Flowers can add beauty to a celebration, as well as help lift the spirit of a grieving friend or family members. Find out more about flowers and what qualifies as sustainable.

Preplanning a Service

Discover your choices, and what you will need to consider, in celebrating a life.

Environmental And Social Impact of Flowers

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Customized floral displays, wreaths, and bouquets have become an integral element of many after-death services and memory celebrations. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the significant environmental and social costs of mass-produced flowers. The global floral industry, with many large-scale flower farms and hothouses in South and Central America, routinely transgresses established fair trade and fair earth practices. SevenPonds encourages our readers to seek a more globally, and indeed financially, responsible alternative.

What are the environmental and social impacts of the global floriculture industry? How do you know if a vendor’s flowers are fair trade or fair earth? What are your choices for organic flower producers? This article hopes to answer these and other questions.

Things to Know:

  • Most of the cut flowers purchased for North American funerals are grown in South American hothouses with intensive pesticide use, including substances banned in North America, such as DDT.
  • The mostly low-wage workers who grow these flowers frequently show symptoms of toxic chemical poisoning.
  • The global floriculture industry takes a significant toll on local water supplies and local bird and animal populations.
  • There are many fair trade, fair earth, and organic flower sellers.

What are the environmental and social impacts of some of the large-scale funeral flower growers?

1. The quantity and brands of pesticides used by some growers in the global flower industry have a significant environmental impact. Most flowers and foliage produced by the “floriculture industry” are grown in hothouses, and are typically treated with over 30 different pesticides. Because most cut flowers are grown in countries with limited environmental laws or lax enforcement, growers are able to apply a wide range of chemicals classified as highly or extremely hazardous. DDT, a chemical compound highly toxic to many animal and bird populations, and methyl bromide, a Class I ozone-depleting substance, are commonly employed.

2. The global flower industry impacts water resources. A May 2002 article in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a research journal published by the United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, reviewed current research on worker and environmental health in the cut flower industry. This review noted that in Costa Rica, some large-scale flower hothouses discharge their pesticide residues directly into natural waterways, contaminating area groundwater, and directly implicating these growers in nearby bird die-offs. In Columbia, the large quantities of water used for growing flowers have caused a noticeable drop in the water table in the fertile savannah surrounding Bogotá, where one of every two flowers sold in the U.S. is grown.

3. North Americans may be buying funeral flowers with a heavy social cost for floriculture industry workers. Internationally, flower growers sometimes use child labor and frequently fail to pay workers a living wage. In addition, flower industry workers are often insufficiently protected from the effects of extensive exposure to pesticides. As reported in EHP, pesticides such as DDT can cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive illnesses, and neurological diseases in humans. Over half of the Costa Rican and Ecuadorian flower workers exhibit at least one symptom of pesticide poisoning, and female Colombian flower workers experienced moderate increases in the rate of miscarriages and birth defects.

How can you make more responsible choices in purchasing flowers?

Not all flowers purchased in local stores are necessarily grown under environmentally or socially harmful conditions, and there are steps you can take to make sure that the flowers you purchased did not have an adverse affect on communities or environments overseas.

1. Ask your local florist for flowers, foliage, and potted plants that are certified organic or sustainably grown. The VeriFlora™ Certified Sustainably Grown label and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Certification label are two of the most prominent certification labels found on organic flowers and plants, certifying that the labeled flowers or potted plants were produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. The National Organic Program oversees labeling standards for foreign and domestic organic agricultural products.

2. Buy pesticide-free, organic flowers in season from your local farmers. Local Harvest is a good organization for locating local farms and farmers markets that sell organic flowers. Also look for bio-dynamically grown flowers, which are grown without pesticides and chemicals but are not regulated by the USDA, available through the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association's listings.

3. If you cannot find organic and pesticide-free flowers at your local florist or farmers market, you may purchase them from one of several organic florists that offer services nationwide.

For More Information:

Veriflora (administered by Scientific Certification Systems)

Martha’s Vineyard

Fair Trade USA

One World Flowers

Organic Bouquet

"How to Buy the Best Organic and Fair Trade Flowers Online" by The Daily Green