As soon as they hit the keyboard our fingers automatically found themselves writing the words “The UK has climate change on the brain at the moment”. That we feel the need to write or say those words at any point pretty much summarises the issue at hand. It shouldn’t be a news topic that pops up from time to time. It should be a constant, ever-present and all-consuming consideration for all of us. Like taxes. Or Brexit.
We’ve always been reticent about discussing Petalon’s attitude towards environmental responsibilities. Our wariness stems not from guilt, but from a fear of being labelled a “Green” business. This was never our intention. We didn’t set up Petalon with the purpose of being “Green”, not least because claiming such a thing puts you in a position to be shot at by those who understand the topic better than we do. We set up the business (and have tried to continue to run it) in such a way that we felt was responsible, but only in the sense that we felt that everyone should do their part to make sure they were improving the world and not diminishing it, and by extension that those who bring a business in to this world should by default do so in such a way that causes net benefit, not harm, particularly in the pursuit of profit. Bearing in mind the current political environment, it seems timely to be honest and explicit about our part in all of this, so here goes.
The cut flower industry has a reputation for being wasteful. This is understandable. Growing something to cut it, then try and sustain the impression of life in your home as long as possible (a week or so) before throwing it in the bin and starting again. It sounds a bit odd when you put it like that. But modern flower growers are a pretty efficient bunch. We’ve seen the farms - some of them feel more like hermetically sealed laboratories but on a factory scale, such is their efficiency. It sounds unromantic when you put it like that, but it’s actually quite breathtaking in real life. The level of detail is striking and many of these producers are net positive in terms of their environmental impact. Other growers, particularly those growing foliage and ranunculus in Italy, are pretty much what you’d imagine - fields and fields of flowers, bushes and trees that are cultivated in line with the local environment. The majority of our flowers and foliage come from one of these two extreme poles of cultivation.
Next up, they have to get to us. This happens by lorry, first to our supplier’s hub in Holland where they are organised, then come to us through the channel tunnel. Trucks aren’t great for the environment, but they are a lot better than planes. Trains would be ideal, but that isn’t plausible at present. Some of you may be thinking, why ship them at all? Why not buy them closer to home? The short answer is that the UK’s seasonality means flower supply is only possible for a few months of the year. Because of the absence of Holland’s infrastructure, growth outside of this window requires exactly the sort of methods best avoided when we are concerned about climate change. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that our supplier in Aalsmeer is the same distance from us by road as Carlisle and Truro are.
For our part we try to mitigate our impacts in a few ways. First off, our onward deliveries - these are either by bicycle (low impact) or using a carbon neutral delivery service for our postal flowers. For the latter, the details of how this is devised are unclear so we’ve taken it in to our own hands in addition to this service. For every 100 bouquets we delivery, we plant a tree in Britain. We tried quite hard to work out what would represent offsetting our carbon and got lots of different answers. One thing we can say for certain is that the amount of carbon absorbed by a tree is multiples greater than that emitted by 100 deliveries even on a non carbon neutral service. But we have other impacts as a business, too numerous for us to appreciate and name, so we also donate 5% of our profits to bee charities. This seems appropriate because of the industry we work in. We can all donate to charity in lots of different ways, but we wanted to make sure we were helping in a way that was relevant to the service we provide, and bees are one of the most effective ways to ensure the future diversity and health of the flowers we know and love.
Packaging is obviously also a big concern. We use a water-based gel to hydrate the flowers, a biodegradable plastic sheath to hold it in and everything else involved is both recycled and recyclable. Though we should all bear in mind that though recyclable material is preferable it’s better not to use anything at all than to use something recyclable! Within our workshop, the packaging our flowers arrive in are returned to the supplier for re-use and we send all of our plant waste (which is most of our waste!) to a rather expensive composting service.
So there you have it. Many of you will have read through this synopsis and found glaring holes in our role within the wider environment. Please don’t keep them to yourself. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our absolute best to improve. We try to remain aware and educated on the subject but we also know there are people out there with a considerably better understanding of it all than we have. Educate us. Help us be a more honest, open and environmentally responsible business. We promise to try.