By Jill Brooke

It is becoming not only a feeling but also a certified fact that caring about sustainability practices as a florist is good for business—as well as the world. Let’s start with the results from a  recent consumer research study titled “U.S. Consumer Perceptions & Willingness to Pay for Sustainable Environmental Practices in the Floral Industry.” Of the study’s 2,172 U.S. participants, 61.7 percent indicated the strongest willingness to pay “10 percent or more” for locally sourced flowers, and 59.5 percent responded that they would be willing to pay the same amount more at floral providers that compost their floral waste (of all participants). “Ten percent or more” folks. That’s a nice number, indeed. And, we’re not done yet: 31.7 percent of participents indicated a willingness to pay “15 percent or more” for locally sourced flowers.

This 2023 study, led by Coleman Etheredge, Ph.D., CFD, and James DelPrince, Ph.D., AIFD, CFD, PFCI, at Mississippi State University, and Tina Waliczek Cade, Ph.D., at Texas State University, was funded by Floral Marketing Fund (FMF), alongside co-sponsors, BloomNet, a floral services company serving more than 5,000 local florists across the country, and Syndicate Sales, a leading manufacturer and supplier of floral hard goods for retail florists.

Turns out that women are very much focused on this issue. This study, and others (Laroche et al., 2016), discovered that “married females with at least one child living at home” are the ideal clients who will pay more for environmentally friendly products. Good to know, right? Plus, as we know, women purchase the majority of flowers for gifts and accompany brides when booking big wedding events. So it is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

Additionally, it has been found consumers 36 to 50 years of age are the most likely group to be proactively purchasing products from environmentally friendly companies (Patel et al., 2017). So, let’s take a pause for a moment. This demo isn’t even the younger generation of 20-somethings who also prize sustainability. Therefore, touting your bonafide sustainability practices is good for business, with opportunities spanning several generations.

These illuminating results also mirror other earlier studies, which found that consumers would pay up to 40 percent more for products from industries that design products using environmentally sound practices that have been shown to be “green.” And, in the FMF study, 58.4 of participants “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they prefer to make purchases from a floral provider that is environmentally friendly when compared to one that is not. That includes men and women.

sustainable design by Blue Jasmine
sustainable design by Blue Jasmine

What was a surprise? Well, consumers are not panting over organically grown or fair-trade-sourced flowers nor are they willing to pay a premium price for them—27.5 percent and 26.7 percent of survey participants, respectively, indicated they would not pay any additional increase in price for these attributes.

One finding I found particularly encouraging was when the phrasing “locally sourced” was removed from answer options, participants indicated that the most important sustainable aspect to be “Materials (other than flowers) used in floral design, are sustainable, recyclable, upcyclable, reusable.”

“Hopefully this encourages all sectors of our industry to either continue along that path of educating or take on the responsibility of shifting their minds and practices in this direction,” says award-winning floral designer Brenna Quan, AIFD, CFD. “I see this as the only way, moving forward, for the longevity of floristry and our environment.”

Brenna Quan sustainable design
Brenna Quan AIFD, CFD
Design by Brenna Quan
Design by Brenna Quan AIFD, CFD

Okay. So now comes the bigger question. How do we define being a sustainable florist?

Of course, there are many floral leaders advocating sustainable practices like the aforementioned Quan, as well as Debra Prinzing, PFCI; Holly Chapple; T.J. McGrath; Paulina Nieliwocki; and Ingrid Carozzi. They are using their fame and talents as laboratories to find ways to make it easier for modern florists who must create installations and larger designs.

Blue Jasmine floral design
Design by Blue Jasmine Photo by Fine and Fleurie
Design by Blue Jasmine Photo by Fine and Fleurie

As it turns out, any effort is worthwhile, and here are some options for you to implement in your business.

1. Tell a Story with Your Choices

There is no rule or law that says every flower in your shop has to be locally sourced. For most florists, this would be a challenge because flowers from around the world are unique, colorful and beautiful—especially Alexandra Farms’ ‘Juliet’ roses (a David Austin Wedding Roses English garden rose) and Rosaprima’s Italian ‘Elegance’ series Ranunculus. Plus, in some climates, “locally” grown flowers are scarce at different parts of the year. But highlighting those that are locally sourced is a worthwhile pursuit.

“As younger consumers purchase flowers, many are focused on not only a flower’s aesthetics but also the story behind the flower, such as how and where it was produced,” says Benjamin Campbell, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Georgia. “For these generations of flower buyers, production practices are taking on an ever-growing importance in shaping what they purchase and what they are demanding from suppliers and retailers.”

The Flowerslinger

2. Materials for Floral Use Can Be More Sustainable

You can also highlight that you are using paper wrapping versus plastic, which is a big improvement for the planet. Furthermore, there are so many biodegradable containers, such as Oasis Floral Products’ “ECOssentials” line of vases, bowls, pots and planters that are made of recycled plant fibers and that are colored with organic dyes, that you can offer to your clients.

