It’s winter in Buffalo. The ground is covered in snow, and the temperature is far below freezing.
But Trader Joe’s has a fully stocked display of fresh flowers.
It’s no secret that flowers are an important aspect of celebrating certain holidays. Día de los Muertos, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversaries and birthdays in between wouldn’t be the same without the colorful displays.
But the timing and scale of these holidays makes it nearly impossible to satisfy the demand with locally-sourced flowers.
Flowers purchased at a chain grocery store traveled much further than the bouquet for sale at the local farmers’ market, but holiday flower demand causes markets to rely on more distant sources.
This year, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported 1.15 billion inspections of cut flower shipments for Valentine’s Day, most of which had come from Ecuador and Columbia. The most commonly imported cut flowers were roses.
These long-haul shipments have a huge carbon footprint, but jet fuel isn’t the only concern.
Many of the flowers sold for arrangements are grown with copious amounts of fertilizers and pesticides so that farmers can increase their production.
Weak flowers can’t sustain the journey or stay perky in a vase for long. These flowers also use large-scale refrigeration units to keep them in their best condition. This increases the flowers’ carbon footprint by using ecologically-damaging refrigerants like CFCs, which deplete the ozone layer.
Some flowers are grown domestically, but require heated greenhouses and massive energy consumption.
The impact of cut flowers is not only endemic to the colder seasons. Many of the most beautiful bouquets contain flowers that can’t grow to the same quality under local conditions, requiring temperature-controlled greenhouses, fertilizers and pesticides.
It is up to farms to prioritize sustainability, use renewable energy and employ ecologically-sensitive fertilizers and pesticides whenever possible.
An experiment completed by the Cumberland Flower Farm in the U.K. swapped out flowers in one of their signature bouquets from internationally grown stems, to the same varieties grown locally in a greenhouse.
The latter bouquet had one-tenth of the carbon footprint of the initial bouquet. The experiment also created the same size bouquet with native and local, outdoor-grown alternatives, ending with a carbon consumption one-thirtieth the size of the original bouquet.
The experiment concluded that consumers should purchase native flowers, instead of going for the roses every time.
In Buffalo, we don’t always have the option to choose varieties that grow in our local conditions.
For events outside of our local growing season, cut flowers don’t have to be the only option. Paper flowers, handmade cards and gifting experiences are not only more sustainable but last longer and can be more easily personalized.
Next time a holiday calls for a bouquet, opt for a local option — or ditch the display.
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