What could be more romantic than a dozen roses on February 14th?
Unfortunately, that bouquet starts to smell less sweet when you consider that it was most likely grown using toxic pesticides and handled by workers who probably weren’t given adequate protection against those chemicals. Oh, and those employees could easily have been children, or women illegally required to take a pregnancy test every month (and fired if they get a positive result).
The vast majority of flowers we Americans send our sweeties on Valentine’s Day are imported from Colombia and Ecuador, where it’s common for farms engage in the less-than-fragrant practices mentioned above, plus others. (For more info, check out the International Labor Rights Forum’s Fairness in Flowers campaign. While you’re there, sign the petition telling Dole to stop union-busting at flower farm Fragrancia—the link is in the third sidebar on the right.)
Only within the past couple of years have I been made aware of these ethical considerations. Many people, I think, have no idea. And the biggest U.S. company in the cut-flower industry, FTD, isn’t helping.
If you visit FTD.com, you’ll see that it does have an “Eco-Friendly” product category. But it looks like nothing more than greenwashing to me. Emblazoned across the webpage is a logo that features a recycling logo and the words “Go Green Living,” along with this meaningless copy:
In an effort to embrace the ever-changing needs of our consumer and our society, FTD proudly presents “Go Green Living.” A movement that is making us aware of the way we have and continue to effect our planet, we recognize the need for natural, fresh, sustainable or organic products to be made available to our customers. Send these stunning bouquets, gourmet treats and gorgeous gifts to not only delight your recipient, but make a statement about the importance of protecting the beautiful earth we inhabit.
I called FTD to ask what, if anything, the Go Green Living designation means. Under what conditions are Go Green flowers grown? Are there publicly available standards I can read? Is this a certification program?
“They are certified sustainable,” the customer-service rep I spoke with said.
“By whom?” I asked.
“Um... [keyboard sounds] It doesn’t say by who,” she replied. “I believe Go Green is a service provided by FTD.”
“But you guys are the ones selling the flowers,” I pointed out. “Of course you’re going to say they’re sustainable.” For a certification system to have any teeth, I added, it has to be operated by an independent party.
The sad thing is that North America does have a highly regarded certification system for sustainable flowers, and I’m sure that FTD’s executives know this. It’s called VeriFlora. Its website discusses its criteria (which span environmental and social responsibility categories), and it’s managed by Scientific Certification Systems, a certification company that specializes in audits across a number of industries.
According to an interesting article on ethical flowers in the new issue of Plenty magazine, about 30 percent of the stems sold by Canada’s largest floral distributor, Sierra Flower Trading, are VeriFlora-certified. Why is FTD lagging?
I told the customer-service rep that I and countless other consumers would love to see FTD offer VeriFlora bouquets. She promised she’d put a recommendation into the company’s system. While you’re at it, tell them to get rid of that Go Green Living nonsense, I added.
So where is a conscious consumer to go for flowers? Here are some options:
Organic Bouquet (the flower arm of eco-boutique Organic Style) has some VeriFlora offerings; a search on the term yielded 43 results.
Even more selection might be found at California Organic Flowers, which sells stems grown in the Golden State
certified as organic by both the USDA and the more stringent California Certified Organic
Diamond Organics’ floral offerings are also mostly from California, and a company rep told me the flowers are definitely USDA-certified and probably also CCOF-certified organic.
Meanwhile, Flowerbud.com has 22 VeriFlora bouquets, though strangely it doesn’t trumpet that fact very loudly.
Lastly, mainstream 1800flowers.com sells one lonely fair-trade rose bouquet, certified by TransFair USA.