Happy Mother's Day over blue background

Ever since Mothering Sunday, a 17th-century British tradition, evolved into the American Mother’s Day holiday in 1914, flowers, cards, and other gifts have become a consumer ritual. This year, the National Retail Federation reports, Mother’s Day spending will eclipse $23 billion as 86% of Americans dole out an average of $180 to celebrate Mom.

Before you order flowers or select a card, take a few minutes to understand your gift’s impact on Mother Nature. The conscious consumer will avoid the florist-delivered bouquet — sorry, Mom — and choose other gifts with careful consideration of their environmental impact. A little research reveals that commercially produced flowers aren’t good for the environment, not all greeting cards are created equal, and that sparkly bracelet could be very good — or very bad — for our planet.

Why You Shouldn’t Send Mom Flowers

The cut-flower industry has a heavy impact on the environment due to the amount of water, pesticides, and fuel required to deliver that beautiful bouquet to the recipient. The Asia & the Pacific Policy Society warns that cut flowers are poorly regulated. As many as one-fifth of the pesticides and preservatives used in the cut-flower industry don’t pass U.S. food and health regulatory muster. Those regulations are not consistently enforced in the floriculture industry because flowers are not food; 80% of the flowers sold in the United States cross international borders and land in your mom’s hands full of chemicals she would not knowingly bring in the house.

Methyl parathion, a widely used pesticide in cut flowers, “exceeds the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s] levels of concern for all aquatic and terrestrial species considered,” according to the EPA. The agency also reports that methyl parathion is an occupational risk to people who handle the flowers. Think about that before presenting a big bouquet to Mom.

Woman holding drooping tulips
Unfortunately, that lovely bouquet of commercially grown flowers isn’t an ecologically friendly gift for Mom.

Flowers are water-intensive and the greenhouse gases produced to transport them result in a gift that wouldn’t make Mother Nature happy. “The cut-flower industry is a short-cycle production process that requires the extensive use of agrochemicals, which have a negative effect on the air, soil and water supply,” concludes the Asia & the Pacific Policy Society.

Are Your Greeting Cards Green?

Greeting cards are another transportation-intensive Mother’s Day gift, but your deciding factor should be how the card is produced, distributed, and delivered to Mom. The right responsibly produced card can be a gift to Mother Nature. Americans send 133 million Mother’s Day cards each year, which is a hint to help you conquer this Earth911.com quiz.

Some card companies are very good stewards of the environment. Hallmark Cards, for example, has cut waste in its business by 72%, greenhouse emissions by 46%, and water consumption by 12% while shifting to sustainable sources of paper for 99% of its production. By contrast, Shutterfly.com, the online custom greeting card maker, is rated by CSRHub.com — an aggregator of company environmental and social responsibility data — in the bottom 8% of all companies in the world.

Shutterfly has no public sustainability commitment, but it does conform to fair labor practices. If you are going to use Shutterfly, be sure to pick its “Signature Cardstock” option, which is sourced from “sustainable forested paper”; however, only one subsidiary of the company, Tiny Prints, had committed to replanting trees in an effort to offset consumption.

Be Careful with Jewelry Choices

If jewelry is your gift of choice for Mom, make your selection carefully. Diamonds present a variety of concerns, from illegal sourcing and labor issues to an immense environmental impact. Consider Swarovski crystals, which are manufactured — not natural — gems, made with lead oxide and a secret combination of materials. Lead oxide is safe in crystals, so Mom can wear them with confidence. Swarovski is rated in the top 5% of environmentally responsible companies in the world.

Is Your Mother’s Day Choice Eco-Friendly?

Those flowers don’t look quite as appealing when you realize their environmental impact. Photo: Pexels.com

We queried our friends at CSRHub.com to look at five popular Mother’s Day product companies.

Hallmark and Swarovski stand tall compared with Shutterfly and flower delivery services FTD and 1-800-Flowers. Here’s how they rank as environmentally responsible companies by percentile:

  • Hallmark Cards: 95th percentile
  • Swarovski: 93rd percentile
  • FTD Companies: 11th percentile
  • 1-800-FLOWERS: 11th percentile
  • Shutterfly.com: 8th percentile

Consumers have immense power to influence environmental practices by supporting suppliers that act responsibly. Take a moment to think about your Mother’s Day gift before you hand over your cash or click that “buy” button.

By Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch is the publisher at Earth911.com and Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation at Intentional Futures, an insight-to-impact consultancy in Seattle. A veteran tech journalist, Mitch is passionate about helping people understand sustainability and the impact of their decisions on the planet.