OUR GUIDE TO ETHICAL FLOWER PURCHASES
This is a HUGE topic in our industry and one that seems to sit a little under the radar. We are certainly a long way from where we are with food seasonality and provenance - it is not unusual for us as consumers to think about where are fruit and veg has come from, and to look to buy seasonaily, but it is unusual for us to have that connection with the cut flowers put on our kitchen tables (despite being a nation of keen and talented gardeners!).
Perhaps flowers are not often thought about in terms of sustainability as they joyfully represent nature and beauty and how could something beautiful, that is a natural product harm the environment? Well we are going to take a look at a few areas here involved in the global flower market before giving you a few ideas on how to make more sustainable choices and support the British farming and horticultural industry.
Did you know that:
Only 14% of the flowers sold in the UK are grown here.
A standard bunch of mixed flowers grown in the UK has a carbon footprint 95% smaller than that consisting of imports.
Flowers are imported from all over the world:
The biggest growers of cut flowers in the world are Ethiopia, Kenya, Ecuador, Columbia and Holland. China are also rapidly expanding their cut flower farms.
All these flowers are flown across the world in refrigerated transport units.
Pesticides and Herbicides:
Working conditions vary across the world and from one grower to the next.
Many growers employ extensive spraying programs of chemicals which aren’t legal in the UK.
There is strong evidence of extreme health issues in farm workers including birth defects and miscarriage. There is evidence of altered brain activity in children living near flower farms in Ecuador due to pesticide and herbicides being used inappropriately.
A risk assessment of florists conducted in 2017 showed that florists were ‘exposed regularly to both a very high number of toxic chemicals and rather high concentration levels’.
Flowers grown at high altitude in warm countries have a lower carbon footprint than those grown out of season in cooler parts of the world. For example, rose production in heated Dutch greenhouses uses vastly more energy in production than high altitude glass houses in Kenya or Ecuador.
Flowers are often grown in areas where water is a precious commodity and flowers require huge amounts of water. A single red rose stem grown in Kenya (where 70% of the UKs cut roses come from) requires 10 litres of water to be produced.
Lakes, rivers and ground water can become toxic around large flower production areas altering the natural balance of flora and fauna and displacing many people who made their livelihood from the water ways.
Floral foam (Oasis):
A single use plastic which breaks down into microplastics and is made of carbon black, formaldehyde, and phenolic foam. These are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife.
‘Eco’ foam alternatives have been show to be more damaging to aquatic life than the original Oasis.
For more information about sustainability in the floral industry visit the Sustainable Floristry Network www.sustainablefloristry.org.
HOW DO I BUY SEASONAL FLOWERS?
Follow these simple steps and you will be well on your way to making more sustainable floral design choices:
Buy local and in-season flowers wherever possible.
This means you are:
Generally selecting fresher flowers which won’t have travelled large distances to reach your florist and often purchasing a higher quality product. A plant grown in its natural season produces a stronger, healthier cut stem – a flower with scent, vitality and resilience
Supporting local businesses and investing in your local economy
Avoiding additional chemical exposure associated with fumigating and processing imported flowers
Reducing the carbon footprint associated with transporting flowers long distances, often by airplane.
Purchase a design that does not use floral foam.
More sustainable options include:
A hand-tied bouquet to place in a vase
An arrangement created directly into a reusable water container
Request simple packaging.
Ask for your flowers to be plastic free – they don’t need cellophane wrapping to keep them fresh for their journey.
Know your options.
You can ask your florist or supermarket anything – where the flowers come from, what vessel they are using, are they using foam, is there an alternative. They may not know all the answers but a good florist will do their best to find out.
The benefit of embracing seasonality is enormous, not only does it anchor you much more to the here and now, but you also have a constantly changing selection, making every arrangement unique. We also believe that more naturally grown flowers are infinitely more beautiful. At Featherstone’s we grow plenty of scented varieties and unusual and interesting stems.
At Featherstone’s we only every use British grown blooms. We buy in from other British growers over the winter who grow under glass, and we speak to all of them about how they are working on becoming more and more environmentally friendly. We have never used floral foam and never will, all our mechanics are reusable or compostable. Our flowers are grown with regenerative farming principles and we focus on high quality, nature friendly stems. Our packaging is recyclable and compostable. Our events are frequently created without any single use plastic and increasingly without anything needing to be thrown into landfill.
We are a little way in our sustainability journey, and will share more about our progress so far and what we can do in the future as we work towards accreditation with the Sustainable Wedding Alliance.
Hope this is useful for now - the key message is just to start asking the questions - where did these flowers come from, and what has had to happen for them to reach my kitchen table.
Speak soon, Jess and Katie x