By Andrea McMasters
As you may have noticed by now, being or going “green” is becoming popular terminology to describe several industries in the United States and around the world. From automobiles to cleaning supplies to agricultural practices, even to clothing, from high fashion and couture to discounters and mass marketers, being green is not just for Kermit the Frog anymore. And, just as Kermit is want to admit, it’s not easy being green. This is no exception in the floral industry. With the latest buzz being all things green, consumers are wanting, and frankly demanding, products (regardless of the nature) that promote more ecological consciousness. Within the floral industry, we are seeing growers, wholesalers and retailers alike ready and willing to make the necessary changes, both physically and idealistically, to move in a more environmentally responsible direction. But, what does going “green” mean exactly within the floral industry and to you, the customer?
“Green,” you will find, can have many meanings, not just within the floral industry. Before we delve further into the topic, let’s first address two issues: sustainability, or sustainably grown products, versus organic or organically grown products. What does it mean when a product is labeled “organic” or “sustainable?” Simply put, if something is said to be organic or is labeled certified organic, it is going to have an environmental focus, and further has been tested by an independent certifying organization and found to be adhering to specific standards. Comparatively, sustainability is more of a social and ecological issue; a choice, if you will, to buy and use products that not only focus on the earth but the people who have worked to harvest or produce the product.
So, how can we make changes we can live with, embrace sustainability and choose more environmentally friendly products? To begin with, (and I think regardless of the industry) we can request stricter means of certification and standards for the products we buy and use. Within the floral industry a cutting edge sustainability certification program, known as VeriFlora, exists for cut flowers and potted plants. The goal of VeriFlora is to be present in a socially and environmentally responsible manner while increasing and enhancing product freshness and quality, More consumers are demanding environmentally friendly products, and the floral industry is responding. Additionally, VeriFlora has created standards for certification revolving around six main principles: advanced agricultural practices, social responsibility, conservation of ecological resources, water conservation, waste management and product quality (GreenBiz.com). VeriFlora only certifies cut flowers and potted plants coming into the United States, although Europe and South America have their own certification systems in place (currently, there are no universal certification standards).
What does it mean to you to have something certified? I think it means that a product (in this instance, fresh flowers) has been grown in a non-environmentally or social-economically threatening manner without sacrificing quality, beauty or longevity (all key factors in flower purchases). Even better, a VeriFlora flower costs little extra throughout the supply chain from grower to end-user. Your favorite florist is probably already carrying a variety of fresh cut flowers that are either organically grown or VeriFlora certified.
Additionally, I think it is time we all got back to basics! I am sure we all have read or heard somewhere or from someone different at-home methods for making fresh flower food. Many times over I have been asked about adding bleach to flower water. Unequivocally, I would recommend NOT doing this! Chlorine, a known carcinogen, is exceptionally harmful to our environment. A simple, and safer, flower food alternative is mixing in one quart of water 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar (think of it as lemonade for flowers!). Also, a simple method for removing dust from your indoor plants and improving leaf shine and quality is to rub them down with vegetable oil and a soft cloth instead of using aerosol plant shine products (which release chloralfloralcarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere). Many florists now are carrying lines of natural flower and plant care supplies that are organically derived as well as pots and vases that are made from post-consumer recycled materials.
Lastly, and paramount to this entire matter, is being informed about the products you choose to use and buy. You do have a voice as a customer; let the stores you by from know that you want organic and sustainable products. Perhaps it is as simple as buying seasonally – that is, letting the time of year determine what types of flowers you purchase (i.e. Fall mum plants or Spring tulips). Or, maybe it is petitioning a state or national legislator to take seriously the plight of agricultural workers. Even something as easy as buying a small indoor plant for your desk at work improves the air quality around you. Now is the time to take action! Now is the moment to decide that we deserve to live in a healthy environment. We can change our lives and our planet. And it all starts with a choice….