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The Less Beautiful Side of the Flower Industry

Until recently, fresh cut flowers have been my gift giving go-to because they are beautiful and environmentally friendly or so I thought.  Behind the beauty lies a $100 billion dollar industry that is drying up natural water sources, exposing workers and the environment to highly toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and increasing the carbon footprint.  All this for a sweet smelling bouquet of flowers that will last a week.


Last fall, Steph met a local fresh cut flower grower who spoke about the importance of purchasing local, in-season flowers.  This conversation led to lots of reading and research as neither Steph nor myself knew that much about the flower growing industry.  What we learned was heartbreaking. The Netherlands, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya and Ethiopia export the majority of cut flower bouquets.  This industry employs thousands of people, the majority of whom are women. Unfortunately, the working conditions are difficult (breathing pesticides, excessively long shifts) and the workers are paid far below a living wage.  Fair trade flower farms do exist but they are the exception rather than the rule.


From the heating of massive greenhouses to draining lakes dry, the environmental impact of the flower growing industry is far reaching.  For example, in Kenya, fertilizers from a flower farm were drained directly into Lake Naivasha which created a toxic swamp and killed all the fish in the lake.  Ecologists are currently working with the local government to restore the lake’s ecology and find a more sustainable use of its water.


In the Netherlands, growers, research institutions and the government are working together to create sustainable and efficient flower growing production.  They have developed floating greenhouses which increase production while decreasing land use and conserving water.


While ethical and sustainable practices are beginning to take root in the flower growing industry, it has a long way to go.  So what can you do if you love fresh-cut flowers?


  • Buy local, in-season flowers
  • Forage or grow your own flowers
  • Buy fair trade flowers (fair wages, safe working conditions, no child labour)
  • Find a florist who cares about sustainability

Steph and I are not sustainability experts, but we are curious consumers and thoughtful about what we buy.  It is important to learn where a product is made, who makes it, how it is made and the impact that product has on the environment.  This includes items we wear, use, eat and admire.


We have only scratched the surface here, so if you would like to read more on this topic check out What Is Ethical/Sustainable Floristry? By Ethical Unicorn and Your food may be sustainably grown, but what about your flowers? By Jo Khan.


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