We hear the word ‘sustainability’ all the time, but how many of us really get to grips with what this actually means in the flora culture industry and vitally what should Florists be doing to help our planet?

Natural fruit and flowers arrangement.

Candle arrangement without using foam from the Chic & Unique Academy book.

In brief, ‘sustainability’ is about living within the means of our natural systems (environment) and ensuring that our lifestyle doesn’t harm other people (society and culture). It’s really about thinking about lots of things including where your food, clothes, energy, and other products (flowers) come from and deciding whether you should buy and consume these things. For example, you can buy timber imported from other countries (carbon footprint), to use in your home, but do you know enough about the rules in place in those countries to prevent animals from being harmed during the timber harvesting process? If the correct amount of timber has been harvested? Or if the local indigenous people support the harvesting and are they paid a living wage (fairtrade)?

So what does sustainability in floristry mean? What economic, environmental and social implications are there for us to consider? To simplify a strategy for florists I have turned to William McDonough and Michael Braggart’s book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things, to identify how to approach ‘Sustainability’ with an effective check list.  

Step 1: “Get ‘free of’ known culprits.”

“Beginning to turn away from substances that are widely recognised as harmful is the step most individuals and industries take first as they move towards eco-effectiveness”.

Firstly, make a list of all the harmful products you use in your work that you think fit this label and are prepared to replace: e.g. Plastics, Foam, Cellophanes, packaging, glue, flower food, growers that exploit their work force, chemicals (growing) etc.

Pink rose ring.

Design using glass vials. Design from the Chic & Unique Academy book.

Step 2: “Follow informed personal preferences.”

In the unchartered waters of sustainable floristry, there are loads of products and methods available to fill our tool box but they all seem to significantly lack data on how they impact us and the environment we live in. Even though we often don’t have enough information, decisions need to be made. We must believe that informed personal efforts made toward sustainability are positive, even if they are only partially getting us (the world) to our goal.

McDonough and Braungart championed the use of the “Four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Regulate”. Using the Four R’s, design solutions can be found that are intelligent, respectful of people and the environment and quite possibly more creative and fun.

Designs consisting of quality reusable and recyclable containers; the incorporation of plants that can live-on once the flowers have died or simply choosing to tie a hand-tie with raffia instead of a synthetic tie are thoughtful decisions that have an impact. Every technique and material chosen is an opportunity to simplify and do more with less.

Tin can floral design.

Up-cycled tin can covered in rolled leaves. Design from the Chic & Unique Academy book.

Step 3: “Creating a passive positive list.”

According to McDonough and Braungart, “this is the point at which design begins to become truly eco-effective” .

Although informed personal preferences guide us toward sustainable floristry, we must continue to go beyond what is readily available and conduct investigations to expose the positive and negative characteristics of the materials we use in our designs.

In their book, McDonough and Braungart suggest the creation of 3 lists: the “X-List”, the “Grey List” and the “Positive List”. This is a great model for all design industries. The X-List should include the most problematic materials, particularly ones that have been observed to cause potentially fatal conditions in humans. Formaldehyde (foam) should be at the top of this list for Floristry. The good news is that there is a bio degradable foam product made in Germany and available through Opi Flor Sundries for those ready to make this significant change.  Materials on the X-list should be completely eliminated immediately. Materials on the “Gray List” are problematic, but not as urgent as the X-List and can be phased out at a slower rate. The “P-List or Positive List” contains materials that are defined as healthy and safe for use.

X List:  Foam, Plastics, Cellophane, etc.

Grey List: Glue, Coated non rust wire and decorative wire, Flower Food etc.

Positive List: Bio-degradable cellophane, Copper Wire, Sand, Moss, Paper, Fair Trade growers, etc.

This inventory process can “galvanize creativity” according to McDonough and Braungart. By eliminating the materials on the X-List and phasing out the Grey-List, designers will begin to experience a creative shift that will stimulate the development of new products and methods of design.

Step 4: “Activate the positive list.”

At this point, Florists are ready to begin the new challenge. Using the positive list and finding new methods to design with will help the consumer to make more informed buying choices and further help the industry as a whole to embrace the eco friendly strategy.

Seek out growers with fair-trade certification, we have seen the larger supermarkets use fair trade logos on the packaging/wrapping as a positive marketing tool, which in turn is educating customers who will begin to ask more and more questions of independent florists.

Until recently consumers rarely asked where flowers came from or how they were grown, which is why the emergence of the Florist Farmer and their home grown, often organic flowers are becoming more and more desirable, strengthened by the ‘buy British’ message, so engaging with your local growers will add a positive element to your business on so many levels.

However, if the item is not a local, seasonably grown flower e.g. the rose, then consideration should be taken in positively supporting a Fair Trade grower from say Equador, where the flower is grown in its ideal climate. Compare this with the same flower being grown in Europe in heated poly tunnels using chemicals, and weighing up which has the biggest impact then the air miles will be kinder to the planet and the flower naturally stronger.

Finding solutions should be fun and qualified florists will have an advantage as they know to look back at history for alternatives to foam, they studied how designs were created before its invention, namely using sand and moss.

Step 5: “Reinvent”

On writing this article I felt that becoming truly eco-effective was hugely daunting, potentially limiting, and even off putting until you get to step 5.  Re-inventing with your positive list is part of the creative process of a really contemporary floral designer, what is the potential of eco-effective floral designs? Can they, like flowers themselves promote a deeper sense of wellbeing? According to McDonough and Braungart, this phase has no end and holds the potential of “radically new possibilities”.

Being eco-effective together will help our planet and here at the Academy we would love to hear what efforts (no matter how small) on how you are approaching ‘Sustainability’.

Heart of lichen twigs

Heart made from lichen covered twigs and decorated with red Spring Tulips. Design by Tina Parkes.

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