Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone else, buying flowers for people who care about the environment can be a task fraught with uncertainty. Should you go organic, fair trade or local? Buy online or get delivery? Opt for live plants or go for silk?
Each option has its upside and downside. Want to buy local at a florist you can walk to? That’ll be great for your local economy — since buying online, whether from national names or unknown small resellers, usually means your local business is either getting a raw deal or no deal. That’s why Cinda Baxter, the founder of The 3/50 Project, an initiative that encourages people to support their local businesses, urges people to get flowers from local florists.
But even if you walk to your local florist, the flowers you buy are unlikely to have been grown locally. Up to 80 percent of the 5.6 billion stems of flowers sold in the United States each year are imported, according to the Washington Post.
Plus, what about the pesticides? Finding a local florist who offers organic flowers is likely to be a challenge — an impossible challenge for some — and non-organic flowers have often been treated with potentially harmful chemicals.
From fair trade to faux
You may want to consider fair trade flowers. The good news with this option is that the workers who grow and cut the blooms receive fairer wages, as well as some environmental and social benefits. Fair trade means international trade is involved — which means that just like most flowers given and received, fair trade flowers have a hefty travel carbon footprint.
How do you tell if flowers are grown ethically? Look for the label of certification programs like Fair Trade USA or the Rainforest Alliance, suggests ABC News.
"These programs demand that flower farms that carry their logo meet minimum labor requirements such as paying workers for overtime and giving them safe conditions in which to carry out their task."
There are always silk flowers. Slate looks at that option — and concludes the eco-benefits of that choice is unclear: "it’s impossible to say how many real roses it takes to equal the environmental impact of a bouquet of silk flowers." What is clear, however, is that dusty fake flowers often aren't a gift that keeps giving, even if they technically last forever. As Slate puts it, "are you seriously considering hauling the same dusty vase of fake flowers out of the closet every year?"
What should you do? If you must have roses, I suggest trying to find a local florist who offers organic or eco-certified blooms as a first option. In Los Angeles, for example, we have Wisteria Lane Flowers, which offers organic and Veriflora-certified flowers. But if that online search criteria doesn’t turn up anyone in your town, you’ll need to make a tough decision: supporting local businesses by buying conventional flowers from a neighborhood florist, supporting organic farming by buying organic flowers online or nearby or supporting fair trade by buying fair trade certified blooms.
Live, organic plants are another gift that keep giving. One of my favorite gifts was a cute basil plant that smelled yummy and tasted even yummier.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in February 2011 and has been updated with new information.