I’ve had several e-mails in the last few weeks asking me about eco-labels for cut flowers. It’s a subject I covered in Flower Confidential and I’ve written about it on this blog a few times, but I thought I would put a bunch of resources in one place so that people could do their own research. Although I’m sure this list is not complete, here are just some of the programs I know about that certify the environmental and social practices on flower farms.
First, who creates these programs? Remember that there may be two parties involved:
1. The organization, association, or informal group that writes up the standards. In other words, they make the list of what farms can and can’t do if they want to meet the standard. Ideally, this group would include input from consumer, environmental, and labor groups to ensure that it’s a good, meaningful standard. After all, there is no agreed-upon definition of "green" or "environmentally friendly." What chemicals, specifically, are banned? What labor practices are required? Do those standards go above & beyond what the local law requires? After all, everyone should comply with the law–the purpose of an eco-label is to reward those who go above and beyond.
2. The company that visits the farms, conducts the inspections and audits, and makes sure that the farm meets the standard. This is usually a company that specializes in these sorts of audits and inspections. They may provide this service for a lot of different certification programs across different industries.
It is possible for one organization to handle both roles, but it is critical that the standards be developed with input from all sides.
OK, now–flower certification programs generally fall into two
categories. First, there are programs that are initiated by growers
associations to certify flowers grown in that country, regardless of where they
might be sold. These programs may or may not label the bouquets at the retail level, in part because they’d have to come up with a marketing strategy and create labels in every country, and in every language, where the flowers are sold. Among the first group, we have:
And second–there are programs initiated in particular countries, for flowers sold in that country regardless of where they were grown. These programs usually do label the bouquets at the retail level because they are very much aimed at the consumer in that country. In this second group, you will find:
Max Havelaar in Switzerland, which certifies not just
flowers, but other products, from around the world that will be sold in
FLP in Germany, which focuses on flowers grown around
the world for sale in Germany
FFP—Fair Flowers Fair Plants—aimed more broadly at the
Fair Trade UK–certifies a
variety of products, including flowers, grown around the world and for sale in
FLO International–an umbrella organization for all organizations participating in fairtrade label programs.
MPS: A Dutch
certification program for flowers, plants and vegetables grown around the
world and sold in Holland. Flowers sold through the Dutch auction system will often by marked according to their MPS rating (a grade of A, B, or C, depending on which set of standards the farm complied with.)
VeriFlora–a United States-based label for flowers grown anywhere in the world for sale in the United States.
Fair Trade USA–a fair trade organization in the US will be rolling out a FairTrade label for flowers sold in the US soon.
SierraEco–a label for flowers sold in Canada, regardless of where they were grown. SierraEco recognizes and promotes VeriFlora-certified farms.
Are you confused yet? Imagine how the farmer must feel! A farm that sells to customers in Europe and North America could get certified through a half-dozen programs. Each one costs money and requires lots of time and paperwork. Some programs do recognize each other’s standards, and there is a move afoot to try to unify some of these standards, but right now it’s a real patchwork of different labels.
And to further complicate things, don’t forget about:
EurepGAP, which certifies flowers and other products for the
broader European community
The USDA National Organic Program, which specifies the requirement for using the term "organic" for flowers or any kind of agricultural product
ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, also develops voluntary, consensus-based industry standards for a wide range of industries. The VeriFlora standard has been submitted to ANSI as part of a larger draft standard for sustainable agriculture. Part of this standard may also include new labor and community development standards, as described in a press release here. Once input has been gathered and the standard is adopted, it could have far-reaching impacts. ANSI standards sometimes become ISO standards, for example. And when new laws or regulations are being written, often lawmakers will look first to see if there is already an ANSI standard in place, and they’ll use that standard rather than start from scratch.
And here’s a few other things you might want to know:
Consumers Union, which publishes Consumers Report, also runs Eco-Labels.org, a site that rates and ranks eco-labels for various products. They don’t have anything up about flowers yet, but they’re planning to. Check out their standards for what makes a good eco-label
and also check out a story on another site they run, Greener Choices, about flowers.
And finally, here’s a list of organizations that either run these programs, or audit the farms and companies, or both. Again, there’s not a lot up about flowers yet, but it’s important to understand that, for instance, if you are certified through the USDA National Organic Program, there is a third-party certifying agency involved. The farmer pays them to come out and do the inspection and make sure the standards have been met.
Almost all flower certification programs, no matter who runs them, use a third-party company with expertise in audits and inspections to certify the farms. I get questions about whether these programs are "for-profit" or "non-profit," and it’s important to remember that no matter who created the standards, the ongoing auditing and certification is very often done by a company who specializes in that. That’s a good thing–it means that the inspections are done right.
Whew! That was a long answer. Hope it helps!