Florverde standards include minimized water use via drip irrigation and rainwater collection, boilers with air pollution filters, integrated pest control to reduce 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 than average wages; on-site health care; medical, disability and retirement insurance; and a floriculture school for individuals displaced by violence. Florverde is working to expand accredited facilities and to further cut energy use, according to Ernesto Vélez, chair of Asocolflores, the Colombian floral association.
Nevertheless, shipping from faraway farms introduces all kinds of inefficiencies. Roses, for example, can’t be sent long distances by sea; because they wilt at temperatures above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they require constant refrigeration. So they are shipped by air, which produces more greenhouse gases. Transport by ship has its own problems. Because demand is uncertain at all times other than Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, suppliers rarely can fill a shipping container with a single species on a voyage, explains Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida. Yet mixing flowers is not viable, because different varieties emit gases and transmit diseases that can spoil others. “Our product is very perishable,” Boldt says.
American consumers have several ways to minimize such environmental impacts. First, buy flowers grown locally. Only about one third of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are domestic, and most of those are raised in California—notably orchids, mums, daffodils and irises. But even there, energy-gobbling hothouses are often the norm, so buyers might inquire about where flowers were grown and if they matured in hothouses or outdoors.
Another strategy is to opt for heartier breeds such as carnations, lilies, birds of paradise and ginger from Costa Rica that can survive the three-day boat trip at temperatures nudging 50 degrees F. Consumers ordering online might consider www.FlowerPetal.com, which contributes to a carbon-offset organization, based on total sales.
Finally, your beloved might forgo roses for berries, ferns or seasonal field-grown flowers such as sunflowers, larkspur or dahlias. Better yet, consider live flowers in pretty pots.
“Explore your local options,” urges Gabriela Chavarria, a bee specialist and director of the Science Center of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Native plants thriving in their natural environment require minimal heating or lighting before they are purchased. “Natives are part of the ecosystem,” Chavarria says. “They provide pollen for bees and have a tiny carbon footprint.”
What to Ask Florists
If you want to minimize the carbon footprint of flowers you buy, ask florists to show you locally grown varieties. Also, ask for plants that are field-grown instead of raised in energy-consuming hothouses. At retailers, search for eco-labels such as:
- Florverde: Colombia’s stamp appears on blooms grown in accordance with environmental and labor standards, including minimal application of pesticides.
- VeriFlora: This U.S. label confirms that growers have met requirements set by Scientific Certification Systems for environmental sustainability and social responsibility, including fair labor practices and low water and fertilizer inputs.
- FlorEcuador: Ecuador’s guideline attests to good labor practices, low pesticide use and smart waste disposal.