While the floral industry as a whole ignores environmental-consciousness, there's a small but growing movement among independent florists worldwide to practice their art in a way that is less damaging to the planet. This movement may be divided into three different avenues toward eco-consciousness:
- Responsible Product Sourcing- the goal here is to use local and domestic product as much as possible to not only reduce the amount of jet fuel consumed by moving flowers around the globe, but also supporting appropriate environmental regulations and labor protections. Champion of the cause: Slow Flowers Movement is dedicated to connecting florists and their customers to the source of their flowers, and supporting transparent origin labeling, which heightens the he value of local, seasonal and sustainably-grown flowers.
- Abandoning Floral Foam- Floral foam is widely used in the floral indsutry to style arrangements of all kinds, from wreaths and casket arrangements to wedding bouquets. Floral foam is basically an open-celled plastic that's full of toxic chemicals like fermaldehyde and carbon black, not to mention that the dust is dangerous to breathe in. Florists exposing themselves to these chemicals should take precautions such as wearing gloves, eye protection, and dust masks (when handling it dry). While the foam may be degradeable (it breaks down into dust), it isn't bio-degradable meaning it doesn't break down into natural compounds, it simply breaks down into smaller pieces of floral foam (microplastics). Removing floral foam from floral design ensures florist and customer safety as well as the disposal of toxic microplastics into the environment. Champion of the cause: @nofloralfoam is am Instagram site dedicated to supporting florists who use achieve beautiful flower arrangements without floral foam. Florists can share knowledge, tips, and tricks and encourage each other to use alternative methods to floral foam while achieving similar results.
- Abandoning Single-use Plastics- The floral industry is rampant with plastic waste. Plastic vases, plastic and cellophane wrapping, waterproof liners for decorative containers, floral foam, throw-away buckets, cardettes (that stick that holds the card with your message on it), and decorative piques are all on the chopping block although these products are so inexpensive and easy to use it can be hard to break the habit. (Florists who aim to use less floral foam are often caught in the trap of using plastic poultry netting instead, which the purists don't agree with.) Champion of the cause: the verdict is still out here.
While many florists will choose one of the above to focus on, I've chosen to double down on sustainability and go for all three. I think it's possible to have the beauty of flowers in our lives without irreparable damage to the planet. I've set my own goals and expectations for Foxbound Flowers, listed below.
Foxbound Flowers Sustainable Floristry Tenets:
Reduce the Waste Stream:
- abandon single use plastics, especially floral foam
- reduce the purchase of new items and products as much as possible by reusing or upcycling items (i.e. encourage customers to return vases for reuse, purchase vases/containers from second-hand stores, or repurpose items for floral containers.) thereby reducing the amount of waste added to the landfill, and energy and material consumption needed for the manufacturing of new items
- compost 100% of organic matter
- recycle anything that can not be reused or repurposed
Source Product Responsibly:
- Support local flower farmers- get to know the farmers and their growing practices to make sure they align with sustainability goals (i.e. Salmon Safe growers, bee-friendly growth, etc.)
- Support domestic growers when local product isn't available (reduce global carbon emissions, enforceable domestic labor laws, etc.)
This may seem like a short list of goals, but I can assure you it's not as simple as it seems. In future posts, I'll dig in to some of these items in more detail. For now though, it's important to be clear on what I expect of myself, and what my customers can expect from me.
As floral wholesalers across the country close their doors due to COVID19, domestic flower growers are feeling the strain. Many growers, especially those who grow on a large scale, sell the bulk of their product to wholesale businesses, who then sell it to retail florists. Since the supply chain has been interrupted, many growers are scrambling to get their product directly to florists to recoup their lost sales. This may seem like an easy fix, but growers may struggle to change their sales systems and shipping logistics on-the-go.
