By Eva Montane
A flower of any sort appears on the surface to be a cheery, happy good thing, right? Well, as with most things, there is more to cut flowers than meets the eye. Studies show that the multimillion dollar floral industry has a huge environmental impact because so many people purchase cut flowers to observe a wide range of events. With Easter and Mother’s Day approaching, it seems like a good time to join the effort to raise awareness about the impact of our flower-buying decisions.
Most cut flowers are grown in South American, African and southeast Asian countries that have far more laxed regulations than here in the United States. Workers in these countries who grow the flowers are generally poorly paid and not unionized. In addition, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides – many chemicals that were banned here decades ago – are still heavily used.
These chemicals are responsible for causing health problems, ranging from respiratory issues and skin conditions to birth defects and impaired vision, in the people working with them. Florists in the U.S. who work with the flowers over prolonged periods have complained of skin irritations and other problems.
In addition, these harmful substances find their way into water supplies, impacting fish populations and reducing available drinking water. And these “costs” are associated only with the production of cut flowers. Transporting cut flowers across continents and oceans in climate-controlled vessels contributes to global pollution.
Ironically, many conscientious consumers who buy organic and fair trade goods at local grocery stores and carefully read labels for health risks might add a bouquet to their cart without realizing the potential environmental and health costs of foreign produced flowers.
A Blossoming Alternative
The good news is that there we can make a better choice. Ask your florist about what they offer in the way of locally grown flowers, organic flowers and products from green or sustainable growers. In Durango, Colorado, for example, April’s Garden is an eco-conscious florist whose owner, Amy Long, does everything she can to adhere to sustainable practices and support the local economy. She has relationships with local flower farms for fresh, sustainably grown, seasonal flowers that she can proudly offer her clientele. Amy also peruses the farmers’ market as a source for her “green” flower selection.
If your local florist doesn’t offer any environmentally responsible flower options, encourage them to reconsider their policy. It is generally the persistence, pressure and market demand of customers that will motivate them to include such options in their offerings, so keep asking! There is at least one green label certification program developed about eight years ago by a partnership between Whole Foods Market and Scientific Certification Systems called Veriflora that was implemented to standardize green labeling for the cut flower industry. According to Supermarket News, “Among other things… it indicates the growers of the flowers treat their workers well, pay them a fair wage and give them benefits like health care and day-care centers. In addition . . . green-label growers are environmentally responsible.”
Eva Montane is a certified garden designer, horticulturist, instructor for the famed Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, and all around plant geek. She is the owner of AbundantEarthGardens.com which offers an acclaimed garden education series – MP3s with slides – for the Western gardener featuring 19 of the top gardening experts of the region.