The carbon footprint of flowers

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a popular tool for assessing the environmental impacts of products and processes, from raw material acquisition to production and use stages. This thesis uses LCA methodology to quantify and compare the carbon equivalent emissions from cultivation and transportation of seven cut-flowers available at UK retailers.

Under a broader umbrella of ‘sustainability’, it also addresses water use, fertiliser use and labour conditions - pertinent issues in cut flower cultivation. Using the functional unit of kgCO2e/stem, emissions are found to be highest for Dutch lilies, followed by Kenyan gypsophila, Dutch roses and Kenyan roses. Emissions are significantly lower for lilies, snapdragons and alstroemeria produced by commercial-scale and small-scale flower growers in the UK. Emission hotspots are transport, heating and electricity use. An imported mixed bouquet produces 10x greater than a British-grown mixed bouquet.

Understanding of key environmental issues surrounding the flower trade differs considerably among supermarkets, packing companies, florists and consumers; and the impact of accreditation is unclear. Pressure from buyers and supermarkets has increased environmental and ethical standards in Kenyan floriculture, though concerns remain over labour conditions and fair access to water resources. For consumers, emission savings are greatest through purchasing British-grown bouquets and stems with longer a longer vase life, according to the thesis.

Read the full study at Flowers from the Farm.

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