Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Do flowers belong to the "green world"?

It does not have to be Valentine's, Xmas or someone’s birthday: flowers are a perfect gift for any woman, any time. And ladies, don't we just love them?
A year ago, a friend of mine and I visited the floral auction in Aalsmeer (The Netherlands), which is the largest floral market in the world (with the annual sales amounting to Euro 4,130 million in 2010 and some 120.000 transactions a day). We were breathtaken by the magnitude and the amount of flowers around us. We loved the experience and I imagined to bring a trolley full of colorful bouquets home with me. What a place!

Aalsmeer Photo: Kateřina Hermanová

To many of us it is clear that, the Netherlands remains a major European and, to some extend, also an international flower supplier. That, however, does not mean that once the centre of production for European markets, the Netherlands grows the majority of the traded plants. Freshly cut flowers are flown to FloraHolland daily from all over the world, mainly from Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Ecuador, Mexico but also from various regions in the U.S. only to be traded and redistributed. So unless you have opted for a flower from your local grower, it is likely that your rose has travelled more than you have this year. Several thousands kilometres? What carbon footprint does that encompass? 
All this is mainly due to the recent shift from flower production to flower trading. Today’s new centers of production are typically in developing countries such as Colombia (the second largest exporter in the world, which supplies mainly the US), Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kenya, India and many others that can produce flowers off season. 

Protea, the national flower of South Africa, ready for auction.

However, the carbon footprint of cut flowers includes much more than the transport. One could include fossil fuels needed for production of fertilizers, refrigeration or methane gas released from thrown away flowers. Include the impact of large monocultures on local biodiversity, environmental degradation resulting from the overuse of water and water pollution. Besides cut flowers are grown in countries where little pesticide regulations exists, which encourages the use of very dangerous chemicals banned in the industrialised world. This impacts not only the local community, but also the workers trading and arranging the flowers. We ban the toxic pesticides but we still carry them to our homes. And we do not hesitate to offload the dirty part of the business on those who have less choice. That makes me think, that one might want to wait with smelling received flowers until sure of their origin. ;-(

All in all, local and seasonal should be applied beyond food in the 'green world'. 

Alternatively, you may want to look for organic suppliers (they do exist), buy longer lasting plants in pots or grow your own organic flower garden.

Which ever you prefer, keep flowers in your life!


  1. Was lucky enough to travel to Kenya a few years ago and really shocked me the affect that exporting products like flowers is having on a country already badly affected by drought. We saw evidence of water being pumped out of lakes to water crops of flowers which are then exported. The effect of this combined with the drought was the lakes were drying up, which will have fatal effects on many of the animals that live in and around them.

    1. Yes, Richard that is horrific. Unfortunately, there is not many people who are concerned about such situation.