Consumer expectations of florists are changing and business owners need to adapt. For consumers unfamiliar with the floral industry, growing flowers may seem to be an inherently green process. Large scale flower production is essentially upscaling gardening that can be done in the backyard, right? That is a perception that many used to have. However, as the social climate changes and concerns surrounding environmental impact come to the forefront of the public consideration, consumers are beginning to do research to aid in making informed choices regarding the sustainability of the products they purchase – including flowers. To attract this ever more educated and attentive consumer clientele, florists must adapt their business models and operations to reflect changing consumer expectations and preferences. This means being more sustainable and includes where they get their flowers from.
The Carbon Footprint of Imported Flowers
Two of the biggest contributors to the carbon footprint of a flower are the source where the flower was produced and the type of flower grown. Imported flowers have significant associated energy costs, largely correlated with transportation and refrigeration. In the United States, 82% of flowers are imported, the majority of which come from South American countries Colombia and Ecuador due to their ideal growth climates which allow year-round production. These flowers must then be shipped to their destination, while being refrigerated on the entire journey to avoid destruction of the flowers. Prior to transport, flowers are cooled to just above freezing at approximately 35 ̊. Most flower importation is carried out by passenger and cargo planes, which heavily contribute to the carbon footprint by emitting CO2 and other carbon byproducts. On these flights, additional energy is used to lower temperatures and increase humidity, keeping the flowers cool. Following the flight, imported flowers are packed into refrigerated vans to continue their shipping journey to the florist’s storefront. Refrigeration systems in vans are typically powered by diesel engines or electric motors, which result in increased fuel consumption per transport.
More Sustainable Options for Importing Flowers
When you must import your flowers during the off season, consider a shipping company that uses vehicles with a fuel cell energy system that creates electricity by harnessing the energy of chemical reactions with hydrogen and air. Rather than increasing emissions, a fuel cell engine only emits heat and water as byproducts, reducing the carbon footprint by up to ten gallons per unit per day. Other delivery trucks are reducing their environmental impact by incorporating solar panels in the roofs to increase energy efficiency.
Social Responsibility: Know the Labor Practices of Your Suppliers
Another consideration of imported flowers is that the decline in price in comparison with locally grown flowers is often associated with decreased labor wages in South American countries. With the huge boom in the popularity of fair trade coffee, socially responsible consumers are now seeking florists that promote socially responsible growers. Certification systems such as FlorVerde in Colombia promote growers that work to reduce environmental impacts while simultaneously providing livable wages and fair working conditions. Once again, if you must import, do so from a grower that shares your commitment to environmental sustainability and fair employment practices.
Buying Local Flowers
Environmentally speaking, local flowers are typically more eco-friendly than imported flowers, but not always. While the climate and altitude of the Andean mountains in Colombia and Ecuador are suitable for flower growth year round, growing close to your store may have different environmental impacts. Yes, locally grown flowers reduce the carbon footprint associated with transport and refrigeration, however, flowers that are not native to the growing region often require energy input to imitate natural habitats. Energy costs of mimicking non-domestic flower growth can be equal to or exceed transport and refrigeration energy expenditure associated with importation. This means that to truly be sustainable, a florist must critically examine the growing conditions of their local flowers. In the United States, 75% of domestic flowers are produced in California due to the ideal climate, including the majority of the rose production. A local grower in New England selling roses through the fall season likely has a high carbon footprint due to greenhouse energy expenditure. If you source flowers from a local grower that is using high quantities of energy to produce flowers not typically grown in your region, the carbon footprint of your flowers may be as high as imported flowers.
Being a Sustainable Florist
So how does a florist select a source of flowers that are sustainable? Start with local, native flowers: flowers that endemically grow in the region close to your storefront. Alter the flowers you offer based on the seasonality of the crop. Local, native growth bypasses the energy costs associated both with transport and refrigeration and altering environmental conditions. Many flowers can be grown locally without expensive greenhouse overhead. An environmentally responsible florist will work with the stock that they have, rather than importing flowers to compensate. One locally-sourcing, domestic Oregon florist uses their blog to warn customers ahead of time to potential shortages, such as roses during Valentines day, and encourages them to order ahead of time if they want a bouquet that includes roses. Of course, not all florists can source local, native flowers year-round due to seasonal variation and winter conditions. So, when you must stray away from local and native flowers, choose certified green importers or regional growers committed to reducing their greenhouse footprint. The modern day consumer looks for and appreciates this level of commitment to sustainable business practices and will select their florist to match their personal values, making it more important than ever to incorporate eco-friendly initiatives into the sourcing and selection of flowers for your store.