PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY IN THE CUT-FLOWER INDUSTRY
Weddings, funerals, Valentine’s Day – we buy flowers to show that we care on all sorts of occasions. But where do these flowers come from in the first place? Who has produced them, what are their working conditions like, and what are the impacts on the environment? And what information is available to consumers to make informed choices about the flowers they buy?
These are exactly the questions we have been asking ourselves to guide our research project on Promoting Sustainability within the Cut-flower Industry. We work with stakeholders from the cut-flower industry, NGOs, certification bodies, and retailers to understand current standards and practices and inform new models for the industry to create social and environmental benefits as well as create value for businesses.
In the UK, the cut-flower market is worth over £2 billion, with over 7,000 florists with approximately 60% of sales taking place via supermarket retailers (Mintel 2015). About 90% of the cut-flowers sold in the UK are imported from abroad. Whilst the Royal Flower Holland Dutch Auction, which draws in cut-flowers from around the world, remains the largest wholesale source of cut-flowers, most UK retailers source from importers with direct supply links to producers. The global flower industry, worth around £42 billion, has grown significantly over the last two decades, with newly developing countries, including Kenya, Colombia, and Ethiopia aggressively pursuing exports.
However, the cut-flower industry has been associated with poor and precarious working conditions and a range of serious environmental concerns. For example, intensive flower production and international air transport leads to high carbon and water footprints; agrochemical pollution has been problematic in sensitive ecosystems such as Lake Naivasha in Kenya and working conditions have been linked to political unrest in Ethiopia. The causes of these problems are complex, often rooted within local regulatory and institutional weaknesses, which are exacerbated by the dynamics of the market.
Our research examines the role that standards, certifications, and improvement models are playing, and can play, in driving up social and environmental outcomes at different points within cut-flower supply chains. Analytically we draw from the Global Value Chains and Circular Economy literatures. These bodies of work provide a basis for untangling drivers to generate social, economic, and environmental advancements at individual nodes of the supply chain.
We are working closely with industry stakeholders to address key questions about the role of standards and certifications in the future. This is especially pressing as very real concerns about the impacts of climate change in flower production areas need to be addressed. Equally, there are signs that consumers in more affluent global markets are becoming more concerned about the sustainability credentials of their purchases, including flowers.
Our key-stakeholders include:
- Certification bodies
- Flower wholesalers
- Event florists, high-street florists, and small-scale grower florists
- Non-governmental Organisation
We have been bringing these people together during our multi-stakeholder workshops, which have run every year since 2017. Our last workshop, held in the Netherlands, resulted in the formation of a steering committee, to support the collaboration between us at Coventry University and our various partners throughout the year.
The importance of our research into the sustainability of the cut-flower industry has been validated through several internal and external grants, including the following:
- UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID)
- British Academy Leverhulme
- 2 x Coventry University Pump Prime Grants
- WWF-South Africa Table Mountain Fund
- Coventry University Impact and Knowledge Exchange in Social Science Fund
- Coventry University Impact Acceleration Grant
- Coventry University Quality Related Strategic Priorities Fund
- Various sources of in-kind funding from industry project partners to assist with the holding of events.
As our project develops, we continue to apply for different funding schemes to grow our research impact.
Curious about who we are? Then read more about us here.