Saturday, 7 February 2009

Blooming Complicated

Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, and so of course we will see cut flowers quadruple in price overnight. But whilst flowers might be the obvious choice for a would-be wooer or a loved-up lothario, there are environmental and ethical question marks about the flower trade.

Roses from Kenya may have been tended by underpaid workers who have had their health adversely affected by exposure to harsh chemicals and pesticides. Flowers obviously require large quantities of water and this contributes to drought in already arid areas. The flowers are often flown thousands of miles before they reach your supermarket or florist…Where is the love?

So what is the Ethical Eros to do? The obvious answer it to buy flowers that are local, organically grown and/or seasonal. In the UK, the flower of February is the snowdrop. You can buy ones grown wild in UK woodland, the bulbs wrapped in moss and then posted to the recipient of your choice complete with a message and instructions on how to re-plant them. And of course they’ll keep blooming every February, meaning you never have to bother buying Valentine’s flowers again…See

On a similar note, how about a sapling? As your love blossoms, so will the tree…
But what about Fair Trade flowers? Here’s where things start to get complicated. If flowers bear the Fair Trade label, it does mean that the people growing them have worked in better conditions and that 8% of the export price has gone to the farmers to use to fund community projects.

However, it won't tell you how much pesticide was used, or how much CO2 was emitted, in the process of growing them and sending them to you. It won’t tell you which country the profits end up in, or the local environmental impact of people flocking to flower growing areas. Or indeed whether flower farms take all the water in dry developing countries and use it to grow flowers for us to give to people we fancy.

It looks like we need a better sustainability label – there are plans to introduce one for flowers in the UK by 2010. Until then, the most guilt-free flowers are local, seasonal and/or organic. Or maybe just think outside of the (chocolate) box and give something more original this year?

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