Roses are the most well-known symbol of love. For centuries they’ve been given to loved ones, their colors used to communicate what can’t be said.
When gifted, roses usually come as a bouquet of cut flowers, which aren’t sustainable due to chemicals used to preserve them.
Are roses sustainable and environmentally friendly?
There are over 100 species of rose which come in a variety of colors. They’ve been cultivated for over 5,000 years.
Ancient civilizations like Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Rome gave roses symbolism and purpose in religious rites. Rome even had a festival of roses!
Sadly, roses aren’t very sustainable in modern times. This is largely due to its carbon footprint, which rises depending on where it is sourced, how it’s grown, and what chemicals are used on it.
California is the leading producer of domestic roses in America but still isn’t able to produce enough roses to meet Valentine’s Day demands. This means that roses have to be imported from South American countries like Colombia.
In Europe, most fresh-cut roses are imported from the Netherlands, but Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Uganda also supply many roses.
Why are roses bad for the environment?
In Colombia, it takes over 100,000 laborers to grow flowers in glass greenhouses.
More workers are required to work ahead of holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Over 300,000 rose blooms are handled per day – measured, cut, bunched, boxed, and more.
In the past, and perhaps even now, many children were drafted in to help in the run-up to holidays, where farms need to triple their labor to meet demand. Poor working conditions are exacerbated at this time, with many laborers working overtime.
Synthetic chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides are used with frighteningly little oversight on cut flowers, and roses are no exception.
The majority of roses are sprayed with pesticides, grown with fertilizers, and dipped in antifungal solutions in an effort to produce as much as possible. These all pose a health risk to laborers, but can even affect florists down the line.
Roses grown in northern countries like the Netherlands require the use of greenhouses to provide them enough heat and light to grow them. This uses up far more energy than growing them in naturally hot and sunny climates like in Africa.
A comparison of roses grown in Kenya and the Netherlands found that despite transportation emissions the imported flowers from Kenya emitted only 2,200kg CO2 compared to 35,000kg CO2 from the Netherlands. This is largely due to the amount of energy required in greenhouses. It also found that almost ten times more energy was required to grow the same amount of Dutch-grown roses.
While the answer to this dilemma seems to be to import roses to cut down on energy costs, it doesn’t show the whole picture.
To import roses, they need to be stored at 34°F to keep them from wilting. Storing them at this temperature halts the death of cut flowers, but it goes beyond one storehouse. It includes refrigerated warehouses and trucks, required every step of the rose’s journey from farm to store.
Once bought, roses are gifted to the true recipient, who then decides what to do with them. This might be putting them in a vase with some water, where they’ll sit for a few days before wilting and being thrown in the bin.
Like all flowers, roses don’t last long after being bought no matter what you do with them. Planting roses in your garden might be a better alternative, especially if you have an anniversary in the summer when most roses begin to bloom.
When roses are in season depends on your area, so make sure to look up native rose species in your region.
Why are red roses specifically bad or worse than other roses?
Red roses encompass many species of roses, perhaps more than can ever be cataloged. The most well-known roses are hybrid tea roses, which alone have thousands of varieties.
One popular variety is the Crimson Glory, which has crimson petals popular for Valentine’s Day and romantic events.
It’s hard to tell just how bad for the environment certain species of rose are. It’s safe to assume that red roses are produced more, especially around Valentine’s Day and other romantic holidays. But that doesn’t mean they are more environmentally unfriendly than other varieties.
How to buy sustainable roses
If this hasn’t turned you off of buying roses, there are options out there to continue purchasing them. Like with other cut flowers, look out for certifications like Fairtrade, Florverde, Flor Ecuador, Rainforest Alliance, and VeriFlora.
Certified flowers are checked to ensure that growers use the most sustainable practices, including looking after their workers.
While it won’t cut down on emissions, buying certified roses will look out for those who are being protected.
You can also swap out roses for locally-grown, in-season flowers. You’ll need to do some research here, but once you’ve done it once it’s easier to get into the habit! Remember that locally-grown can mean in your area, state, region, or country.
As long as it’s not imported from another country, you’re good!