How to buy eco-friendly flowers for Valentine’s Day

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How to buy eco-friendly flowers for Valentine's Day

While it may be fashionable to investigate the early childhood of your steak, when was the last time you asked your florist about the provenance of your peonies? According to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the U.S. produced $374 million in wholesale cut stems in the 15 states that produce the majority of domestic flowers; 78% come from California. This reflects only a fraction of the flowers bought and sold stateside, with major imports coming from South America. Census Bureau figures put the total value of imported fresh flowers, foliage and seeds at $1.2 billion in 2016. With so many blooms originating outside the U.S., assessing what has and hasn’t been raised sustainably is thorny. “It’s a complicated and much deeper issue than just saying something is sustainably grown,” says Marc Hachadourian, director of the Nolen Greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden. He points to certification programs that aim to help shoppers cut through the noise. For flowers grown in California, there’s Bloomcheck, which states its goal as ensuring best practices for sustainability “when it comes to water; air and soil quality; wildlife protection; and social impacts on workers and the community.” For those from 78 nations, including many in South America, there’s Rainforest Alliance, which says more than 1.3 million farms use methods it designed to protect ecosystems, workers and local communities. For the entire Western Hemisphere, there’s the Veriflora certification from SCS Global Services, which vets farms along a variety of social and ecological metrics. And in Europe, there’s MPS certification; some growers register with ethical supply chain exchange Sedex as well. Washington-based UrbanStems, founded in 2014, is one of a handful of American e-florists trading products with the above certifications. It displays the Rainforest Alliance emblem on its site and tries to work with as many Veriflora-certified vendors as possible. “Before about 2008 or 2009, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on the environment and being environmentally friendly,” said Cameron Hardesty, UrbanStems’ head of merchandising. Noting that the organic food movement’s rise inspired the company’s founders, she said: “People are willing to pay more for good sources,” and good suppliers have become more plentiful. UrbanStems sources the majority of its blooms from Ecuador and Colombia. Large-scale flower operations have been active in Colombia since at least the 1970s, propelled by a 1967 master’s thesis written by a Colorado State University graduate student. “Bogotá, Colombia as a Cut-Flower Exporter for World Markets” posited that the environmental conditions on the plateau surrounding Bogotá — a place of perpetual springtime — was ideal for growing flowers, touching off a bloom boom that spread to nearby countries with similar climates. U.S. conglomerate Dole Food Co. eventually snapped up a large number of flower farms, but it rolled up operations in the mid-aughts after workers organized a union, winning protections against overly long hours, potentially dangerous exposure to pesticides and other abuses. “After that, the growing industry did a hard reset,” Hardesty said. “Instead of it all being […]