece is engraved with the number of stalks planted upon its purchase. So far about 650 square metres of bamboo have been planted on the island, and more goes into the ground each day. In the showroom's reception there's a striking Chinese Buddha seated on a lotus, carved in bamboo, reflecting the Hardys' aspiration to shift people's buying habits away from antique stone Buddhas, many of which are stolen from Asia's most endangered heritage sites, in favour of PT Bambu's uncontroversial, museum-quality reproductions. As the world's forests dwindle and figures such as Hardy push bamboo as a versatile, sustainable material, its popularity seems set to grow as fast as those Balinese shoots.