Keywords – Glossary

Keywords for a Foundation in Sustainable Floristry 


The Holocene Epoch is the geological time period in which we live. It began 12,000 to 11,500 years ago. It is (or was) characterised by a relatively warm and stable climate, which has allowed many forms of life to thrive. During this era, humans have become the dominant species.

In the last 200 years, destructive human activities have fundamentally altered the planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems – including the Holocene’s previously stable climate.   

Some scientists propose we call this new epoch the Anthropocene.


A biodegradable material can break down into natural elements (water, sugars, gases) within a certain period of time – usually six to nine months. Many elements contribute to biodegradation, including oxygen, temperature, and microorganisms.

Different materials biodegrade at different rates, and some need specific environments. Fallen leaves break down quickly in nature or in your compost, whereas bioplastics like PLA need an industrial composting system to break down. If PLA goes to landfill, it will either not break down or take much longer and release methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

‘Biodegradable’ is frequently misused. Some plastics claim to be ‘biodegradable’, but in reality they break down into microplastics which remain in the environment and have the potential to harm plants and animals.


Biodiversity is short for biological diversity, and is essential for life on Earth. It can describe the different genetics within a species, the vast array of different species that inhabit the planet, and the web of ecosystems those species live in.

Living things interact in a way that guarantees our mutual survival. The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it is in the face of environmental change – which is why our current rate of biodiversity loss is regarded as a planetary crisis.

Biological cycle

In the circular economy, a biological cycle is the process by which natural materials are created, used, and then returned to the earth. Within the cycle there may be smaller cycles. After something is used, for example, it may be reused, repaired or recycled more than once before it is finally returned to the earth.


Bioplastics generally refer to plastics made from renewable resources like corn, plastics that are biodegradable, or both.

Carbon cycle

Carbon is essential for life on Earth – it is part of our chemical makeup. The Earth and its atmosphere contains a fixed amount of carbon. In other words, it never increases or decreases; it just moves around. The carbon cycle describes how it moves around.

Carbon continuously travels from the Earth to the Earth’s atmosphere and back again. Some carbon is moving quickly through the cycle, and some carbon stays in rocks, in forests, or deep in the ocean for millions of years. While the system remains in balance, the carbon in the atmosphere is stable.

When humans disrupt the environment by burning fossil fuels or clearing large areas of forest, vast amounts of carbon are released back into the atmosphere, upsetting the balance. This excess carbon dioxide changes our climate — increasing global temperatures, causing ocean acidification, and disrupting the planet’s ecosystems.

Carbon footprint

A simple way to describe an action or product’s contribution to global warming. It describes the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) that are generated by the actions of something or someone.

The carbon footprint is expressed as a measure. This is the weight of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases emitted through the course of the product’s creation and life-cycle. Sometimes it is written as xxx kg CO2 , or xxx kg CO2e – the ‘e’ stands for ‘equivalent’ emissions of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide.

Carbon neutral

A company or process is carbon neutral when it balances the greenhouse gasses it releases into the atmosphere with the greenhouse gasses it removes from the atmosphere. To become carbon neutral, a company will generally try to reduce its greenhouse gases (through switching energy providers or managing its waste more sustainably), and compensate for its remaining emissions by buying carbon offsets (often investing in reforestation or clean energy projects).

The term ‘carbon neutral’ is generally synonymous with ‘net zero’.

The challenge is that while some carbon offsets schemes are very good, others are less credible. Also, some companies greenwash their activities to appear carbon neutral when they are not.

Some policy makers advocate for ‘true’ or ‘real’ net zero, which means putting all the emphasis on reducing emissions, and only buying carbon offsets when absolutely necessary.


A certification is awarded to a company or product when it meets certain economic, social and/or environmental standards. These standards are set and audited by an independent organisation.

For example, if you find flowers from a farm in Kenya with a FairTrade mark, you know that workers on the farm received a living wage, have a labour contract, and are not exposed to the most hazardous chemicals.

Many different organisations issue certifications.

Circular economy

A system to tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. In a circular economy, new products are not created from raw materials but from things that already exist in the world. This not only means we eliminate the need for raw materials, like fossil fuels for plastics, but also that we eliminate waste. Our waste has become our new raw material.

