Many of us are trying to reduce our carbon footprint in our businesses as well as our homes. There are many ways to effectively achieve reductions that are widely known and publicized. But there are also many ways to make reductions that are not so apparent.
Who would think that giving flowers on Valentine’s Day has a huge environmental impact attached? It doesn’t seem possible when you look at those beautiful dozen “fresh” red roses. They’re “natural,” and it’s natural to assume that they are environmentally friendly. But when you understand the volume of roses and other fresh cut flowers that are sold just for that one special day, and all the other “flower” holidays celebrated in the United States, it becomes difficult to ignore the severity of the ecological impact. A large part of that impact is created by their required method of shipment – air freight.
The Carbon Footprint produced by Air Freight Shipping of Fresh Flowers
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for the inspection of imported fresh cut flowers. In 2011, from January 1st to February 14th, the CBP processed 802.5 million stems1 (compared to 320.8 million stems in the 2010 period). During the whole of 2011, they inspected approximately 5.1 billion cut flower stems2. Realize that all these flowers are shipped by air freight to U.S. ports of entry, then shipped domestically, again using air freight, two wholesalers, warehouse clubs, grocery chain stores, retail florists, and consumers. Consider the resulting carbon dioxide emissions from those air freight shipments.
According to the U.S.EPA “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990 – 2009”, air freight produces 2.95 Lbs. of CO2 per Ton-Mile. Ton-Mile is a weight and distance unit for 1 ton of freight being transported 1 mile. A conservative estimate calculates air freight shipping created from 666 million lbs. to 1.867 billion lbs. of CO2 for the 802.5 million stems1 imported prior to Valentine’s Day. Likewise, air freight created 4.231 billion lbs. to 11.85 billion lbs of CO2 for the annual quantity of 5.1 billion stems2 imported in the U.S. It’s important to know that the well-intentioned and simple activity of purchasing fresh cut flowers produces such a huge carbon footprint as a result of current fresh flower industry practices.
This is a global problem; a similar situation exists in Europe. A large percentage of European fresh cut flowers are imported from African growers and shipped via air freight. It’s estimated that the European Union consumes 50% of the world’s flower production.
Bottom Line: Is the transportation of a commodity, which creates a benefit that, at best, lasts 5 to 7 days, worth the trade-off damage to our global environment?
- This total includes 161 million bouquets which are tabulated as single stems by the CBP. If these bouquets have just 10 flower stems in them, the 802.5 million stem total could be as many as 2.25 billion stems.
- Assuming that 20% of the import flower counts are bouquets of 10 stems, the 5.1 billion stem total for the whole year could be as many as 14.28 billion stems.
- Calculations assume average stem weight of 4 oz. (includes packing materials) and conservative air distance of 2250 miles (1500 miles to the port of Miami, FL and 750 air miles domestic travel) at 2.95 lbs. CO2 produced per Ton-Mile.
For more information visit the U.S. EPA website, Climate Change – Greenhouse Gas Emissions page. The “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2010,” a 481 page pdf report, is available there.