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“It shows that it is possible to be a B Corp in the flower industry”

"The summit was not so much about gaining commercially, but about spreading the way we work. It underlines that the flower industry is undergoing transformation," says Eduardo Letort, General Manager at Hoja Verde. Hoja Verde is an Ecuadorian rose producing company that is based on the principles of Fairtrade.

Letort participated in the Ecuadorian delegation that attended the 'B for Good Leaders Summit' in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The summit, which took place on May 23 and May 24, gathered 1,500 business to promote a more equitable and regenerative economy. For this occasion, the venue of the summit, the Beurs van Berlage, was decorated with 1,000 roses from the Ecuadorian company Hoja Verde.

An impression of the flower decorations at the summit venue

José Ignacio Morejón, Executive Director and co-founder at Sistema B Ecuador, comments: "We realized it was an opportunity to show that there are companies in the flower industry that have the credentials and trust that they are not like the rest of the industry. This can help us to set a standard of how the flower industry could and should behave in the future." Sistema B Ecuador, is a non-profit organization that supports economic actors in Latin-America who strive towards an economy with more social and environmental well-being.

In this article, Letort and Ignacio Morejón tell us more about what is entailed in being part of this 'B Corp Movement'.

The 'B Corp Movement'
Ignacio Morejón elaborates on how the 'B for Good Leaders Summit' contributes to promoting the 'B Corp Movement', saying: "At Sistema B Ecuador we believe that corporations can have a positive impact. For this reason, we are supporting business leaders to behave in a different way, to have a form of stakeholder governance. We are convinced that leaders around the world want to do good. That creates a movement of people.

The 'B for Good Leaders Summit' is part of the evolution of this worldwide 'B Corp Movement'. It is one of the first international initiatives that connects leaders. It shows that there are leaders whom are not only interested in managing their company, but also in being an ambassador of stakeholder governance."

Although most companies that participated in the Ecuadorian delegation were B Corps, Ignacio Morejón highlights that it is not a requirement for participation: "We select the companies that can participate in the delegation. We realize that the B Corp Certification is difficult to achieve, it's a golden standard. Moreover, we also need to integrate other business leaders that don't yet have the B Corp Certification, but that are willing to promote responsible and sustainable governance.

We don't' want to be exclusive, but we have these three criteria: Participants of the delegation need to have measurable impact under international standards; Their impact should be verified by an independent partner; and they have to show transparency. If you are invited, and your application is approved, you are part of our community that is built on trust. From this point on, you have a huge social responsibility, as you have to be transparent under social scrutiny."

The social aspect
Located in the northwest of Latin America, the country's geography, varied climates, and fertile soil offer favorable conditions for flower growth. Today, Ecuador is one of Latin America's largest flower exporters. The USA and the Netherlands being the main destinations of the Ecuadorian flower transports. According to statistics provided by Pro Ecuador, in 2023 exports to the USA had a value of 352.6 million US Dollar. And exports to the Netherlands reached a record of 104 million US Dollar.

Letort points out that Hoja Verde was the only flower company that was allowed to participate in the Ecuadorian corporation: "We were the only flower company that met the Sistema B Ecuador requirements. Also, we are the only flower B-Corp in Ecuador, and one of the few in the world. We obtained the B Corp Certification in 2018. This indicates that we're not yet there in the flower industry, but also that it is possible to be a B Corp in this industry."

Both Letort and Ignacio Morejón highlight that the social aspect of sustainable and responsible leadership is equally important as the environmental aspect. Ignacio Morejón states: "We think that reduced carbon-footprint is really important, however, focusing on foot-print is quite narrow-minded. We should have more attention for the social aspect.

It's interesting to see is that the social element is more prioritized in Ecuador, and the whole of Latin-America. Latin-America struggles with social stability and structural inequality. Think of the fact that Ecuadorians have to migrate to other parts of the country to find jobs. Migration also comes with a footprint. Likewise, the country suffers from the phenomenon of drugs traffic in Ecuadorian ports. These issues affect households, democracy, trade, and the costs of production. We should address these issues and discuss them on a global level."

Letort adds: "Hoja Verda, is located in the Cayambe region, near the capital of Ecuador. In this region private companies regularly have to provide healthcare and education in rural areas. At Hoja Verda we are also engaged in these kinds of initiatives. Aside from using sustainable cultivation methods, we are concerned with improving working conditions, housing for workers, and 10% of the sales via our FairTrade channels is going to education.

We believe that this approach not only benefits our business, but also the communities in the region. Some of our employees work here for twenty-five years, some of their children now go to university. Also, 50% of the jobs are carried out by women. In Cayambe, indigenous women tend to be community leaders.

To keep these initiatives ongoing, we have higher social costs, and thus higher flower prices than other companies. It would be great if more retailers and customers would also realize that the outcome justifies these extra costs. For instance, in Europe, the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence directive will come in effect, we already fulfill all the requirements. Importers, retailers, and supermarkets can avoid reputational damage if they know their supplier."

Inspiration and transformation
Both men are optimistic about the future and the flower industry, and they expect that the 'B Corp Movement' is about to expand. Letort says: "This year we were the only flower company that participated in the Ecuadorian delegation, hopefully there will be more companies soon. By participating this year, and decorating the Beurs van Berlage venue with our flowers, we could inspire other companies and spread the word that sustainable governance is possible in the flower industry.

Of course, we still need structural change in the industry, but we see progress. For instance, when it comes to the transport of flowers. Nowadays, airlines pay more attention to CO2 and fuel emissions. Moreover, I think that sea freight will become increasingly important in the future, we see that the sector is transforming in this field."

"It's amazing to see how generous, inspiring, and serious the leaders at the summit are. Also, Pro Ecuador (Ecuador's main chamber of exporting flowers), and the Ecuadorian embassy have been key allies. We shared a lot of information; the government saw it as an opportunity for Ecuador. Being a small country, Ecuador tends to be relatively less competitive when it comes to commodities. Ecuador can distinguish itself by the values behind their products, rather than the prize.

We think this is the future for Ecuador, and also for other rose exporters. We don't want it to be public policy. We believe that the 'B Corp Movement' only works as a part of the free market. Yet we want to be an ally of authorities, regulators, and corporations to promote sustainability, and to show that there is an alternative way of doing business," Ignacio Morejón concludes.

From October 9 – 10, the Ecuadorian flower sector is organizing Expo Flor Ecuador 2024. This event gathers all the Ecuadorian sector in one place and welcomes buyers and partners from all over the world. In November, there will be an Ecuadorian pavilion at the IFTF 2024, where 12 flower growers will exhibit with the support of the Import Promotion Desk (IPD).

For more information:
Sistema B Ecuador

Hoja Verde