This system works for both natural things (for example, we can recycle cotton for clothes rather than grow more cotton), and synthetic things (for example, we make a new washing machine from the component parts of old washing machines).

For this system to work, we must design products that are easy to take apart and reuse. The circular economy also asks us to regenerate the natural environments we have destroyed or degraded.

Collective bargaining

Workers engage in collective bargaining when they come together to negotiate their terms of employment with their employer. Terms of employment include working conditions, wages, working hours, and benefits.

Acting as a group gives workers more power than acting individually – they have a larger voice, are less easily ignored, and can share information and resources. The goal is to come up with an agreement or contract that benefits everyone.

The group of workers may belong to or form a union. Collective bargaining is regarded as a human right.


Composting is a human-driven process for speeding up biodegradation in organic waste. It uses the same biological process that turns fallen leaf litter into new soil.

Take our leftover rice. If we dump it in our home compost system instead of the fridge, it will biodegrade far more rapidly. Conditions are warm, and there are many more microscopic organisms – plus small animals like worms and insects – ready to use the rice as an energy source. In these conditions, the rice might completely disappear in a few weeks.


The cradle-to-cradle system considers the impact of each stage of a product’s life, beginning with the extraction of natural resources, and moving through processing, manufacturing, transportation and use. When the product is no longer needed, it is not thrown away, but used as a resource for new products.

The cradle-to-cradle system is the circular economy version of cradle-to-grave system.


A type of life-cycle analysis that considers the impact of each stage of a product’s life. It begins with the extraction of natural resources, through processing, manufacturing, transportation, and use, and ends with the product’s disposal.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

When companies voluntarily integrate social and environmental concerns in their business model and the way they interact with stakeholders. Companies practising CSR generally go over and above their legal requirements in order to make a positive contribution to their communities.


A procedure in which plant material is chemically treated so it can’t be propagated in another country. This reduces the risk of invasive plants taking hold where they aren’t wanted, but can also potentially expose wholesalers, florists, their customers and the environment to toxic chemicals. Most countries require imported flowers to be devitalised before they can cross the border.


An area home to a community of organisms that rely on and interact with each other, the landscape, and the environmental conditions. The area can be small, like a tide pool, or as large as an ocean. The surface of the Earth is a web of connected ecosystems.

Human activities have disrupted ecosystems all over the world. Clearing a forest for agriculture not only removes the trees, but also all the animals, plants and other organisms that lived within that ecosystem.

Employment contract

An agreement between an employer and employee that sets out terms and conditions of employment. In developed countries, an employer usually has to meet some requirements, such as a minimum wage it can pay. However, in the Global South, the “informal economy” is more common. Informal workers are legally unprotected, and do not have secure contracts, benefits, or representation.

Environmental footprint

Something’s environmental footprint is its carbon footprint plus all the other impacts its existence has on the environment.

For example, the environmental footprint of a bunch of flowers includes its carbon footprint, but also includes things like the impact of its farming on the land, which may have displaced  local animal and plant populations, the water that was used and whether that was taken from other communities, the chemicals used and their impact on the local environment, etc.


Extinction is the complete disappearance of a species from Earth. Extinction is a natural phenomenon that generally occurs over a long period. The Earth has also seen some mass extinctions. The fifth mass extinction event occurred 66 million years ago when a large asteroid crashed into Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs.

However, since the invention of agriculture, human activities like land clearing, climate change, polluting, overfishing and hunting have accelerated natural extinction rates. Most scientists believe we are currently in a sixth mass extinction event. One million of the world’s estimated 8 million species are threatened with extinction.


The branch of agriculture and horticulture concerned with growing ornamental flowers and foliage. Floriculture is a broad term that can also include the marketing and wholesaling of cut flowers and the study of growing flowers.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels include coal, oil, and natural gas, and are found in the Earth’s crust. They are formed from decomposing plants and animals over millions of years.

Humanity derives most of its energy from fossil fuels. The ability to extract and use fossil fuels has been vital to advances in human civilisation. However, it has also created catastrophic environmental harms, including climate change.


A way of controlling pests or other unwanted organisms by filling a closed system with a gas that will kill them.


