Blooms Away: The Real Price of Flowers
What is the environmental impact of all those flowers given on Valentine's Day?
By Carolyn Whelan | February 12, 2009
Roses are red… They are also fragile and almost always flown to the U.S. from warmer climes in South America, where roughly 80 percent of our roses take root; to warm the hearts of European sweethearts, they are most often imported from Africa. They are then hauled in temperature-controlled trucks across the U.S. or the Continent and locked up overnight in cold boxes before their onward journey to the florists of the world. According to Flowerpetal.com, which tries to limit the environmental impact of flower purchases, sending the roughly 100 million roses of a typical Valentine's Day produces some 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from field to U.S. florist. So what's a lovesick, albeit "green," beau to do?
First off, don't assume that imported roses are environmentally hostile. A 2007 study by Cranfield University in England found that raising 12,000 Kenyan roses resulted in 13,200 pounds (6,000 kilograms) of CO2; the equivalent number grown in a Dutch hothouse 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 Holland required artificial light, heat and cooling over the eight- to 12-week growing cycle, whereas Africa's strong sun boosted rose production by nearly 70 percent over those grown in Europe’s flower auction capital.
"In Ecuador, the low-carbon impact of flower farms was evident. Greenhouses used no artificial heating or lighting, and most farm workers walked or biked to work," observes Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers. "In the U.S., most flowers grown commercially come from climate-controlled greenhouses, and many workers drive to the farm."
Although there is no study that makes a similar comparison of flowers grown in and outside the U.S. Colombia set up a "Florverde" (Greenflower) brand in 1996, and now labeled as such on bouquets at Wal-Mart and other big chains, with high environmental and social (worker benefits) standards. Roughly one in five U.S.-bound Colombian blooms is Florverde-certified, meaning stringent standards are verified by annual inspections done by Icontec in Bogotá and Geneva-based SGS, S.A. (Société Générale de Surveillance).
Similar "Sustainable-," "Fair Trade-" and "Organic-" branded bouquets are increasingly available at mega- retailers and florists in the U.S., including Sam's Club, FTD, natural food stores and Web sites like Flowerbud.com, Organicbouquet, TransFair, and 1-800-flowers. (Due to the expensive nature of going organic, however, international "organic" brands may have laxer guidelines than those in the U.S., authorizing less, but not zero, pesticide use; they also may be produced from cuttings that were not organically grown.) They boast labels like FlorEcuador or the U.S.'s VeriFlora, each with their own standards and independent inspection schemes.
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. Florverde is working to further grow the program and cut energy use, according to Colombian floral association, Asocoflores, chairman, Ernesto Vélez. With advice from U.S. universities, it is also testing biological pesticides, such as natural predators, and sending heartier breeds like carnations by ship.
Hopefully this may help a little.