Slow Flowers: How to support sustainability in the fresh flower industry

For something as natural and beautiful as fresh flowers, the floral industry is unfortunately, anything but green.  The fresh flowers you find at supermarkets and in most floristry shops are imported from all over the world. In order to keep cut flowers fresh during these long journeys, pesticides and herbicides are applied quite freely; they are wrapped in endless layers of paper and plastic; and packaged up in more cardboard and plastic.  Florists and supermarkets unwrap all of this packaging and then (altogether too often) rewrap the flowers in more plastic. Even more horrific? Many flowers are arranged in floral foam (those green, squishy foam bricks), which breaks down into microplastics that contaminate our oceans and waterways. In an effort to give consumers what they want, when they want it, florists and big box stores are frequently compromising what is best for the Earth.

At the centre of the Slow Flowers movement is the notion that faster is not better.  Borrowing from the tenets that have formed the Slow Movement – which started in 1986 as a backlash against a McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome – Slow Flowers emphasizes the value of local, seasonal and sustainably grown flowers.  More than this, though, Slow Flowers welcomes the return of growing flowers and connecting consumers with the source of their flowers.  Putting a face to flower growers, farmers and designers helps to shape the cultural shift that is starting to slowly capture the floral industry, where attention to sustainability and seasonality is (thankfully) becoming more widespread.

Slow Flowers emphasizes the value of local, seasonal and sustainably grown flowers.  

This return to connection is indeed the driving force behind Slow Flowers.  A connection to the who, what and where of our everyday lives.  Who is behind what we consume and enjoy? What do they grow or produce for us?  And where do these products come from? Rather than demanding that our flowers transcend seasonality so that anything we want can be available anytime we want it, consumers are slowly beginning to reconnect with the seasons and value what is available during different times of the year.  The emergence of tulips in spring signals the start of the growing season; the budding of lilacs tells us that summer is on its way; and the turning of leaves in autumn lets us know that change is in the air.

Debra Prinzing is the fairy godmother of all things slow when it comes to flowers.  She founded Slow Flowers in 2014 and helped establish a place for flowers in the broader Slow community.  She has spearheaded the cultural revolution that is encouraging us to do things as well as possible, rather than as fast as possible – to reclaim the value of growing flowers and enjoying them when they bloom for us.  By choosing to purchase flower that are grown locally and sustainably, we are also able to enjoy the added benefit of flowers that are grown without the use of unnecessary chemical and pesticides. By choosing Slow Flowers, we can tread more lightly on this precious Earth.

By supporting florists who only use locally grown blooms, we also contribute back to our regional economy and help to reduce unnecessary carbon emissions from importing flowers from places like Columbia, Ecuador, and South Africa.  Moreover, we ensure that our blooms aren’t being sprayed with chemicals that are banned here in North America, and dipped in extra pesticides to ensure they can survive the long (refrigerated!) journey to Canada.

Slow Flowers is undoubtedly at the heart of sustainable floristry.  But sustainability in this industry goes further than using locally grown flowers.  Avoiding single-use plastics is perhaps the easiest step that florists can take to become more ecologically responsible.  Floral foam (often branded “Oasis”) is toxic to both humans and the environment – it is laced with formaldehyde and breaks down into microplastics that contaminate our oceans and waterways.  Most florists use floral foam extensively in their work because it is easy to arrange in, provides moisture and support for flowers, and is lightweight and portable. More than that, though, it is the medium they are familiar with and comfortable using for event flowers, delivery arrangements, and holiday arrangements (you know those stupid Grinch Trees people buy in December?  All done in foam…).

So – as consumers, what can you do to advocate for and support sustainability in the fresh flower industry?

  • Choose flowers that are grown locally here in Canada (even better – choose flowers that are field grown right here in Alberta!)
  • Choose flowers that aren’t wrapped in plastic.  
  • Ask that your arrangements be created without the use of floral foam!
  • If you are using imported flowers, confirm that they are from growers certified by the Veriflora or Florverde programs that have taken steps to minimize ecological impacts and improve worker conditions in developing countries.
  • Embrace the seasons!  Be content with tulips in the spring and fresh greenery in the winter.

Written by, Becky Feasby, Prairie Girl Flowers

Becky is a passionate gardener-florist who creates natural arrangements centred on the vibrant colours and textures that make up life here on the Prairies.  Becky is the founder of Prairie girl flowers, created to bring sustainable beauty to Calgarians – and to cultivate a change in the floral industry. She is a passionate anti-plastic Calgarian, sparking change in her industry.

You can meet Becky – and other amazing waste-free leaders – at Alberta’s First Zero Waste Festival on July 20, 2018!

For more information on Slow Flowers and sustainable floristry:

Slow Flowers
Slow Flower Summit
Modern Farmer – Slow Flowers
Ethical Unicorn – What is Ethical, Sustainable Floristry

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I'm a passionate environmentalist at heart. Striving to create a difference in my community and in my home to make the world just a little bit better.