Globalisation describes the increasing interdependency of different countries and businesses since the end of the 20th century. It is particularly driven by communications technology (like the internet), international trade agreements, and advances in transportation that allow goods to move quickly around the world. Many companies have become multinational corporations. There has also been a rise in intergovernmental organisations (like the UN) and non-government organisations (like Oxfam). Globalisation also changes culture, as communities are exposed to different ideas, arts and sports.

The effects of globalisation are extremely complex. Our interconnectedness has increased the wealth and standard of living of many people. On the other hand, globalisation has corresponded with the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. It has also seen a rise in economic inequity in some countries.

Global North and Global South

These terms divide the world’s nations into two broad socio-economic and political categories.

The Global South refers to countries that are less industrialised or only newly industrialised, and poorer compared to other countries. They may have higher inequality, less infrastructure and harsher living conditions. Many were at the receiving end of colonial rule and some remain politically unstable.

Global North countries are more industrialised, more politically stable, with greater gender equity, higher incomes and quality of life.

Historically, we’ve referred to the Global South as the developing countries, and the Global North as developed countries or ‘the west’.

Despite the use of ‘north’ and ‘south’, countries don’t fall neatly on either side of the equator. India is part of the Global South while being in the northern hemisphere, and Australia is part of the Global North while being in the southern hemisphere.

GDP Gross Domestic Product

Gross domestic product is the total market value of all goods and services produced within a nation in a given period of time – usually a year.

Greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect occurs because gases (known as ‘greenhouse gases’) trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases let the sun’s light shine onto Earth’s surface, but contain some of the heat that reflects back up into the atmosphere. This keeps Earth’s climate comfortable, and has allowed life to thrive. Without the greenhouse effect, heat would immediately leave the atmosphere, and the planet would be freezing.

To create this effect, the greenhouse gasses must stay in balance. When humans mine fossil fuels, we release carbon that was previously trapped in the earth. The carbon is added to atmosphere, which traps more heat close to the Earth’s surface – creating climate change.

Greenhouse gas

Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere. They include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide, and fluorinated gases sometimes known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).


“Greenwashing” is the practice of marketing a company, product or service as more eco-friendly than the reality.


An organism’s natural home. A habitat meets all the needs of an animal, plant or other organism. Those needs might include food, shelter, the right environmental conditions, a range to explore, and a mate to reproduce with.

Habitats are richly varied and very specialised. The treetops of the rain forests in Borneo and Sumatra are the only home for the orangutan. The deep ocean floor is where black hagfish spend their entire lives, feast on worms and the carcasses of dead whales.

Habitat loss is the main driver of the biodiversity crisis. Humans create this loss in various ways. We clear forests for agriculture, build roads that cut through an animal’s natural range, and pollute oceans with plastic. We introduce species that compete with or eat endemic species. We have also created climate change, which threatens habitats around the world.


What is put in or taken in by a process or system. If farming flowers is the process, water is one input, because it is vital to the process. If transporting flowers is the process, inputs would include a vehicle that can transport, fuel for vehicle, and refrigeration for the flowers.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Agricultural pests like insects and diseases attack plants and are a threat to farms – they can decrease yields or even destroy entire crops. In conventional farming, farmers use pesticides to eradicate pests.

Pesticides, however, are poisons, and this create a new set of problems. Pesticides can harm organisms other than the pest they are targeting (including humans), and spread from the farm to soil and waterways. They are often not applied correctly, which compounds the problem.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a more environmentally aware approach to pest management. IPM programs consider the life cycles of pests, how they interact with the environment, and their natural predators. It then develops a system to control the pest while preserving people, property, and the environment.

IPM strategies include natural pesticides, predator insects and physical barriers.

Invasive plants

An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area, and causes economic or environmental harm.

For more information, see the SFN resource Invasive species and floristry


An area of land that holds waste, either directly on the ground or in a hole the ground. Landfill is for waste that cannot be reused or recycled.

Landfill waste will eventually break down, although it does not become compost The decaying waste produces acidic chemicals which combine with liquids in the waste to form leachate and landfill gas. The leachate can become toxic, and must be collected and disposed of or else it will contimate soils and make its way to waterways. The gas is generally a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide – both greenhouse gases. Some landfill sites burn off the gas or use it to generate electricity.

