Flowers epitomise emotion and can have a very beneficial impact on people. They are sent to communicate their feelings to their nearest and dearest. Wouldn’t it be even better if people were able to confidently buy sustainable, ethically-sourced flowers to communicate their feelings? After all, ethical commitment is an emotion as well! However, buying sustainable, ethical flowers is a niche activity in the UK, with only a handful of florists offering produce which is truly ethically sourced.
First of all, some numbers: The total market for cut flowers and house plants in the UK is estimated to be ?2.2 Billion and is expected to exceed ?3 Billion by 2011. Despite the incursion of mutiple alternatives including gifts, chocolates and wines, people are still saying it with flowers, although the UK lags behind the rest of Europe in annual per capita spend on flowers.
There is a perennial debate regarding industry standards for flowers, as consumers have historically been confronted with confusing symbols of ethical quality. The Kenyan Flower Council which accounts for much of the imports into the UK, is governed by Fair Trade, which regulates the code of conduct for more than 1,000 farms in Kenya, although only about 25 large farms supply over 75% of Kenya’s flower exports. Ever since its introduction to the flower industry in 1999, Fair Trade has done an excellent job of supporting more than 10,000 workers in developing nations, by setting ethical standards to improve working environments. However, in the intervening years the industry has grown considerably and the competitive landscape has evolved. In particular, fair trade initiatives tend to work best in highly fragmented industries such as fruits and vegetables, which are crowded with numerous small producers, but less well in more consolidated industries, such as the flower industry. This is because fair trade initiatives can benefit larger organisations disproportionately, thus effectively disadvantaging the development of smaller producers within the competitive environment.
Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP) is a European initiative which addresses historic shortcomings by creating a level playing field for all producers by setting uniform, global standards. One of the unique features of FFP is its emphasis on auditing the entire supply chain to regulate the use of pesticides, land, energy and the working environment. Furthermore, it also offers flexibility to florists to source their produce either from flower auctions or directly, through FFP compliant growers. This latter approach guarantees fresher floral produce, reduced wastage and a happier customer (key!). In the longer term, FFP’s aim is to unify all existing standards to make it simple for growers, traders and consumers.
As in all free markets, if there is demonstrable consumer demand then that will stimulate growth in supply. If no-one wants FFP-accredited flowers, then they simply won’t be grown. It is estimated that 18.1 million Fair Trade stems were sold in the UK in 2005 so there are clearly people willing to buy ethically-sourced flowers. The challenge for FFP is to get into the national consciousness when Fair Trade is already the de facto standard in most peoples’ minds. One thing that people most love to hear is that FFP-accredited flowers typically cost no more than non FFP flowers; so being a good egg doesn’t have to mean a dent in your pocket as well!