I call myself an eco-florist and I get a lot of questions about what that means. Most people assume that if you are working with a natural product then it must be eco friendly. This is not the case at all.
Almost all the flowers sold in florist shops and supermarkets are commercially grown in intensive conditions. So they are more like an agricultural crop than the image of a gentle garden most people have in their heads.
Except unlike an agricultural crop they are not to be eaten so a wider range of chemicals can be applied to increase growth and kill off pests. This is quite worrying as a significant proportion of the flowers are grown in countries that still allow the use of chemicals that persist for a long time, damaging the wider environment and polluting watercourses. There are sadly also a number of countries that still use chemicals that are known to damage human health. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for the people that work on those farms.
These flowers are then cut, bunched, placed in a plastic sleeve and driven to an airport where they are most likely flown to Holland. From the big flower auctions in Holland they are then driven or flown to their destination country which could be anywhere else in the world. Finally, they arrive in a shop and after a little time to recover and rehydrate they look all fresh as if they were picked in a field down the road yesterday; giving you that impression that they are eco-friendly!
This means that the carbon footprint of flowers can be massive and they might also be pretty toxic (even to the florists working with them)! Where flowers are grown closer to the UK, they may have to be grown in heated greenhouses in order to replicate the warmth of their natural growing conditions. Again, this can significantly increase the carbon footprint of each flower.
Why is it like this?
The cut flower business is a global industry with turnover in the billions. Like many things, customers have high standards and demand consistency of flowers that last a long time. The only way to achieve this is by selective breeding programmes and growing in huge volumes to keep the prices down. While, personally, I would like every industry to be more eco friendly that is not my aim with this blog. It is simply to describe where we are and why a product that appears so natural may not be.
Despite all of this, there is very little research. Growing conditions and standards vary from farm to farm and country to country. This is why actual figures on carbon footprint or ecological impacts can be very difficult to generate and each set comes with a different range of caveats making comparison impossible. Without this kind of data, engaging with customers to generate more eco-friendly options is pretty tricky.
What are the options for eco friendly flowers?
There are so many options for more eco friendly flowers and I will be getting into this in a bit more detail over this series of seven blogs.
The next blog will look at what ‘eco friendly’ means. Is it a standard or a gradient? After that I will go through some of the most discussed areas in my little eco friendly florists niche, including:
- Use of plastic and what I call hidden plastic
- Flower sourcing and seasonality
- Waste and recycling
- Wider environmental choices – water, electricity and so much more
- Thinking bigger than eco friendly, what about sustainable and ethical?