Oasis Floral Products ECOssentials

“The industry is shifting away from plastic to paper options for wrapping flowers,” says Alex Frost, founder and CEO of HyperVend and FloraBot, noting that, collectively, this reduces carbon footprints. Customers also notice these efforts and applaud them. “Even grower pots are becoming biodegradable, with partnerships with Ellepot, Ahlstrom-Munksjö and OrganoClick,” he says. Additionally, the use of hemp twine is also trending over paper-covered wire.

3. To Foam or Not to Foam

Floral foam has been made to be a villain when, in fact, there are bigger sustainability issues in our industry. However, it’s true that what’s old becomes new again. Mechanics such as chicken wire, a.k.a. “florist netting” in our industry (made of steel wire), and other types of grids and armatures are regaining popularity as concerns have risen over floral foam. In fact, veteran wedding planner Holly Chapple has also created plastic design mechanics, manufactured and sold by Syndicate Sales, known as the “Egg,” the “Pillow” and “Installation Mechanics.” There are also many more types and sizes of reusable metal flower frog pin holders, pin cups and hairpin holders, such as those from Floral Genius. And T.J. McGrath points out, “You can also reuse plastic water tubes and water picks, which I do all the time.”

“There’s also a new product from Smithers-Oasis called ‘Floral Mesh,’ which is more pliable than chicken wire,” shares Tyke Patriquin, administrative director, of the Cass School of Floral Design in Boston. However, Floral Mesh, which has a 1-inch square wire grid and comes in three decorative metallic finishes, cannot be used underwater because it may rust.

For transportation purposes, though, many famous florists like J. Keith White, AIFD, CFD, and Carrie Wilcox, EMC, still prefer floral-foam mechanics. Yes, while it’s true that the earlier versions of the green foam bricks were not “biodegradable” (meaning that a material decomposes as a result of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi; the term does not mean, however, that a material is “environmentally friendly”), much progress has been made since the creation of Oasis Floral Foam almost 70 years ago. Smithers-Oasis Company says it was the first to eliminate “chlorofluorocarbons in our floral-foam production” and also refined manufacturing processes to significantly reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and rates of manufacturing scrap.

Today, as the company explains, after years of research and development, its “FibreFloral™ Design Media” and “OASIS® TerraBrick™ Floral Media”are now the most impactful inventions in the floral design industry. FibreFloral™ Design Media is derived from natural volcanic basalt rock with a bio-based binder derived from rapidly renewable materials, and OASIS® TerraBrick™ Floral Media is made with plant-based, renewable, natural coir and a compostable binder. These products serve the purpose of floral foam but without the guilt and solve the problem for floral designers who want—or are required—to use a compostable floral media that will support complex designs and support the life of cut flowers over an extended period of time. Furthermore, OASIS® TerraBrick™ Floral Media has been certified “OK compost HOME” and “OK compost INDUSTRIAL” by TÜV Austria, a globally recognized third-party certifying body.

FibreFloral™ Design Media”

As Laura Walsh, CFD, AAF, PFCI, director of marketing at Smithers-Oasis North America, explains, sustainability is a focus of many divisions of the company. For example, FloraLife North America, one of the divisions of Smithers-Oasis Company, now has a silicone-free leaf shine product, “FloraLife® LeafShine Silicone Free,” and now offers its “FloraLife Crystal Clear® Flower Food” and “FloraLife® Express Universal 300 Flower Food” in recyclable paper packets, for consumer use.

“It is important to use the right mechanics and be a good steward for whatever resources we use,” Walsh continues. “We’ve worked hard to create sustainability for any designer’s challenge.”

4. Check Your Trash Can for Insights

Mark Allen, global product and sustainability manager at FloraLife, recommends people really “study” their trash to see what is wasted in their day-to-day business. For example, many florists, he says, have as much as “15 percent stem waste.” Consider asking yourself these questions: What flowers are in the bin? Were they hydrated properly, or was the bloom’s early demise a result of the wear and tear of transportation, unsanitary storage containers and cutting tools, ethylene gas in your cooler, improper storage temperatures or something else?

As Allen points out, being “sustainable”—not depleting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage—doesn’t refer to only what florists use to create their designs; it also encompasses packaging (plastics) and transportation, which can impact the environment with high “carbon footprints.”

By doing a “CSI” analysis of their shops and needs, florists can not only save in cost and increase their bottom lines but also help the environment. Every flower that isn’t wasted helps the supply chain stresses on the environment.

Perhaps you are also noticing a lot of paper receipts in your trash can. Paper fills many trash bins, and it’s made from trees. Maybe it’s also time to consider electronic options to add to your efficiency and sustainability efforts. Is there too much ribbon waste? Consider new packaging designs. Provide enclosure cards that are made from recycled or recyclable paper.

Collectively, all these ideas impact not only the environment but also your customers’ experience—as well as your bragging rights. Plus, as studies now confirm, the public is applauding these efforts, as well, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

TJ McGrath