Sustainability engineer Pablo Päster's work has appeared on TreeHugger several times before; his eye-opening analyses of bottled water, local food and old vs. new cars offer a thoughtful, thorough look at the true environmental costs of things many of us use every day. Most recently, in honor of Valentine's Day, he's put the sustainability spotlight on cut flowers.
His piece in Salon notes that in the US, between 60 and 80 percent of the cut flowers are imported, and most of them come from greenhouses in Latin America. Though some travel from as far away as Europe and Africa, 90 percent of the roses sold for Valentine's Day are from Colombia and Ecuador, and their carbon footprint is no small matter. Assuming your package weighs two pounds, shipping the flowers will contribute more than six pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And that's not even half of it.In addition to having the flowers freighted in from another continent, flower growers are not required to stick to food safety standards, like producers growers and suppliers do, so the flowers may have been given a chemical bath to keep pests from blemishing their colorful flowery goodness. Even though most of us won't be eating the bouquet, this isn't a good thing; touching or even breathing close to the flowers is likely to expose us to whatever the flowers have been sprayed with. And if that sounds bad, think about those who are growing and harvesting the flowers; the Sierra Club estimates that flower-plantation workers in Colombia are exposed to 127 types of pesticides, which pollute soil, streams and groundwater after they've had a go at the flowers.
So, what's a TreeHugger to do? Pablo agrees with our Valentine's Day Gift Guide and recommends the VeriFlora certification, which requires both a high level of environmental stewardship and fair labor practices (and Pablo has found certified flowers at his local Trader Joe's, so they're likely available somewhere in your neck of the woods). Organic Bouquet is an online alternative; though they'll be shipped overnight from Miami, they won't be soaked in biocides.
Of course, there's always the local, seasonal approach -- which almost certainly won't include roses -- like the the snowdrop in the UK, or whatever you can find at your local nursery. Ultimately no flowers is probably the greenest way to go; why not a nice bouquet of local produce that you can turn into a romantic dinner for two? Take a spin through our Valentine's Day Gift Guide for more green lovin' ideas this week. ::Ask Pablo: Flowers on Valentine's Day? and ::TreeHugger's Valentine's Day Gift Guide: Giving Greener Love