The Sustainable Florist - British Florist Association

The Sustainable Florist

The Sustainable Florist
Picture courtesy of Florint

MAKE ETHICAL CHOICES WORK FOR YOU

It’s one of the biggest issues of our time and for most it’s a gloomy prospect to think climate change and sustainability will be top of the agenda forever. However, there are ways that every florist business can turn fear on its head and make positive changes that will have a beneficial impact on profitability as well as the planet – regardless of how narrow your margins or how mainstream your target market.

In flowers, the word ‘sustainable’ can open a minefield of very different issues, from airfreight carbon emissions and plastic pollution to agrochemicals and working conditions at farms in developing countries. This means British florists can promote a sustainable story through more ways than you might think; whether using biodegradable wrapping, selling homegrown flowers to reduce your carbon footprint or using certified imported blooms that have been grown with less emissions while improving the livelihoods of people in need.

“As with other ethical decisions, different consumers have different priorities”, explains Dr Jill Timms at Coventry University whose research into ethical consumerism in the flower industry has recently been shortlisted for an award. She adds, “Some customers will be willing to pay more for flowers they can have assurances from, particularly if they are purchasing for a special occasion – such as for a gift or a wedding, where they don’t want to use flowers that could be tainted by any negative impact on people or planet.”

FLORISTS’ CUSTOMERS ARE ASKING FOR IT

Having interviewed florists up and down the country as far as the Outer Hebrides, Dr Timms has discovered an emerging awareness of these issues among florists and their customers. She explains, “This certainly does not include all florists however a sea-change is resulting from growing public interest in issues like this – particularly true of younger generations.”

Back in October last year, BFA Florist shared statistics from Bridebook stating that 39% of couples now consider sustainability when planning their wedding. It’s a culture being championed by the industry’s Instagram influencers, such as Royal Wedding florist Shane Connolly as well as a plethora of farmer-florists and designers with a wild and rustic brand. They can use it to promote their offering since the look and style that naturally comes with homegrown blooms is now a huge trend not just because of its environmental credentials but because of its aesthetics. The style favours wiggly stems, unusual textures and shapely materials that appear locally gathered and foraged. Meanwhile, Princess Eugenie requested a ‘plastic free’ wedding last year and Timms’ research clarifies that demand for ‘ethical weddings’ has grown.

NOT JUST A NICHE MARKET

Not often but sometimes these styles and messages are labelled elitist – unappealing to mass market and only targeting a certain group of eco-conscious or millennial-aged consumers. However, even the most mainstream of retailers are pledging their support, with supermarket-led schemes such as Sainsbury’s promoting Fairtrade Roses and Waitrose’s British-grown bouquets.

People are well aware of the potentially murky supply chains of bananas, sugar and coffee, so Fairtrade labelling on these products is prevalent in most of our stores already. Timms believes this is the future for flowers, “As with bananas, I see a time when people will expect to see an option to buy fairly traded flower products in an ethical way,” she explains.

While there is a clear profile of people who already seek out sustainable produce, it’s widening to include new groups. “We’re seeing the impact of TV documentaries and media reports on the flower industry, as well as wider awareness of climate change, meaning more of the mass market is asking questions,” says Timms. “For example, I know there is growing interest in alternatives to floral foam and just like people are getting used to taking their own mug for a takeaway coffee, more are starting to bring their own jugs or vases for flowers.”

SAVING OUTGOINGS & INCREASING PROFITS

If so many consumers are seeking flowers with some kind of sustainable status, why do some florists claim margins are too tight to make changes? It’s an understandable fear but one that is contradicted by a growing number of high-street florists like Nicola Hanney, owner of Wild & Wondrous Flowers in Bolton or as locals know her, ‘the eco-florist’. Nicola says, “About 70% of my customers buy from me because of my green pledge, and many of them come from quite a distance.”

Unlike some Insta-famous London event florists that specialise in sustainable weddings, Nicola’s shop doesn’t target a niche, high-end market and Bolton isn’t a hotspot for the UK’s eco-conscious elite. But she uses her green pledge as a way to gain customers while keeping outgoings low.

“I educate most new customers because they’re not aware of what’s available, and in over six years I’ve only ever had one person say they don’t want an eco-wrap rather than a typical cello and gift box bouquet,” she says.

By wrapping designs in compostable, recyclable paper and tissue, bound in twine and a raffia bow, Nicola has in fact increased their perceived value. “We leave stems at their full length because they don’t need to fit an aqua pack. When you buy a high-grade lily, you’re sometimes buying about 80cm of stem so it seems pointless to chop it off. And by using its full length, you can tie at a lower point which gives a much bigger open to the bouquet.” In fact, Nicola found the size of a bouquet shrinks by about a third when it’s tightened with an aqua pack, “it’s like we’re selling space,” she says.

Ditching the aqua pack has also proven cost-effective because it’s saved valuable florist time. “It’s miles quicker to make a hand-tied in a paper wrap and we still charge 25% for make-up, so we’re saving money there,” she adds.

Classic foam-based funeral work is harder to reproduce with an eco take, although OASIS is making fast progress with a NatureBase range and foam with increased biodegradability – it’s not quite 100% biodegradable but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Nicola adds, “We get lots of orders for our moss funeral wreath; we leave lots of the moss exposed and use stub wires to add a bump of flowers which is also much less time-consuming than massed Chrysanth designs.”

