Valentine's Day means saying it with flowers. Every year an estimated 6 million flowers are imported to New Zealand, including some 2 million roses.

The problem is our pursuit of goodwill and affection through giving cut flowers is hurting the No 1 lady in all of our lives: Mother Nature.

Countries near the Equator, like Ecuador, benefit from good growing conditions, including 12 hours of daylight year round. In these regions, the contribution of the flower industry to the economy of small or less developed countries is often significant.

In eastern Africa, for example, flowers account for more than 10 per cent of total exports, second only to tea.


Lower wages in countries like Ecuador and Kenya also contribute to the economics of flying flowers around the world. Unfortunately, this often comes at a cost for local growers and pickers, who experience poor working conditions.

In the US, the roughly 100 million roses grown, shipped and purchased on a typical Valentine's Day produce some 9000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, from field to florist.

But the question of a flower's carbon footprint isn't straightforward.

The Netherlands is one of the world's biggest exporters of cut flowers, where the majority are grown in heated or refrigerated green houses.

Maintaining the controlled conditions inside these buildings takes artificial light, heat and cooling, so each rose grown in The Netherlands contributes an average of about 2.91kg of CO2 to the atmosphere. In contrast, a rose grown on a farm in Kenya contributes only 0.5kg.

As flowers are not an edible crop, they are typically exempt from regulations on pesticide use. As a result, the industry is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides worldwide.

In Kenya and other countries, chemicals such as methyl bromide (and others banned in countries like the US) are regularly imported by flower growers for pest control.

Worryingly, methyl bromide is an ozone-depleting substance. In some cases, chemical run-off into water bodies, such as Kenya's Lake Naivasha, has resulted in the collapse of fish stocks crucial to local communities.

The good news is there are plenty of eco-friendly ways to show your devotion. The best option is to grow your own flowers for gifts. You can also give a living plant that can grow in your garden for years to come, reminding you of that special person and day.

If growing or giving living plants isn't an option, go for locally grown organic flowers, as this means fewer "flower miles". Native species or hardy breeds like lilies and birds of paradise require fewer resources and survive longer in transport, meaning less wastage.

If you decide to buy imported flowers, look for Green Labels like FairTrade and MPS Florimark, indicating suppliers are members of regulatory schemes.

It's also worth asking, or insisting, your florist switch from cellophane wrapping to butcher's paper or similar.

Jennifer Lavers, Research Scientist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania and Fiona Kerslake, Research Fellow in viticulture and fermentation, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.