‘Sustainable floristry’ vs ‘sustainable florist’

At the SFN, we talk a lot about sustainability in general, and ‘sustainable floristry’ in particular. But after using the term ‘sustainable florist’ early in the SFN story, we decided it was better to stop. Here’s why.

What is a ‘sustainable florist’?

More and more florists are marketing themselves as ‘sustainable florists’.

The problem is that without an agreed-upon definition of ‘sustainable florist’, practitioners are free to create own version.

This creates some very real problems.

For one, it opens the door for greenwashing.

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is the practice of using misleading tactics to market a product, service or company as more environmentally-friendly or ethical than it is. And it is fast becoming one of the most significant obstacles in the fight against the triple planetary crisis.

Greenwashing can appear in many guises. A company might:

  • make unsubstantiated claims about their environmental impact – positive or negative
  • employ vague language rather than hard targets in setting out sustainability goals
  • use ill-defined terms like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’
  • deflect attention from harmful practices by allying with sustainable organisations
  • emphasise the sustainable part of a product without mentioning the unsustainable part.

These tactics seem deliberate, but greenwashing is not always intentional. Regardless, greenwashing is not something individual businesses or organisations want to be associated with. It can be very bad for business.

A florist committed to sustainability will want to emphasise their sustainability initiatives. But if they are not addressing all aspects of their practice, they are not telling the full story. This can result in a lack of transparency — another factor that erodes consumer trust.

Consumer trust

In creating the SFN course Foundation in Sustainable Floristry, we read many research reports about consumer behaviour.

The findings are clear: consumers increasingly want sustainable products.

But consumers rely on businesses to know their trade. ‘Sustainable florist’ sounds environmentally sound, but most consumers won’t know what that means in practice.

On the other hand, it’s apparent that consumers — particularly young consumers — are increasingly savvy. They know how greenwashing works and will read the fine print.

Defining ‘sustainable floristry’

The SFN was created partly in response to the use of the hashtag #sustainablefloristry on social media. In 2018, with the #nofloralfoam campaign in full swing, the use of the hashtags #sustainablefloristry and #sustainableflorist also gained traction.

Often florists were using these tags simply because they weren’t using foam.

But it is clear that there is more to ‘sustainable floristry’ than being foam-free. So creating a functional definition for ‘sustainable floristry’ became one part of the SFN’s solution.

Our working definition is:

Engaging in floral design and running a cut flower business in a way that supports the environmental, social and economic requirements of present and future generations.

 

This definition gives us our goal, and our boundaries. But it doesn’t tell us how to get there.

The problem is that our understanding of the actions that give rise to a state of ‘sustainability’ is only just emerging. We are all on a journey to identify what ‘sustainable floristry’ means in a practical and commercial sense. But, given advances and changes in sustainability theory, carbon emissions and the development of new floristry products, it is unlikely that we will work it out it in the near future.

To really nail down sustainable floristry, we need to account for the specific circumstances of each different action, process, and choice.

These secondary calculations are hard, particularly given that florists are just one part of many supply chains. For example, how do we compare the economic needs of a florist in the UK with the social needs of a flower worker in Kenya?

And how can we balance the needs of society, the environment and the economy when those needs conflict – as they frequently do?

Perfection is impossible

A working florist attempting a sustainable practice must make countless decisions like this every day.

Is it better to buy this bunch of flowers grown locally, but in an energy-intensive greenhouse, or this bunch, grown outside but transported from overseas? Should I spend the next half hour convincing the customer that balloons are an environmental hazard or researching sustainable balloon alternatives? Given event organisers will be responsible for disposing of the waste, should I reuse unrecyclable plastic containers or buy new recyclable glass ones?

A truly ‘sustainable florist’ would need to get this all right, all the time. They’d produce no waste, be carbon neutral across all their business and personal activities, and create no negative impacts in any of their multiple supply chains.

Sustainable floristry as a practice vs a sustainable florist as a person

Everything becomes a lot more possible when we see sustainable floristry as a verb rather than a noun. Not a ‘thing’, or a person, but a process. Or perhaps a balance point in a system’s operation – one that we are yet to identify and achieve.

None of us are ‘sustainable florists’ yet. Instead, we’re all on a learning journey to become more sustainable, with some individuals further along the path than others. Our actions are limited by the technology we use, the systems in place and the way the world operates.

Rather than attempt the impossible by defining a ‘sustainable florist’ through a compliance system — which would not only be impossible but also risk exposing florists to accusations of greenwashing — the SFN has created a set of operating principles to guide florists along a pathway to becoming more sustainable.

These principles are evidence-based, and developed using sound science and expert advice. And because the principles form a living document, they can evolve as new scientific understandings come to light.

The Foundation in Sustainable Floristry course is our vehicle for exploring the SFN Design and Business Principles and the result is an inspiring and practical guidebook for a new generation of florists serious about sustainability.