We’re all looking for more ways to say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day, and chocolates with a bouquet are two of the most easily understood and appreciated expressions of feeling (even for the tongue-tied and inexpressive). However, chocolate and most flowers sold in the U.S. are cultivated in tropical regions, so a little extra care taken to choose environmentally friendlier gifts will only enhance the message to your loved one, not to mention help avoid residues of pesticides on petals.

Floriculture is big business with $200 million in imported roses alone sold in the U.S. each year. As with many other flowers, most roses are grown in Central and Latin America and may still bear the traces of pesticides used there — in some cases, pesticides that are banned for use here. These pesticides can endanger the health of farm laborers in the countries the flowers are grown in, and their residues aren’t that good to have in your home, either. Locally grown can be a good choice, but unless grown with low- or no-pesticides, your flowers may still have more on them than meets the eye.

Cocoa, meanwhile, comes to us more frequently at the expense of other rain forest life as farmers cut down tree canopy to try to gain higher crop yields under full sunlight. The process requires more fertilizers and pesticides that pose an additional threat to nearby wildlidfe and waterways, while destroying habitat and removing a carbon sink. Cocoa also has a sad history of forced child labor in Africa, a blight on this sweet we associate with good feeling and celebration.

In many cases, because both are tropical products, the environmentally responsible choices are similar. Here are third-party verified labels to look for:


Administered by the independent verifier Scientific Certification Systems, Veriflora requires farmers to convert to organic farming practices, reduce the use of synthetic chemicals, build soil health to capture and store heat-trapping gases and protect habitat to foster biodiversity. Children under 15 and forced labor are explicitly banned by Veriflora certification.

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification covers many areas, but its focus is on ensuring the ongoing survival and health of rain forest habitats and communities. Certification requires that native species of trees shades at least 40 percent of the land. Though this produces healthier cocoa plants and reduces the need for pesticides, the certification does allow the use of some pesticides.

For flower production, the Rainforest Alliance created standards to conserve water and soil, minimize use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, protect habitats and promote safe working conditions.

All Rainforest Alliance certified farms must comply with strict labor rules, pay living wages, provide training and education or scholarships to workers and their children.

Fair Trade Certified

Fair trade certification, administered in the U.S. by Trainsfair USA, aims to compensate farmers adequately for their work by imposing a minimum rate that buyers must pay to farmers. Furthermore, 10 percent of profits are re-invested into a community development fund, the use of which is decided collectively by the workers.

Transfair’s environmental standards include a list of prohibited agricultural chemicals, a requirement to transition to integrated pest management and the development of organic practices. The certification has additional measures governing the use of pesticides, water conservation, treatment of wastewater and protection of ecosystems.

USDA Organic

Certified-organic flowers and cocoa are grown without synthetic, petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers. Although organic certification doesn’t include fair trade provisions or require shade-grown farming for cocoa, the certification will eliminate pesticide residues and preserves workers from exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

This article was reprinted with permission from SimpleSteps.org.

Flowers and chocolates
This Valentine's Day, make your gifts mean something more.