Beloved Flower Lover,
We often talk about the ethical sourcing of our flowers yet never really share that with you. Today we are.
This post has had a lot of its data drawn from the work of Dick Skellington who reports that, the UK retail cut-flower industry, is worth over £2 billion a year. Yep that much.
Yet where do all these flowers actually come from and how ethically are they are produced?
Do we even care about the welfare of the workers who produced them, and their ability to sustain a living wage?
Do we consider the environmental costs as the heart of much flower cultivation?
Do we? Do we? Do we?
As consumers’ green concerns have become clearer and the cut-flower industry has gone to great lengths to persuade us that cut flowers ‘can’ have low carbon footprints.
Much of the data has focused on the benefits of growing flowers in naturally hot countries and then flying them into the UK instead of growing them in cold countries in hothouses, which can be very energy-intensive.
This has led to a preference for flowers from Africa, rather than from European hothouses.
Additionally, campaigners have also highlighted the importance of social justice, and making it easier for African people to make a living.
When we look into it further, the flower industry is dominated by a few countries: The statistics show us that,
83 per cent of the world’s cut flowers come from Holland, Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya,and 73 per cent of the cut-flower production is imported by the US, the UK, Germany, Holland and France.
So what does that say to us?
What does that ask of us? and as western countries prioritises the carbon footprint of products from the developing world, cut flowers are no exception.
Skellington reports that the carbon footprint of cut flowers encompasses much more than their transportation from one country or region to another.
And he indicates that to measure genuine carbon footprints the entire lifespan of the flower should be considered. This tells us much about the carbon released from fossil fuels involved in flower cultivation, their fertilisation processes, their refrigeration impacts and their transportation, as well as the methane released from binned flowers.
We thank Skellington for supporting us to think about flower production in this way because it invites us and perhaps you to ask these important questions.
Is it valid to use water for the mass production of inedible goods when this might be better used for producing food crops?
Should we use water resources producing this product that is soon disposed of by people living in better socio-economic conditions in another country?
This is particularly important given that most cut flowers are grown in developing countries where poverty is often endemic and where access to clean water can be problematic – especially if large corporations buy up land and its associated water rights.
Skellington asks us,as we go to the major supermarkets to buy roses to think carefully.
Over 90 per cent of the flowers sold for Valentine’s Day are imported, the majority from Colombia (for the US market) or Kenya (for the UK), and our major supermarkets all use these sources.
For the East African country of Kenya, rose production is big business. Most of the 10,000 tons of roses we will buy for Valentine’s Day will come from there.
The Kenyan floriculture industry is concentrated on the shores of Lake Naivasha – a complex and sensitive ecosystem which is polluted and which has suffered, in recent years, from a fall in its water level due to rose production.
Until three years ago the industry was growing steadily. However, a disputed election in 2007, was followed by violence and unrest which spread quickly to Naivasha. According to the 2008 report, ‘Lake Naivasha: Withering Under the Assault of International Flower Vendors,’ by Food & Water Watch and the Council of Canadians the flower industry is so important to the Kenyan Economy that in the face of such instability the army and police put most of their resources into guarding flower shipments instead of local people, so that the Valentine’s Day delivery could reach European buyers in time.
Since 2007 Kenyan roses have come at a cost of more than 100 deaths and the displacement of more than 300,000 people.
Worse for the region, production has resulted in significant increases in miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems associated with toxic chemicals.
In Kenya, some farmers have responded by taking a more proactive role and ensured their farms achieve Fairtrade status. This has enabled them to embark on a more sustainable production cycle, one which brings money back into the local workforce as well as subsidising local welfare and community improvements.
The origin of roses is not always clear and cheap roses are often grown by companies which cut corners to avoid legislation, selling them by auction in Amsterdam so buyers think they come from Holland.
Most of the leading supermarkets have smartened up their act in the last few years, asserting that all suppliers must conform to the Ethical Trading Initiative, and they do all they can to ensure the ethical credentials of their sources and suppliers.
Perhaps the best advice is to purchase flowers with a certified Fairtrade logo clearly marked. That way you can be sure that the flower growers receive a premium to invest in their communities, or you could circumvent the ethical minefield and purchase seasonal British flowers.
Be aware of mixed bouquets as the flowers in them can come from a range of sources.
We add another strand another perspective to all of this. How do we maintain peaceful about this, yet still offer practical answers? How do we reaffirm the need to remain peaceful in the face of this so called adverse knowledge. What might it do for our thinking,feeling, behaviour?
For us it removes harm, the discomfort, the dis ease that cause affects on others. It allows us to consider how as we love ourselves more deeply how it becomes a gift to others and the world. We and they get the experience of that beauty, that love.
Now that we have read this piece, we cannot unread it and pretend we do not know. So as Byron Katie reminds us, who would we be without the idea, or the thought that this is a problem? Where might this sort of inquiry take us which can encourage us to address seemingly overwhelming situations?
We hold everyone in this industry in a beloved place.
Why? We know that no one within the sector is an enemy.
So with all of that, our thoughts, feelings and images hold this question in a space of peace. In a place of true solution coming from the deep blue place beyond,beyond, beyond conventional wisdom. A place where we do not freak out. A place where we do not feel overwhelmed, because we do not want to chastise or harm ourselves or others. We hold this situation in a place of calm and await for the solution to emerge.
We acknowledge that ‘we are all one’ and therefore we hold these facts in a context of peace. Not of ineffectual indifference but from the place of supreme calm where nothing is against nothing, where all things are in harmony.
These are not just sweet pollyanna words. We wonder what the awareness of our peaceful nature, a nature no longer warring with it’s environment may bring out for us all.
Peace is not simply a theory. It’s practical. We wonder how might it inspire a movement of change in the flower industry? Where its partners look at each other knowing that they impact on each other, now and for the future. Where we see that nothing is against us, that this situation is some how for us to find solutions. We wonder what your response is?
The London Flower Lover
p.s. English flowers from our garden