Many mothers will receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers this coming Sunday. But have you ever considered the journey and the footprint of the flowers you buy for her? Over 80% of the flowers sold at grocery stores, florist shops and online are grown thousands of miles away, mostly in Colombia, Ecuador, Thailand, Africa or Israel. So there is a lot of environmental impact on transport from farm to port and then the fuel consumed via refrigerated trucking of flowers from port to florist. According to Flowerpetal.com, which tries to limit the environmental impact of flower purchases, sending 100 million roses produces some 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from field to U.S. florist. But a flower grown closer to home doesn't necessarily mean a smaller footprint. A 2007 study by Cranfield University in England found that growing 12,000 Kenyan roses resulted in 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms) of CO2; the equivalent number grown in a Dutch greenhouse emitted 77,150 pounds (35,000 kilograms) of CO2. (Both examples include energy used in production and delivery by plane and/or truck. The roses from The Netherlands required artificial light, heat and cooling over the 8- to 12-week growing cycle, whereas Africa's strong sun boosted rose production by nearly 70 percent over those grown in The Netherlands).
Another environmental impact is all the packaging involved: boxes, plastic sleeves, little plastic tubes to support fragile stems, synthetic sponges, rubber bands, tons of packing paper, tape, little blocks of wood that are used to stabilize the cardboard boxes so they don’t get tossed around. That is a whole lot of trash per bouquet!
Then there are the chemicals. The flower industry is a short-cycle production process that requires a lot of agrochemicals impacting air, soil and water quality. Many of these have been restricted or banned in the United States and Europe, including aldicarb, an insecticide, and methyl parathion, considered “one of the most toxic organophosphate pesticides” by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Water usage is another issue with for example half of the water extraction at Lake Naivasha in Kenya coming from the floriculture industry. But cut flowers in Kenya produce the highest economic return per unit of water exported. To maintain water balance going forward, Kenya may need to import water-intense crops, such as maize, to ensure food security, or for the price of water to be offset in a price premium by the consumer.
Besides the various environmental impacts, there is the mostly female workforce subjected to low pay and poor conditions behind all the imported flowers. Many receive the absolute minimum wage and there are health issues too. Think of working double shifts during busy periods such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and workers that suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other repetitive strain injuries. Reasons why in Colombia there is a "Florverde" (Greenflower) brand with high environmental and social (worker benefits) standards. Florverde's standards, for example, include minimal water use via drip irrigation and rainwater collection; hummus fertilization; boilers with air pollution filters; sulfur vaporization; integrated pest control for 46 percent less pesticide use; and environmentally sensitive waste disposal. Among social programs and benefits offered to workers: educational and housing subsidies; day care centers; literacy education, higher- and shorter- than-average wages and workweeks, respectively; on-site health care; full benefits including medical, disability and retirement insurance; and a floriculture school for those displaced by violence.
What can you do to ensure you are buying ethical flowers and decrease your carbon footprint?
2. Buy locally grown flowers
3. Buy a herb garden