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Sustainability – Driving the Future of the Floral Industry

April 4, 2019

The term “sustainability” is used broadly to describe actions aimed at preserving resources: social, human, economic, and environmental. By acting “sustainably,” we can meet our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Particularly in the floral industry, the focus has been on environmental sustainability– initiatives and actions aimed at conserving natural resources by using materials responsibly. Here are some of the measures you can implement now to make your business more sustainable and support the future of the floral industry.

Recycle and Reuse

Disposing of shipping materials (cardboard, paper, and plastic) properly is one of the critical elements of environmental sustainability. Flowers arrive at wholesale and retail florists in cardboard boxes with flowers or flower bunches wrapped in paper, plastic, and plastic pots. Recycling these materials will save trees and save you money if your business pays to have the waste hauled to a landfill.

Disposing of Plant and Flower Debris

Processing cut flowers results in many cut stems and leaves being removed from the flower stems. All plant and flower debris should be composted or sent to a natural resource recycling center. The soil that remains in unsold containers can be composted and reused by landscapers or growers. 

Retail and wholesale florists can reduce flower and plant waste by using the best care and handling practices. Your business can reduce waste by following the care and handling guidelines developed by American Floral Endowment (AFE) researchers. Use hydration and flower food solutions, maintain a proper cooler temperature, keep equipment clean, and use treatments to prevent ethylene damage, produce longer-lasting flowers, and reduce shrinkage—a win-win combination!

Reducing and Recycling Water

Water is becoming a scarce commodity in many sections of the U.S. and the world. Flower operations in the U.S., Colombia, and Europe collect rainwater and reuse it for irrigation. Some flower operations also collect excess irrigation water to treat and reuse it. AFE has supported research to reduce water use during production by developing efficient irrigation programs and using soil moisture monitors. Read AFE’s Special Report #531 and Special Report #533 for more information. 

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint


The carbon footprint is an essential measurement of the environmental sustainability of a process, such as growing, shipping, and selling flowers. It is calculated as the total amount of carbon dioxide and methane generated by our actions. What is the problem with carbon? Carbon gas is one of the main factors contributing to global warming and climate change by trapping the earth’s heat near the surface. Carbon dioxide is produced by burning coal, natural gas, and oil. Since every step in the production and sale of flowers generates carbon, there are opportunities to reduce carbon all along the supply chain. 

AFE has supported research to show how plant height can be controlled by modifying day-night temperatures, reducing the energy needed for production. An additional study can be found here. Sea-shipping of flowers from international production areas is about 60% more efficient than shipping flowers on airplanes, so researchers are investigating ways to help plants and flowers survive longer shipping times. On a local level, businesses can help reduce carbon emissions by using energy-efficient cars and trucks or electric vehicles for deliveries.

The Time to Act is Now

Every business can take action to make its operation more environmentally sustainable. Owners and managers should take a hard look at practices that contribute to sustainability: recycling, reusing, proper care and handling practices, reducing organic and non-organic waste, and energy use overall. Research has shown that consumers prefer to buy products that have been produced responsibly. So be sure to let your customers know when you take a step towards greater sustainability.

By Terril A. Nell, AFE’s Past Research Director