14 AUG - 2023
Where have all the flowers gone?
As a seasoned florist with hands-on experience in the trade, I've witnessed firsthand the enchanting allure of the flower industry. While the industry exudes beauty and charm, there's a complex story hidden behind the blooms – one that involves glaring costs, environmental impact, and the struggles faced by those who bring these breathtaking arrangements to life.
Let’s Start by Breaking Down the Cost of Flowers
The exquisite beauty of a bouquet or wedding ceremony can leave anyone awe-inspired, but few genuinely comprehend the extensive expenses that lie beneath the surface. When you purchase a bouquet, the price tag goes beyond the mere cost of the blooms. Let's break it down to grasp better the intricacies involved:
Packaging Costs: Flowers require careful handling and sophisticated packaging to maintain their freshness during transit.
Wholesale License Fees: Flower retailers often need licenses to source and sell their products from wholesalers, adding to their overhead costs.
Wages: Skilled labour is vital in arranging and delivering these delicate beauties. Each step requires skilled hands and dedication from the growers to the florists.
Transport: The journey from the flower-growing regions to customers in distant corners of the world involves significant transportation costs, including air freight and refrigeration.
Time: Crafting daily orders is an art that demands time and effort. The intricate arrangement of flowers requires the florist's expertise and creativity.
Rent and Insurance: Flower shops incur fixed costs like rent and insurance, which contribute to the final price of the bouquet.
The Cost of Each Bloom: Each individual flower carries its own price, influenced by factors such as rarity, demand, and seasonality.
In our quest for cheap blooms, we often overlook the genuine investment that goes into every bouquet. Supporting local florists and understanding the actual cost can help sustain this delicate industry and ensure its long-term viability.
“Economically, our business must sustain us in a way that contributes to an industry that benefits future generations of florists. Socially, I’m fiercely aware of the relative unregulated nature of our labour practices throughout the whole flower industry. For me, creating a workplace that sustains and supports my staff and myself financially, emotionally and physically is the focus of my energy. It feels endlessly complex, so I try to keep it simple.”
The Climate Impact of Imported Flowers
As the global flower-growing industry expanded in the late 20th century, countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ethiopia emerged as preferred hubs due to their favourable climates. However, reaching customers in distant markets, like Europe, North America and little ol’ New Zealand demands long-distance transportation, contributing to the industry's carbon footprint. Some flower-growing regions resort to monoculture planting and excessive use of fertilisers, which depletes the soil and further adds to the environmental impact.
As we indulge in the beauty of exotic flowers from distant lands, let's pause and reflect on their ecological cost. Supporting local and sustainable flower options can reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a greener future. Auckland florists like Isadia, Kensal, and Ruth Fiona Floral (to name a few) have been championing this.
The Invisible Struggles in the Flower Supply Chain
Behind every vibrant arrangement lies an intricate supply chain involving people from different corners of the world. Unfortunately, not everyone in this chain enjoys safe and fair working conditions. As consumers, we must question the affordability of cheap flowers from far-off countries and consider the welfare of those involved – for example, those absurdly cheap roses that went viral at Costco.
The long journey from the flower-growing regions to distant markets often requires air freight. While this ensures swift delivery, it raises concerns about the welfare of workers and the true cost of cheap blooms. The cut flower world is gradually adopting better regulations and processes to improve employee conditions. However, much work must be done to ensure ethical practices throughout the supply chain.
Zero Waste Struggles: The Price of Perfection
In an era where environmental awareness is paramount, striving for zero waste becomes a challenge, especially when clients demand sustainable yet affordable arrangements. Flower growers and florists employ various techniques to keep flowers fresh for longer. Since the 1960’s, plastic floral foam has been the medium of choice, but its impact on the environment is problematic, from production to disposal. In addition to floral foam, single-use plastic wraps, ribbons, vessels, and bags contribute to the volume of packaging waste, which often exceeds that of the actual flowers.
In pursuit of perfection, tonnes of flowers that fail to meet grade standards are discarded daily. In pursuit of perfection, countless blooms are deemed unworthy, contributing to enormous waste. From slightly imperfect petals to an unruly stem, to the bin they go.
"This is a conversation that Lydia and I have constantly. There are so many factors to this industry that are unsustainable and we are constantly questioning how we can do better. We made the decision early on to work directly with local potters to design and make ceramic vessels that speak for themselves and allow a foam free design. We also endeavour to use locally grown flowers and foliage where possible and these investments are of course reflected in our pricing. The tricky part is educating our clients as to why our arrangements cost what they do, because a lot of people don’t understand the extra time it takes to work in a sustainable way."
-Izzy and Lydia of Isadia Floral
The Hangover of Covid
The flower industry, like many others, faced the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growers and businesses suffered tremendous losses, leading to soaring flower prices that continue to persist even after the crisis has subsided. The pandemic revealed the fragility of the flower industry and highlighted the need for resilience and adaptability in the face of unforeseen challenges. It truly begs the question, will the flower industry fully recover from the aftershocks of the pandemic?
As we bid adieu to this glimpse into the flower industry's realities, it's essential to recognise that there lies an intricate web of challenges beneath the surface of beauty. Many New Zealand florists have been driven out of business, marking one of the trade's most challenging times in history. Awareness is the first step towards change, and with a collective effort, we can cultivate a more sustainable, equitable, and beautiful future for the flower industry.