Where's That Bouquet From?
People all around the world use flowers to celebrate, commemorate and decorate. Flowers are powerful symbols… Lilies and tulips represent renewal during spring and Easter; a bunch of roses on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day conveys love, and year-round, no wedding or funeral happens without flowers.
Blooms are a booming business! But behind beautiful bouquets can be significant environmental and human costs. Here’s a few things to think about before you next buy or gift a bouquet.
The global flower trade is fast-paced and episodic, with major demand surges for worldwide celebrations like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, which amplifies the industry’s environmental footprint. Flowers have to be gotten ‘from farm to vase’ in just a few days.
Imported cut flowers are often transported thousands of miles in refrigerated airplane holds and trucks, which generate significant carbon emissions. The single largest producer of cut flowers in the world is Colombia -which exported an estimated 600 million stems in 2020! Other top producers are Ecuador, Sri Lanka and Kenya. China is also an up-and-coming producer. But unlike food products, flowers don’t have to be labeled with their country of origin. Bouquets might also include flowers from multiple countries, which can make it hard to calculate their carbon footprint.
Many cut flowers are grown in high-altitude, industrial-scale greenhouses (for disease, pest and humidity control) on huge flowers farms. Flowers are also thirsty plants, which means high water use and consequently a large amount of chemical runoff. In cooler climates, flowers need heated greenhouses which generate high CO2 emissions.
There are human impacts too. Flower farm workers are routinely exposed to toxins in fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, as well as preservatives used to extend the life of blooms. In addition to toxin exposure, many flower farm workers in low-income nations are often over-worked and underpaid without the protection of Fairtrade certification.
Organizations like Fairtrade have a certification process to ensure strict labor and environmental standards for major products. Rainforest Alliance and Certified Organic are other popular certifications. Certified flowers only cost on average only 1.5% more to produce than conventional flowers, say Melanie Dürr, Global Product Manager for flowers and plants at Fairtrade International.
Supermarkets may offer cheap prices, but keep in mind that this can squeeze producers and keep workers’ wages low. If you buy a bouquet from a local florist or farmer’s market, ask about their supply chain. Slightly higher prices may be well justified. Flowers grown locally, organically and ethically might cost more to buy because they cost more to produce, but will likely be of high quality and last longer.
Deciding what blooms to buy can be complicated - next time you purchase flowers, just keep in mind these questions…
1. How far have the flowers traveled?
2. Were they responsibly produced?
3. Is the cost fair?
4. Is there a more eco-friendly version or option?
If you’re buying a bunch from your local florist for your own home, you could take the vase they’re destined for! For gifts, opt for blooms packaged without, or with minimal, foam and plastic.
Growing your own flowers can also be a lower-impact way to enjoy cut flowers - and support your local bees! Or if you’re lucky enough to have any native Australian trees in your garden, look twice at the foliage - it can make beautiful cuttings too, and will last longer than flowers.
['Rustic native flower bouquet' by Flowers for Everyone]
Giving up cut flowers may reduce your carbon footprint, but purchasing them also supports jobs locally and globally. No single buyer can reverse the impacts of the flower industry but we as consumers can communicate to producers and suppliers that there IS a market for ethically produced, sustainable flowers.
By Anika O. for The Good Party Co. Based on The environmental impact of cut flowers? Not so rosy. - Ros Davidson, May 5, 2021, IDEAS.TED.COM
Main photo credit: Carrie Beth Williams via Unsplash