Behind the Valentine Bouquet: The Carbon Footprint of Cut Flowers

It may not be quite so obvious in the first instance but flowers come with a very high carbon footprint. Cut flowers are sprayed with pesticides, drip irrigated, refrigerated, transported often air-freighted: all of this adds up to a pretty carbon-heavy bouquet. Sales of cut flowers increase during Valentine's Day but there are things that should be known before a choice is made.

Flowers in Kenya

Back in 2007, the British Government said that  Kenyan imported flowers should be encouraged because of its lower carbon footprint. Kenya provides 31% of Europe's cut flowers, directly employing 500,000 people and another million through auxiliary services.

But florists in the UK disagree and they said that the government should support UK's own cut flower market which supplies 10% of the domestic market. The cut flower market in the UK is worth £ 2 billion but most of what is imported from Kenya is grown on the shores of Lake Naivasha  which is a complex and sensitive ecosystem.

Growing water shortages means that local people are using their resources to make what essentially is throw-away item for European buyers. The floriculture industry is so important to the Kenyan economy that even in the face of political dispute, the army uses its resources to guard flower shipments instead of its people.  Kenyan flowers not only come at a high ecological cost but also a high social cost.

Columbian Roses

The situation in the US is about the same where between 60 -80% is imported.  Most of these come from greenhouses in Latin America but some even come from Africa or Europe. Almost 90% of the roses sold for Valentine's Day are from Colombia and Ecuador.

In Colombia, flower-plantation workers are exposed to 127 types of pesticides and flower farms have polluted and depleted Bogota's streams and groundwater. 20% of these pesticides are illegal in Europe and America.

Dutch Blooms

The University of Cranfield conducted a comparison study between the Kenyan and Dutch flower market and found that although the Dutch blooms made a much shorter flight, they had a higher carbon footprint because they were grown in heated greenhouses.

Where is the love?

So in the midst of this information, what are the alternatives? The most obvious option would be not to give flowers. Personally I don't get the point of them: they stick around for a few days and then they die. Giving a plant would make so much more sense because at least it gets to stick around for awhile, perhaps even flourish if you have a green thumb. Alternatively buy locally grown flowers which has not traveled a long way to reach you. In the US, VeriFlora is a certification program for sustainably grown flowers, requiring not only high environmental standards but also fair labor practices. VeriFlora bouquets are available at Trader Joe's. Organic Bouquet and Diamond Organics deliver organic cut flowers.

There are so many other ways to celebrate Valentine's Day. Why not express love with something that lasts longer than flowers?

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©