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

A life cycle assessment is a tool researchers use to measure the environmental impact of something, such as a bunch of flowers, or a manufactured product. It considers the item at each point in its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to its eventual disposal. An LCA might look just at the carbon footprint of the item, or it might look at the total environmental footprint, and include other factors such as water use, impact on the natural world, toxic emissions, waste production etc.

Linear economy

The linear economy is the tradition way we make and use products. In this system, we extract raw materials, make the product, use it, and then discard it. It is also called the take-make-waste system.

A sustainable approach replaces the linear economy with the circular economy.

Living wage

A living wage is one that enables workers and their families to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, education, health care, transportation, and the ability to save some money in case of unexpected events.

A living wage is different to a national minimum wage. A minimum wage is set by a nation’s government and is the minimum amount of remuneration an employer can legally pay an employee. However, there are many workers worldwide who receive the minimum wage yet still live in poverty, unable to pay for basic living expenses.

A living wage, on the other hand, is designed to keep workers out of poverty. The specific wage would be benchmarked against the real cost of living in a particular area, taking into account things like food prices, rents and health costs.

For more information, see The Global Living Wage Coalition.

Locally grown

There is no universal definition for the term “locally grown”. Different bodies have their own definitions. In the United States, a product is locally grown if there is less than 400 miles between the origin of the product and the place it is sold. However, in the UK, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has promoted a definition of local food as “food produced, grown and processed within 30 miles of the store”. If you are close to an international border, an imported product may be produced closer than a domestic product.

To assess if a product is locally grown, consider the distance, the handling and transport that occurs between harvesting and wholesale, and the chemical and carbon footprints of transportation.


Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are less than 5mm in length. They are either the remnants of plastic products that have broken down over time, or come from products like cosmetics, toothpaste, and synthetic clothes.

Because they’re so small – sometimes invisible to the human eye – microplastics easily enter the environment. This can be because of surface run-off after heavy rain, treated and untreated wastewate, industrial effluent, sewer overflows and atmospheric deposition (where the particles are deposited from the atmosphere to Earth’s surface). Existing technologies can’t remove all the microplastics from water sources.

All animals, including humans, ingest microplastics. The extent of how they cause harm is yet unknown.

Modern slavery

Modern slavery exists when someone is exploited by others for personal or commercial gain. Worldwide, almost 50 million people are trapped in slavery.

Modern slavery includes people trafficking, servitude, forced marriage, forced labour, debt bondage, deceptive recruiting for labour or services, and the worst forms of child labour. It occurs in many global supply chains.

National minimum wage

A minimum wage set by a nation’s government. It is the minimum amount of remuneration an employer can legally pay an employee.

Natural capital

The Natural Capital Coalition defines natural capital as “the stock of renewable and non-renewable resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people.” It asks us to value nature as more than a source of raw materials for human products (e.g. timber or fossil fuels) and include the role of the environment and ecosystems in supporting human well-being through the supply of and services as clean water, fertile soils and valuable genetic resources.


The word “organic” has several meanings.

In biology, organic usually means that something is of living origin or contains carbon.

In farming, organic refers to a system that uses renewable resources, conserves energy and resources, and uses no synthetic chemicals, irradiation, or genetically modified seed. Organic certification standards are set by industry bodies in different countries.


An organism is a single living thing such as an animal, plant or bacteria.


Pesticides are chemicals used to control pests on plants. They can be synthetic or made from natural substances.

See the SFN Fact Sheet for more information.


Petrochemicals are chemical products that come from petroleum and other fossil fuels. Many common products are made from petrochemicals, including plastics, industrial chemicals, fertilisers, and synthetic fabrics.

Precarious employment

Precarious employment generally refers to work that is poorly paid, unprotected, and insecure. Workers may not have an employment contract, or may not even be aware of their employment status. They may be sacked at any time, or not have basic rights like paid leave or reasonable work hours.

Regenerative agriculture

A form of farming and grazing improves the soil and environment while producing high quality, nutrient dense food. Regenerative farming particularly focusses on building healthy soil that stores more carbon and increases biodiversity. Conventional farming, in contrast, often degrades soil and has a negative effect on the environment.

