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What Sustainability Certifications Mean and the Quest for More Responsibly Grown Flowers

Earth Day festivities are over this year, but many may still be contemplating the idea of sustainability and commercial flowers. The probing question being, what makes a flower “sustainable” anyway?

According to the UN World Commission of Environment and Development, sustainable development is “the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Translation: sustainability recognizes that resources are finite, so they need to be conserved to be available for our grandchildren and beyond.

In response to concerns regarding sustainable business practices, flower growers are investing in solutions to address any unfavorable impacts of the cut flower trade on the environment and local communities. By running programs aimed at minimizing waste, preserving ecological biodiversity, conserving water, eliminating toxic pesticide use and utilizing natural packaging, many growers are placing environmental consciousness at the forefront of their operational strategies. These sustainable solutions have additional social implications, with companies making strides towards providing safe working conditions, fair pay, medical care and other benefits for employees.

Additionally, a host of independent organizations have created private labels and certifications to further the quest for long-term sustainability—bringing recognition and awareness to consumers. These organizations require rigorous vetting and intense transparency from applicants, meaning eco-conscious consumers can buy with confidence knowing that certified products have been ethically grown or sourced.

Here are some of the flower trade’s most influential certification groups and what their approvals mean:

Rainforest Alliance - Founded in 1987, the New York-headquartered Rainforest Alliance is an international, non-profit organization working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal.The Rainforest Alliance seal signifies that the certified product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Independent, third-party auditors evaluate farmers against requirements in all three areas before awarding or renewing certification.

Flor Ecuador - The Flor Ecuador certified label was established in Quito in 2005 as an integrated social and environmental flower certification for Ecuadorian companies dedicated to the production and commercialization of Ecuadorian flowers. Flor Ecuador certification ensures compliance with Ecuadorian legislation on social and environmental issues to promote sustainable farming.

Huella de Carbono - Established in 2015 by Colombia-headquartered Corporación Fenalco Solidario Colombia, the Huella de Carbono (carbon footprint) certification is given to companies who actively measure direct greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chain, thus proving their commitment to combating climate change and its impacts.

MPS - For the last 25 years, the Holland-based MPS Group has supported horticultural entrepreneurs worldwide in their efforts to operate more sustainably. MPS certification aims to ensure the quality and sustainability of the entire floriculture sector. By registering data on consumption, it measures the sustainability of a company’s production processes and leads to a more conscious use of resources.

Fairtrade - As a leader in the global movement to make global trade fair, Germany-based Fairtrade International supports and challenges businesses and governments, and connects farmers and workers with the people who buy their products. Products with the Fairtrade label—which was established in 1997—indicate that producers and businesses have met internationally-agreed standards which have been independently certified.

Veriflora® Sustainably Grown - Founded in 2004 by California-headquartered Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Global Services, the Veriflora® Sustainably Grown certification is an agriculture sustainability certification and eco-labeling program for cut flowers and potted plants. This third-party certification assures buyers that Veriflora® certified products have been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way, with practices that achieve the highest level of quality.

Florverde® Sustainable Flowers - Founded in 1973, Bogotá-headquartered Asocolflores represents, promotes and strengthens the competitiveness of floriculture in Colombia and its global markets. In 1996, Asocolflores established a “code of conduct” for the flower sector—now known as the Florverde® Sustainable Flowers certification—to set independent social and environmental standards for sustainable agriculture practices.

Other organizations to consider:

Ornamental Horticulture Assurance Scheme (OHAS)

Global GAP

Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association (EHPEA)

Kenya Flower Council