Tyler Meskers, Vice-President of Oregon Flowers, Inc. in Aurora, Oregon says before COVID19 80% of their sales were to floral wholesalers. The closing of wholesalers and delivery routes leaves Meskers, who specializes in Lilies and Tulips, with a logistical nightmare, and often leaves costly air travel as the only shipping option. When asked what this means for the future of growers, Meskers says, "Only time will tell. Flowers are still in need, and direct selling is a new way for our business to sell our product. We think our quality will set us apart from other growers".
If you've ever wondered what the greenhouses of Holland look like on the inside, this is as close as you get without actually being in Holland! Before I toured Oregon Flowers, Inc. I assumed that the company tag 'Flowers grown with a Dutch Touch' was a marketing gimmick, but now I know they aren't posing- this is the real thing!
Since Foxbound Flowers is dedicated to knowing where their product comes from, I was excited to see the greenhouses, but I was not prepared for what I saw. My tour guide was a second generation Lily grower, Tyler, who's parents (the owners) Martin and Helene Meskers moved from the Netherlands to the Willamette Valley in the 1970's, worked for a few years on a bulb farm, and then pursued their own American Dream by opening their own Lily growing operation.
Oregon Flowers, Inc. is a perfect example of technology in the floral industry, and they never miss an opportunity to use it. The only things done by hand? Planting, cutting and some packaging. Everything else is done by technology- watering, temperature control, soil sterilizing, composting, spraying, even lifting and stacking bulb crates is ALWAYS done by a machine. The end result? Perfection (or as close as you can get when working with a living plant). A consistent, super fresh product every time. The quality is second to none.
There are few things I love more than flowers and efficiency, and Oregon Flowers blew my hair back with both. You can take your own tour! Visit their website and give them a call to set one up! https://oregonflowers.com/
View more videos (with captions) on our IGTV channel: @foxboundflowers
My decision to become a 'sustainable' florist was, in part, a reaction to reading Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing, in which the author and owner of the Patagonia company shares his philosophies on uniting economic success with environmental responsibility, and proves companies can be successful at both. After reading the book, I felt inspired to make changes of my own. As I recalled the appalling waste which my small shop on the prairie produced, I knew there was endless room for improvement. The fast-paced days in a floral shop, however, are full of endless tasks to get flowers into the hands of brides, onto the tables of events, and on the caskets of the recently departed. The required pace made sustainability seem laughable at the time, or impossible. How could I figure out how to waste less water if I couldn't even figure out how to make time to eat my lunch? I'm no stranger to the many hats a sole-proprietor florist has to wear, all while trying to eek out a meager living on small profit margins. As the owner of a small floral shop in a prairie town, it took me the better part of five years to work my way toward an income I could even admit to, and even when asked I would usually tell others I made a 'teacher's salary'. The fact that is was more like an Arkansas teacher's salary was a detail that I kept to myself. After finally reaching a point where I was confident about my income as an entrepreneur, my husband and I uprooted our family from the prairie this spring, and moved to Eugene, OR. While I was sad to leave my 'child' (my shop) that I had nurtured from it's infancy, I was excited to start a new floral shop in the Pacific Northwest, and embark on a new path in the floral industry. This time, though, I decided to take a differerent pathway.
The move across the country gave me an opportunity for a fresh start with my floral career, and as I began planning my next floral shop, Foxbound Flowers, I became determined to make environmental responsibility a priority from the very beginning. It's easy to preach environmentalism while one is waiting for their business to take off, but much harder to practice when orders are coming in, flowers are flying off the shelves, and deadlines are looming. Building eco-consious practices in to the business model from the very beginning can help ensure that responsible systems are already in place when the time comes to rely on them.
In this blog, I've used the word 'sustainable' in quotes. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe I am (yet) a 'sustainable' florist. In fact, eco-responsible would be more accurate, but this is not catchy, nor would anyone read a blog called the 'Responsible Florist'. Sustainability is the goal, and someday I hope that I can call myself a 'sustainable' florist without the quotation marks. It's a long road up ahead, and I'm only at the beginning.