More and more often we hear this question, and for good reason. Sustainability is an important theme and we must take better care of our planet. We know that we act consciously and responsibly, but in our conversations with florists it turned out that the sustainability of Ecuadorian roses was not clear to everyone. After all, how sustainable is a rose from Ecuador? In order to provide a substantiated answer to this question, we at Farm Direct delved into the literature. Due to the size and versatility of the issue, the answer cannot be precisely quantified. Hence in this article we’re not going to tell you ‘a rose from Ecuador has exactly an emission of x grams per stem’, or anything like that. What we are going to share is what we found in the literature, and this is the result.
Which factors are important?
Sustainability, what does it actually mean? The CBS (the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics) uses the following definition: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising those of future generations. This concerns economic, social and environmental needs. Examples are a clean environment, biodiversity in nature, a highly educated and healthy population, well-functioning social networks and social trust.” (Translated from Dutch) Broadly speaking, there are therefore two factors we must take into account. On the one hand the ecological aspect, such as a diverse and clean nature, and on the other the socio-economic aspects, such as employment and health. Therefore, we will approach the main question with these two factors, the ecological and the socio-economic impact, in mind.
The ecological impact
Alig & Frischknecht (2018) state that the two factors with the greatest ecological impact in floriculture are 1) heated greenhouses and 2) air transport. That is why in this article we focus on those two points and we make a clear difference between heated and/or illuminated greenhouses (such as the ones used in the Netherlands, for example) and non-heated and/or illuminated greenhouses (such as the ones used in Ecuador, for example).
Air transport versus greenhouse heating
Franze en Ciroth (2011) state in ‘A comparison of cut roses from Ecuador and the Netherlands’ that roses grown in the Netherlands, in terms of emissions, have a greater ecological impact. This is confirmed by Alig & Frischknecht (2018), who state that emissions from overseas air transport are 3 to 4 times lower than emissions from greenhouse heating and lighting in colder countries, including the Netherlands. Even when the calculations are adjusted for aviation emissions from recent years.
A research by Max Havelaar (the Swiss non-profit organization that awards the Fairtrade label) and Quantis (an international sustainability consultancy), moderate this statement somewhat. Their research showed that the ecological impact of Dutch, Kenyan and Ecuadorian roses depends on the season. In winter, the CO2 footprint of Dutch roses, in line with the research by Alig & Frischknecht (2018), is 3 times greater than that of Ecuadorian roses. Indeed due to the heating and lighting of the greenhouses. In the summer, however, the CO2 footprint of the Ecuadorian roses was slightly larger than the Dutch roses.
Impact of the holidays
Seasons don’t just matter because of the weather. Holidays also have an effect. What are the most important days in the rose industry? First comes Valentine’s Day, on the 14th of February, followed by International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, European Mothers Day in May, and All Saints’ Day on November 1st. All of these days are outside the summer in the northern hemisphere and demand large numbers. Growing all these roses in heated and lit greenhouses would result in much higher emissions.
Bottom line, according to Max Havelaar & Quantis, Ecuadorian roses outperform Dutch roses in terms of emissions, even taking into account the seasons. This is confirmed by Alig & Frischknecht (2018). The lowest emissions in both studies come from Kenyan roses, which have the smallest CO2 footprint in both winter and summer.
The importance of good packaging
Everything shows that the footprint is reduced by optimising and recycling packaging materials. It is a good idea for companies to choose materials that are light in weight and that can easily be reused or recycled. Leave out unnecessary materials. However, always make sure that the rose is packed securely to prevent damage. A broken rose at the end of the journey is far from sustainable.
The socio-economic impact
In the late 1980s, when the floriculture sector in Ecuador and Colombia was still at an early age, roses from the region were associated with negative social aspects. Fortunately, more than 30 years later, a lot has changed. Thanks to adapted local regulations and the involvement of several international organisations, new sustainability standards have been implemented, in which the well-being of people and the environment plays a central role. These sustainability standards are key to Farm Direct’s business. We even go one step further. Before we go into business, every grower is personally visited and checked. We also only work with growers who are certified by Flor Ecuador, an organisation that, in addition to strict environmental requirements, also guarantees a safe and healthy working environment that meets all legal labor standards. Thanks to our personal bond with growers, the certifications and regular visits (pre-covid), we know exactly where each rose comes from and under what conditions it is grown.
Growers also play an important role in the socio-economic development of Ecuador. Thanks to them, unemployment is falling and more people have a stable income. Because the growers offer safe and very welcome employment for women, the pay gap between men and women is reduced. It is therefore not for nothing that a large part of the workforce is made up of women.
What does Farm Direct do?
Farm Direct was created by people, for people. That is why every day we look at how we can make our sustainability contribution a little bigger. To reduce our ecological impact, we only work with growers who are certified by Flor Ecuador. Since 2005, this quality mark has stood for the use of natural products, the use of sustainable processes and maximum environmental protection. This means, among other things, clean processes, no toxic chemicals and no unnecessary water consumption. In fact, the growers irrigate with collected rainwater. Other common ecologically-oriented certificates of our growers are Fairtrade, Fair Trade Certified and Rainforest Alliance.
Also at home we do our best to limit our ecological footprint. For example, we use as little packaging materials as possible and we recycle all packaging materials at specialised recycling companies, such as the plastic sleeves that are included in the CircularBag® process. Our building runs 100% on green energy and our lease cars are 100% electric. When possible, our colleagues work from home or a flex desk, so we only use a car when absolutely necessary. Would you like to know more about how our growers and we are committed to people and the environment? Read all about it in our CSR.
There is no such thing as a 100% emission-free cut rose without any ecological footprint. There is always an impact, for example in the form of transport or the use of energy. However, it turns out that the impact of imported roses, in terms of emissions and compared to local production, is not as high as people often think. In general, emissions from aviation appear to be lower than emissions from greenhouse heating and lighting. In addition, there is a positive socio-economic impact of Ecuadorian growers who offer good working conditions, employment and above-average salaries to a local population that really needs it.
Together on the road to a better world
Let’s work together to grow, import, sell and consume roses that are grown and traded as sustainably as possible. Whether they come from the Netherlands, Kenya or Ecuador. Therefore, pay attention to what you buy and choose sustainable partners with the right certifications. Choose quality roses and take good care of your bouquet with adequate nutrition, so that you can enjoy the roses for longer.
Did reading this article make you feel something? It certainly did for us.
Writing this research and studying the reports has awakened a new flame in us. It feels like we have a new mission. We have always been conscious entrepreneurs, but now we see that we can do even more, we want to do more. And you? Do you want that too? We invite our customers and partners to think about solutions and a more responsible way of working together, to elevate our industry to a new level of sustainability. A new level of corporate social responsibility. Are you in? We’d love to talk to you. Get in touch.