In the wrapping arena, Widdups have released a line of biodegradable cellophane which Neil Whittaker of Design Element in Manchester began using last year after trialling its water resistance and finding the costings worked out at equal to his standard cello. He added that “Feedback was overwhelming and customers commented that the new eco-wrap means flowers are shown at all their beauty.” Qualatex balloons, a traditional item for many local florists, are in fact made from 100% natural latex which is also biodegradable.

ETHICAL FLOWER BUYING DEMYSTIFIED

Having a seasonal mindset is one of the simplest ways to make a small change to your flower buying, since seasonal blooms are more likely to be grown locally and without the need for excess chemicals in high-energy greenhouses. They’re also often cheaper than out-of-season stems, as anyone who’s ever tried to source peonies for a late-summer bride will know. Some florists find promoting a flexible florist’s choice bouquet is the best way to guarantee customers receive the finest quality blooms because they’ll always use whatever variety is best that week, and it leaves little room for complaints when you’ve not set specific stems. 

Flowers can easily have sustainable qualities without having to cost more – be it British stocks with a low carbon footprint or Kenyan roses with a high social impact. Timms clarifies, “This is obvious with locally grown flowers, but florists are actually likely to already be selling many certified flowers without realising it. Private sustainability standards can be confusing, so our project is prioritising working with the BFA to help florists understand what it all means.”

“Armed with a basic knowledge of the issues and certifications”, such as logos like Fairtrade and MPS, “florists could start to recognise the certification on the boxes they unpack their flowers from and become able to discuss the origin with customers,” she explains. More research from all kinds of retail sectors shows that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the provenance of their products. By understanding flower certificates, for instance knowing that your Colombian flower farm helped fund a local school, you’ll find a new USP and a memorable story to share online and in-store to create engagement with customers.

While there is currently a complicated code of different logos to decipher, in Bolton, Nicola manages to demystify the process by having a close relationship with her wholesaler. She says, “By building that relationship I can make sure my tropical bouquet uses Rainforest Alliance certified Strelitzia from Ecuador. Now, my wholesaler has also started stocking amazing flowers from local growers. We should be putting pressure on our wholesalers to stock certified flowers and to do more to share that information with florists.”

SHARE STORIES WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS

Once you’ve sussed out your own green promise there’s an abundance of ways to promote those newfound company values with customers, whether you want to focus on one or all of the options we’ve mentioned. And with some research and thinking outside the box, florists are discovering even more ideas from delivery vehicle choices to water saving techniques.

Your stories of ethical origins and sustainable practice can be communicated through social media, blogs, website product descriptions, shop signage, flower labels, care cards, business cards and more. Adding text about it to your website should also prove a valuable SEO tool. Nicola channels her eco status through every element of her brand including the sign-written van. She adds, “All of our bouquets go out with a care card which explains how to recycle its entire contents – flowers and raffia into the green waste bin and paper into the recycling bin.”

There aren’t many business similarities between London-based Royal Wedding florist Shane Connolly, Bolton’s eco-florist Nicola Hanney and the Manchester shop run by Neil Whittaker, but all three have found ways to make a success of ethical floral choices. With thanks to florists sharing their knowledge and wholesalers showing support as well as organisations and researchers like Dr Timms and her team, the wider industry will become a stronger force and consumers will discover what a wealth of options are actually available – often at no extra cost.

Look out for more information on Dr Jill Timms’ project in her report. Click here for the BFA Magazine issue 32 article and report from Coventry University

WHY TRY IT?

  • It’s not just about going plastic free or buying British, there are all sorts of options such as stocking imported flowers branded with sustainable certificates. Yes, there are air miles involved but your flowers may still be supporting worker welfare in developing countries or making best use of tropical climates to produce top quality blooms with fewer chemicals and greenhouse emissions during the growing process.
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of the provenance of their products and are actively seeking sustainable sources
  • Ethical weddings are a rising trend, noticeable on Instagram and among Royals and celebrities
  • Big corporations and supermarkets are publicly pledging their support to sustainable flower schemes
  • Ethically sourced products are a particularly common concern among the younger generation – your future customers
  • Creatively redesigning products and practises can lead to higher perceived value and saved time and costs, as it did for Nicola Hanney and her eco-wraps
  • People are increasingly bringing their own reusable cups out for coffee, this is a trend spotted with vases for flowers as well
  • Customers need to be educated about what’s available – such as unique moss-based funeral arrangements – otherwise they won’t know they can ask for it
  • There are a growing number of eco-friendly floral products out there, from OASIS NatureBase to Widdups biodegradable cello, Bioglitter and Qualatex balloons
  • Promoting seasonal florist’s choice designs means you can use whatever locally grown variety is best quality that week – increasing your design’s value – while leaving little room for complaints
  • Sharing stories about the origin of your flowers creates a new USP and a memorable message to share in-store and online to generate engagement with customers and improve SEO
  • By building relationships with wholesalers and putting pressure on them to stock certified and locally grown flowers, you can gain more content to share with customers.
  • Promoting your ethical credentials should boost sales, whether you do it through your website, social media, signage, labels or care cards

Copy written By Hannah Dunne for the BFA Florist magazine. Issue 32

Environmental and social regulation, addressing many global issues has grown over the last few years and the products covered under these regulations will only expand as we learn more about some of the unintended consequences of our everyday products. It’s ever more challenging for business, small businesses in particular, to keep up with the pace of regulatory change. Any questions about florist sustainability contact info@britishfloristassociation.org

Image by Lena Lindell

Image by Larisa Koshkina

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