When we think about Valentine’s Day, roses come to mind, and we’re not alone: In the first few weeks of February, 110 million roses (mostly red) will be sold in the United States. Because it’s wintertime, 80 percent of these roses were grown in the warmer climes of South America (mostly Columbia and Ecuador), and then shipped in refrigerated containers to U.S. florists. It’s estimated that these Valentine’s Day roses produce about 9,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions as they make their way from the sunny flower farms to our Valentine vases.
In addition to cut flowers’ heavy carbon footprint, consider that the pesticide residue on imported roses is 50 times the amount allowed on food imports, according to Environmental Working Group. And then there are the flower workers, who are exposed to more than 100 different pesticides and, as a result, often suffer from headaches, nausea, rashes, asthma, miscarriages and other pesticide-related illnesses. Finally, when you consider the polluted and depleted groundwater stores — another byproduct of flower farms — well, the rose just doesn’t smell as sweet anymore.
More than 70 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported to help meet our seemingly insatiable floral needs: Last year, Americans spent $1.7 billion on Valentine’s Day flowers alone. It seems like a preposterous amount of money, but science says that we bestow flowers upon our loved ones for good reason. Researchers from Rutgers University set out to discover why humans have cultivated flowers for 5,000 years — even though there didn’t seem to be a survival payoff for this labor-intensive behavior. In a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, the authors found that receiving flowers had a positive effect on emotions, moods and social behaviors in both women and men both immediately and long-term (with improved moods lasting at least three days).
So what is an environmentally and socially conscious person supposed to do when Feb. 14 rolls around? “You have several greener alternatives for Valentine’s Day,” says Cynthia McKenney, Ed.D., associate department chair and professor of plant and soil science at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “Cut flowers can be grown sustainably so that they have less of an impact on the environment and floral crop workers.”
Below are a few other ecologically sound options.
Look for certification. For buds grown with the least environmental impact, choose organic or Veriflora certification. VeriFlora flowers are available at Flowerbud.com and OrganicStyle.com as well as retailers around the country.
Grow your own. Visit local nurseries for organic plants and seeds. City dwellers can set up a window box planter.
Consider unconventional blooms and plants. Bonsai Specimen Gardens ($30, available with Japanese black pine, Japanese elm or gardenia) from Uncommon Goods arrive with bonsai scissors, recycled steel planting boxes and tied with ribbon made from recycled plastic bottles. The Moss Terrarium Bottle ($38) is made with a recycled wine bottle — plus Terrarium Creatures ($34) can add a whimsical touch. We love the adorable pre-made Twig Terrarium tableaux ($25–$300) — though with a week delivery time, ordering today is cutting it close. Want to give your valentine the world? Consider a world, of sorts: an EcoSphere closed aquatic ecosystem ($54.95–$395), complete with shrimp, algae and microbes in handblown glass (and they’re self-sustaining for those who don’t have luck with houseplants).
If you’re considering the chocolate or diamonds route, first read “The Ethical Valentine: Cruelty-Free Diamonds and Chocolate” to find the most socially conscious choices.
If ethical and green gifts are important to you, how will you tactfully pass along the hint to your valentine?
Photo credit: Courtesy EcoSphere