March 1, 2024

Opinion | On Valentine’s Day, skip the roses. They are harming the planet.

Here’s an unromantic question for Valentine’s Day: Can we live without roses? Yes, they are the most popular cut flowers in the world, and that’s no wonder; the flowers are stunning. But the daily, non-stop global race to get fresh-cut roses from greenhouses to your door makes them a punishment for the environment. Which means it’s time to think differently.

At the airport, they are loaded onto a plane bound for Miami.

About four hours later, the roses land in Miami. They are transferred to refrigerated warehouses and inspected by US Customs.

By the time the roses arrive in stores, only 48 hours have passed since they were picked.

This fast-paced romantic trading game never stops. It’s also absurd: The rush required to supply a mass-produced piece of nature—anytime, anywhere, for just $10 a dozen—significantly contributes to the destruction of nature itself.

zip around the globe every day. Chrysanthemums from Colombia dash to Japan; roses from Kenya end up in Britain; carnations from Ecuador jet to Russia. Nearly all imported cut flowers go through the same emissions-intensive journey — climate-controlled greenhouses, refrigerated trucks and a long, chilled flight. Fresh flowers are a $34 billion global industry with a massive carbon footprint.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Planes full of flowers fly around the world every day. Chrysanthemums from Colombia run to Japan; roses from Kenya end up in Britain; jet blackheads from Ecuador to Russia. Almost all imported cut flowers undergo the same emissions-intensive journey – climate-controlled greenhouses, refrigerated trucks and a long, refrigerated flight. Fresh flowers represent a $34 billion global industry with a huge carbon footprint.

1 percent the carbon footprint of air freight. A 2020 analysis of products sold in British grocery stores, by climate expert Mike Berners-Lee, found that a bouquet of imported flowers has a more significant impact than an 8-ounce steak raised on deforested land in Brazil and consumed in London.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Compared to other perishable products we transport around the world, flowers are perhaps the most harmful to the climate. The reason? Almost everything else is transported by ship, which has 1% of the carbon footprint of air freight. A 2020 analysis of products sold in British supermarkets by climate expert Mike Berners-Lee found that a bouquet of imported flowers has a more significant impact than an 8-ounce steak raised on deforested land in Brazil and eaten in London. .

A chart comparing the environmental impact of items commonly imported into British supermarkets.

For someone who loves flowers, like my mother, this may come as a shock. She expressed concern when I told her about the supply chain. “I see evil,” she said. “But… they are so beautiful.”

I feel that too. Flowers play real and symbolic roles in our lives. They express emotions in a way that few things can: sympathy, love, regret, reverence – or just a simple gesture of care.

We don’t need to give up on this.

countries diversify their energy sources. This is particularly important in the Netherlands, the world’s largest exporter of cut flowers. In that country, with its cloudy, northern climate, highly automated and energy-intensive greenhouses are the norm, the majority of which are powered by fossil fuels. Recently, the Dutch government and the horticulture sector agreed to reduce emissions from these greenhouses. It can’t be an idle commitment.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>There is a lot the industry can do to reduce its climate impact. Greenhouses must be heated by renewable energy, which should become easier as countries diversify their energy sources. This is particularly important in the Netherlands, the world’s largest exporter of cut flowers. In that country, with its cloudy, northern climate, highly automated, energy-intensive greenhouses are the norm, most of which are powered by fossil fuels. Recently, the Dutch government and the horticulture sector agreed to reduce emissions from these greenhouses. It cannot be an idle commitment.

Some companies are already experimenting with shipping flowers by sea, an option with substantially fewer emissions. By carefully controlling the atmosphere in the containers, it is possible for cut stems to remain dormant for weeks. Most Western governments have yet to require individual industries to reduce their reliance on air freight, but if lawmakers start issuing those orders, the cut-flower industry should be among the first to be regulated.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Most importantly, the sector needs to move away from air transport. Some companies are already experimenting with sending flowers by sea, an option with substantially lower emissions. By carefully controlling the atmosphere in the containers, it is possible for cut stems to remain dormant for weeks. Most Western governments have not yet required every industry to reduce its dependence on air freight, but if lawmakers begin issuing such orders, the cut flower industry should be among the first to be regulated.

vast majority of imported flowers. The environmental impact of a bouquet plummets when the flowers are grown locally and are in season.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Consumers can help too. Avoid roses, carnations and chrysanthemums, the three species that make up the vast majority of imported flowers. The environmental impact of a bouquet decreases when the flowers are locally grown and in season.

Flowers to avoid

pink

Chrysanthemum

Clove

cultivate specialty flowers such as sunflowers, dahlias, zinnias and snapdragons. They are more delicate and don’t travel well over long distances.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Tough and with a long shelf life, the three major species are perfect for cheap mass production and fast delivery around the world. Its success as a globally produced export means that American producers cannot compete. Instead, U.S. farmers primarily grow specialty flowers such as sunflowers, dahlias, zinnias and snapdragons. They are more delicate and do not travel well over long distances.

So, buy those flowers with less common names. They are primarily grown in California, but small farms also grow them across the country. There is no guarantee, but it is significantly less likely that they arrived by air.

Best alternatives

Cosmos

Sweet William

Ranunculus

Certified American Grown” label when buying flowers at the supermarket. This guarantees the blooms were cultivated in the United States. Or better yet? Avoid buying flowers at grocery chains altogether. Instead, request sustainable bouquets from a local florist. Another way to ensure blooms were grown nearby is to purchase them at a local farmers market.” class=”wpds-c-hcZlgz wpds-c-hcZlgz-bkfjoi-font-georgia wpds-c-hcZlgz-jDmrXh-width-mdCenter wpds-c-hcZlgz-ibdLmgo-css”>Another thing consumers can do is look for the “Certified American Grown” label when purchasing flowers at the supermarket. This ensures that the flowers were grown in the United States. Or even better? Avoid buying flowers from supermarket chains. Instead, order sustainable bouquets from a local florist. Another way to ensure flowers are grown nearby is to purchase them from a local market.

Ultimately, the environmental damage caused by the flower industry results from our desire for cheap, instant gratification – and private industry’s brutally efficient willingness to produce it. The well-being of people and the planet comes second, if at all.

Facing this situation requires re-examining our priorities. Yes, a fresh bouquet means instant beauty; it’s more sustainable to plant a few tulips or lilies, or some phloxes or daffodils, and they’ll come back every year. Buy favorite flowers only in season and learn about what’s available locally at different times on the calendar. Relax the compulsion for ultra-low prices: pay more for something that is closer. And let go of cultural expectations: romance doesn’t have to be limited to roses.

Because when our efforts to bring the beauty of nature into our homes are detrimental to beauty itself, we beg us to question the absurdity of our way of life.

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