Gifting Flowers The Ethical Way
Who doesn’t like to receive a bunch of freshly cut flowers? Buying flowers for someone else used to make me feel good, knowing that you can’t really go wrong with this gesture; it really shows someone that you care. But once I started thinking about the ethical implications involved, my feelings about something seemingly so natural slowly started to shift. What about the industry’s carbon footprint, worker’s rights issues, and the effects of pesticide use on ecosystems?
The flower industry is huge, with The Netherlands as one of the market leaders of cut flowers, and also one of the most important trade hubs. But its temperate maritime (=rainy) climate is not right for flowers to grow naturally, at least not year-round. Instead, the plants often grow in greenhouses were they require artificial heat, cooling, and light. According to The Conversation, each rose grown in The Netherlands adds on average a whopping 2.91kg of CO2 to the atmosphere.
So is it better to grow flowers in places where they can grow under natural circumstances? Not necessarily; the flower industry is one of the most important sources of income in East Africa, second only after tea. South American countries such as Equador and Colombia are also major flower exporters, where flowers can grow freely with the right temperatures and 12 hours of sunlight every day, being so close to the equator. While this reduces the flowers’ carbon footprint during production, it is highly unlikely that the majority of these flowers will stay and get sold there. Instead, they get flown over huge distances, in airconditioned planes to prevent the plants from dying even quicker. Additionally, pesticide use in the flower industry is very high, especially in developing countries where legislation is lagging behind Europe and the US. This can lead to water pollution, soil degradation and erosion, and ultimately loss of biodiversity and habitat. And there is the additional issue of worker’s rights; workers in the flower industry, mostly women and some children, are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis while receiving dismal pay. This causes respiratory diseases, high miscarriage rates, dizziness, and numerous other problems. And if that’s still not enough, water shortages in production locations are also a real issue. To put it simply, the negative consequences for the local population as well as for biodiversity and ecosystems in these areas might outweigh the benefit of creating more jobs.
Luckily, there are some alternatives that don’t come with this huge list of issues attached. Grow your own flowers if at all possible; I personally think that they are an even more thoughtful gift than store-bought ones. If this is not an option, opt for in-season, local flowers or flowers that are grown organically instead. There are several labels that help you make an ethical purchase from an organic florist. These include Fairtrade Flowers (FLO) and Florverde Sustainable Flowers (FSF). To create more transparency and avoid confusion with the large number of different labels currently operating, the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI) has benchmarked the standards that all comply with their basic social and environmental requirements. For conscious consumers based in the UK, the Good Shopping Guide has also made a helpful list of UK flower companies that they’ve ranked in their Ethical Company Index. In The Netherlands, there is a growing number of florists with an organic certification. Visit Barometer Duurzame Bloemist to find one in your area. These florists not only think about the sustainability of their flowers but also look at the way their store is run and the materials they use (no plastic wrappings!). For me, these alternatives to a traditional bunch of flowers mean I get to enjoy them a lot more. And if, unlike me, you manage to compost rather than bin your old flowers, you even avoid the emission of extra methane in the air at the end of it.