Practices include minimal tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping.


A regulation is a rule made by, and often policed by, an authority – often a government. For example, a city government wants to ensure its tap water is clean enough to drink. It will set a standard for clean water, then schedule regular testing to ensure the water meets that standard. Other examples include rules around how we deal with waste, employment regulations like a minimum wage, or rules about truth in advertising.

Resource recovery

The act of recovering reusable or recyclable material or energy from waste before it goes to landfill. The aim is to make the best use of the economic, environmental, and social costs of the original material. The recovered material can then re-enter the production cycle. It can be turned into new products, or used as an energy alternative to fossil fuel. It is a crucial step in the circular economy.


Plants have a life cycle. Many annual plants, for example, germinate from seed in spring, flower or fruit in summer, slow down in autumn and die in winter. The seeds created in the growth period and dropped on the ground will then germinate, starting the cycle again. The plant is responding to the weather, timing its growth to take full advantage of the conditions it needs, like warmth and rainfall.

In floristry and agriculture, seasonality means allowing a plant to live by its natural cycle and picking the flower (or fruit, or vegetable) when it is naturally at its best.

To grow out-of-season flowers or crop, farmers effectively change the conditions. Heated greenhouses and irrigation ‘trick’ plants into thinking it is time to germinate and grow. This requires an enormous amount of energy and other inputs.

Social sustainability

In business, social sustainability is achieved when a company identifies and manages its business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. It considers how it affects employees, workers in its supply chain, customers and local communities, and proactively manages these relationships to create positive outcomes.

Supply chain

A supply chain is an interconnected journey that takes a product from raw materials to sale. Many different people, companies and processes are involved in a supply chain. The supply chain for a bunch of flowers, for example, could include farmers, farm workers, pickers, packers, refrigerator technicians, drivers and wholesalers. Some of these people may be visible in the supply chain, but others may be hidden – they may be sub-contractors or casual workers who are difficult to trace. Because supply chains are so complex, it is extremely difficult for a customer to feel confident that everyone in the supply chain has been treated fairly.


Something is sustainable if it:

  • meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations
  • balances the needs of society, the environment, and the economy.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity” that were adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

There are 17 goals. Together, they address all our global problems, like poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Each goal has targets to meet by 2030.

Each country’s government is expected to take ownership of the goals and engage with other sectors to achieve them. This includes the private sector, universities, and NGOs.

Learn more about the SDGs at the UN website.


Also called the ‘linear economy’, this refers to the process of creating products by extracting raw materials from the earth, refining those materials, manufacturing the product, and then, after the product has reached the end of its life, throwing it away.

The take-make-waste process creates a perpetual need for new resources and a never-ending stream of waste. The alternative is the circular economy, in which resources are recovered at the end of a product’s life and used to create new products. This keeps resources in circulation, and keeps products from becoming waste.

Technical cycle

In the circular economy, the technical cycle is a system to keep manufactured products in circulation in the economy through reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling. This keeps raw materials in use, reducing both the need to mine or harvest new raw materials, and waste.

Triple Planetary Crisis

The triple planetary crisis refers to the three main issues that humanity currently faces: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. While each of these issues has its own causes and effects, they are also all interlinked. Humanity must resolve each of these issues to have a viable future on this planet.


Traceability allows stakeholders to find information about a product and its supply chain as it moves from raw material to finished product. The information includes all participants in production, processing, and distribution. Both agricultural and manufactured products can have traceable supply chains.

Traceability has many advantages. Retailers and consumers can determine if the product comes from sustainable materials and has been ethically manufactured. Products can be quickly recalled if a problem is found in the supply chain. Businesses can identify problems in the supply chain and rectify them.

Trade union

A membership-based organisation generally made up of workers in a particular industry. It aims to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace. It will often negotiate with an employer on behalf of its workers to develop employment contracts or negotiate workplace changes. Trade unions also help members who are in dispute with the employer or face disciplinary measure.

Zero waste

In a zero waste system, all discarded materials are resources for others to use. This mimics the cycles of nature, in which dead material enriches the soil and allows new life to grow.

The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) defines say, “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

Zero Waste International Alliance