Cut flower certifications

Certification is one of our best defences against unsustainable practices. These schemes are an independent system of checks and balances that can allow growers to benefit from improved sustainability and labour conditions, and give florists and consumers confidence in the flowers they buy.

How certification works

If a business wants to make a claim about a product – for example, a flower farms wants to market its flowers as grown organically – we, as consumers, need to know that they’re telling the truth.

This is where third-party certification comes in.

Basically, an independent organisation sets certain standards for a process or product, and then monitors how well a business complies with those standards.

So, in the case of organic flowers, the certifying organisation must firstly determine how to define “organic”. Which fertilisers can and cannot be used? How should a farm deal with pesticide residue from previous or neighbouring crops? What post-harvest processes are allowed to keep flowers looking fresh?

It uses the answers to all its questions to set the standard.

When the flower farm applies for certification, the certifying organisation assesses it to ensure it meets the standards. If it does, it is certified and permitted to use the “certified organic” stamp on its products. The certifying organisation then regularly audits the farm to ensure it continues to adhere to the standards.

Of course, this is very simply put. In reality, the process is complex. Certifying organisations refine standards frequently. Businesses don’t always “pass” right away, and certifying organisations often work with them to improve their processes.

There are also issues. For example, becoming certified can be expensive for businesses – there may well be sustainable farmers out there whose practices meet the standards but who simply can’t afford the certification.

Standards in sustainable floriculture

There’s an enormous variety of standards and certifications in sustainable floriculture.

On one hand, that’s a great thing – lots of organisations and people are invested in creating a sustainable industry, which fosters knowledge and improves practices.

On the other hand, it can be overwhelming for importers, florists and consumers. Which certifications should I be looking for? What standards are they actually measuring? Are the certifications credible?

Luckily, a couple of key organisations are doing some great work in making sense of all the standards.


The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative

The Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI) is an independent international non-profit which was created in large part to benchmark and organise all the various schemes to reduce inefficiencies and increase transparency.

It has created the FSI Basket of Standards, which currently contains 16 difference schemes divided into three categories: responsible agricultural practices, responsible environmental practices and responsible social practices.

The FSI considers these schemes represent best practice.


The Sustainable Cut-Flowers Project

Another handy resource comes from the Sustainable Cut-Flowers Project. It’s pamphlet “A handy guide to key issues and good practice” includes a guide to some major labels and standards in flower production. It divides the schemes into three categories – social, environmental and those that do both.

The takeaway for florists and consumers

When you’re looking at standards and certifications, the Sustainable Cut Flower project advises that you ask two key questions:


What is the focus?

A certification that assesses agricultural practices, for example, tells you nothing about working conditions. You may want to look for flowers that can demonstrate more than one standard.


How robust is the scheme?

Is it regularly audited? Are the standards it sets reliable? You can check the ITC Standards Map, a global database of sustainable standards.


Standards and certification are a tool

Standards and certifications are not perfect. The schemes can vary in their effectiveness. They can be prohibitively expensive for some growers in low-income countries. They need frequent audits to remain effective.

They are, however, an excellent tool. They support farms that are trying to be sustainable, and they improve understanding about sustainability throughout the industry.

For florists and consumers, doing a little research into the different schemes allows you to make informed decisions. You can create a demand for certified flowers simply by asking for them.