A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But what effect do beautiful bouquets have on the environment?
Every year, Americans buy about 1.5 billion roses, according to Audubon Magazine. In 2011, 23 percent of adults purchased flowers or plants as gifts for Valentine’s Day and nearly half chose roses in their bouquets, according to market research company Synovate. It would seem that roses aren’t going out of favor as a romantic gesture any time soon.
But as is also the case in the food production industry, more flower consumers are beginning to ask tougher questions about their floral arrangements: where do roses come from, and how sustainably are they grown?
Nearly 90 percent of roses purchased in the U.S. are imported from Latin America, including about 900 million from Columbia and 400 million from Ecuador. In Ecuador, flowers have grown to be the country’s third-leading export behind only oil and bananas, two industries with long, well-publicized histories of fielding concerns about environmental and labor violations.
Unlike the U.S., many South American countries’ laws regarding the use of toxic pesticides are lax. The use of chemicals in Columbian greenhouse grow operations isn’t regulated at all, according to the Associated Press.
Luckily, there are a handful of local and organic ventures that take environmental issues into account in both the production and distribution of flowers.
What to Look For
Sustainable flower company Organic Bouquet’s guide to flower standards is a useful primer. Just like food, flowers are classified by different authorities and by different standards. Flowers can be certified organic by the USDA if they meet sustainable farming and conservation standards and aren’t treated with toxins or persistent chemicals.
Veriflora, “America’s first comprehensive sustainability certification program for the floral and potted plant industries,” takes certification a few steps further, zeroing in on crop production strategies, waste management, fair labor practices, community benefits and other industry-specific issues.
Dozens of other regulatory groups seek to protect the environment, workers and consumers in both a flower’s region of export and delivery.
Organic Bouquet’s selection, which includes roses, other flower varieties, wreaths and live plants, is grown in environmentally-certified farms in Ecuador, Colombia and California. The company promises that flowers are grown using “earth-friendly techniques,” including the use of natural fertilizers instead of synthetic chemicals and pest-repellant Eucalyptus trees instead of chemical pesticides.
The company’s bouquets are shipped in recycled and recyclable boxes marked with water-based, low VOC inks. Same goes for gift cards and inserts. Even Organic Bouquet’s signature tinted glass vase is made from 100 percent recycled glass.
Start With Local
But small, local growers boast the distinct environmental and community-minded advantages of local shopping.
The carbon footprint of local growers’ wares is significantly smaller than that of flowers that travel thousands of miles by boat, plane or truck. Shipping boxes aren’t needed, as bouquets can be purchased vase-ready. And depending on the particular local grower or retailer, bouquet selections may present more opportunities for specific requests and customization to a customers’ liking.
To track down local flower options, check out Local Harvest’s nationwide search function. Or, if all else fails, visit your nearest locally-owned florist. Any florist worth his or her pruning shears will be able to source any flower in an arrangement, a luxury rarely afforded by supermarket chains or Valentine’s Day pop-up stands.