A brief history of the SFN

A flower is the ultimate sustainable product: renewable, biodegradable, and solar-powered. It’s ironic, then, that floristry has evolved into such an unsustainable industry.

The Sustainable Floristry Network was born when one passionate florist – supported by a growing collection of colleagues, industry leaders and academics – was inspired to redress this incongruity.

It all started with #nofloralfoam

In 2016, SFN founder Rita Feldmann had a crisis of conscience. She knew floral foam was some type of plastic, but she had just prepped for a tricky wedding using some left-over blocks from another florist and was feeling guilty. She was aware of the mess that would be left behind after the wedding: buckets of water full of crushed foam blocks. It was to be the last time she used it.

Rita’s road to Damascus moment came a few months later, at a busy wedding venue. As she was bumping out, she noticed that someone had added about 20 blocks of used floral foam from another florist’s wedding to a wheelbarrow full of used flowers and foliage.

The venue mulched and composted on site. The person thought the crumbly green material was organic and safe to put in the garden.

In 2017, she began to find out what she could about the product. She connected with Pilar Zuniga from Gorgeous and Green florist, who had been writing about foam for some years. Pilar was similarly intrigued. She had shared information from the material safety data sheet from floral foam’s manufacturer and posted it on her blog. The documentation proved the material could be hazardous – it came with a warning that prolonged use may cause cancer.

At the end of 2017 Rita started the Instagram account @nofloralfoam, using the hashtag #nofloralfoam to raise awareness about the environmental hazard florists were foisting on the planet, and to showcase alternative ways of creating arrangements.

It quickly took off. These days, #nofloralfoam stands at over 200,000 posts showcasing foam-free floral design.

Still, Rita wasn’t satisfied with the lack of information for those using and disposing of the material. She was mostly concerned about the impacts the product could be having on animals who might mistakenly ingest the material as plant material. And the actual make-up of floral foam remained a mystery – a trade secret.

Rita took a block of floral foam into both the botany department at Melbourne University, and the Ecotoxicology Research Group at RMIT University, also in Melbourne, and shared her concerns with researchers interested in microplastic pollution.

Eventually Dr Charlene Trestrail took up the mantle and tested the material and its impact on aquatic animals as part of her PhD thesis.

You can discover the research results in Floral foam – the facts.

And then it went beyond floral foam

Rita continued to spread the #nofloralfoam word, but it became clear that floristry’s sustainability issues were far bigger than just floral foam. While social media was driving clients to request imported, out-of-season flowers to achieve their vision, the global supply chain was not transparent and potentially problematic. Flowers were exposed to a succession of chemicals from field to vase. And flying flowers across the globe clearly added a significant post-harvest carbon footprint to a bunch of flowers. Sundries, decoration and excess packaging added to floristry’s excessive carbon and waste footprint.

In 2018, Rita appeared at a sustainable floristry seminar hosted by famed UK florist Shane Connolly in London. As they discussed the issues, they highlighted the need to empower and educate florists to guide the industry towards more sustainable business and design practices.

This realisation – that the industry desperately needed a resource that could help florists make better choices – spurred Rita to create the concept for the Sustainable Floristry Network.

The Sustainable Floristry Network was formally registered as an Australian Legal entity in June 2019. Until April 2021, the SFN was co-directed by communications specialist Sarah O’Bryan, author of The Flower Press Blog.  Sarah played an invaluable and founding role in shaping the organisation as a communication platform and helped to expand on ideas about how sustainability could be applied to floristry.

Originally, the SFN was designed to educate florists about issues via a collection of web resources.

However, over time, it became apparent that the industry needed a completely new education program to ensure these ideas were put into practice. While both sustainability and floristry are disciplines that can be studied and understood, the value was surely in merging them together.

In mid-2021, researcher, writer and communications specialist Ginger Briggs joined the SFN team, bringing with her years of experience from the tertiary education and professional development sectors.

The industry program has launched with the first course, Foundation in Sustainable Floristry. This is the first course in an ongoing CPD program that will give florists the knowledge, inspiration and know-how to achieve a more sustainable practice.