“Ethical flowers have become an integral part of our business, but you do need volume and scale to make it work, which wasn’t easy in the beginning,” Steve France, Managing Director of Arena Flowers, says.
“More than 90 per cent of all flowers sold at florists come from the Dutch flower auctions where it is impossible to know which farm they come from and you lose all traceability. You need to have a direct relationship with the grower to know — and you can only have that relationship if you are bringing in large orders,” he explains.
The company likes to deal direct with smaller British suppliers where possible. France says British flowers “are probably the most environmentally friendly of all. For instance, we have a grower in Chichester who uses a biomass generator for power and no fertilisers — and there are few air miles.”
Arena does sell flowers from the Dutch auctions and claim to be one of the first UK florists to stock those accredited as sustainable and ethical by the Fair Flowers Fair Plants and More Profitable Sustainability programmes.
“We saw that online flowers, ethical ones in particular, were not being done very well. We aren’t just doing it for cynical reasons but because we genuinely believe that it is a good thing to do,” Will Wynne, Chief Executive of Arena Flowers, says.
“Flowers are green by nature and it is a greeen-fingered business. Growers want to create a world where plants are not doing harm, and I think in the next 15-20 years there will be a lot more improvements in the field,” France says.
“You need to be able to question suppliers and demand a choice. It is also important to dedicate the time to go out to meet them and see what they are doing on their farms,” says France, who travels to Kenya and around Britian to meet growers.
Arena has been buying Fairtrade flowers from Kenya since it became large enough to deal directly with growers. “To justify the air cost you need to be able to fill a pallet on a plane and that is quite a few thousand stems,” France says.
One of the main criticisms of Fairtrade in the past has been the air miles involved in importing the flowers. However, a recent scientific breakthrough, in which flower growth is suspended by cooling to 0.5°C, means that sea freight is now a possibility, although only if the industry can adjust to the timescales involved.
“The problem is that the flower industry is so last-minute, people don’t place their orders two months in advance. The big wholesalers would have to change their attitudes towards more long-term thinking,” Wynne says.