Friday is Valentine’s Day, but while you’re buying bonbons and bouquets, be sure to be sweet to the planet, too. If Hershey’s, Hallmark, and FTD aren’t your idea of romance, never fear: Eco-friendly options smell good, taste good (well, maybe not the flowers), and just might land you a date.
In 2001, Americans spent an estimated $50 per capita on flowers, garden plants, and nursery crops, and floricultural grower receipts topped $13 billion. But some industry costs remained hidden. The floral industry uses the highest level of pesticides of all agricultural sectors. And since most of the flowers we buy originate abroad, these pesticides can include some that are banned in the U.S., such as DDT. These chemicals may even remain on bouquets long enough to rub off on skin or be inhaled by your beloved. When the Environmental Working Group tested a small sample of roses in 1997, they found residues of several pesticides at up to 50 times the amounts permitted in food.
But the trouble starts long before the flowers reach your sweetheart. Pesticide runoff from flower farms pollutes waterways, and recent research has found that nearly two-thirds of Colombia’s flower workers report maladies associated with pesticide exposure. To add insult to injury, workers on most flower farms still earn poverty wages.
What you can do:
- Buy fresh or dried blooms at your local farmer’s market.
- Send an organic bouquet from Organic Bouquet online or from Whole Foods and Wild Oats stores. (Roses are $34.99 for a dozen and $49.99 for two dozen online, or $16.99 retail.)
What you shouldn’t do:
- Buy flowers through Defenders of Wildlife’s Valentine’s Day campaign. The organization says you can “give flowers and save wildlife at the same time” by shopping at 1-800-flowers.com, which gives 10 percent of every purchase to DOW. Trouble is, 1-800-flowers.com sells conventional blooms, and the pesticides used to grow them threaten wildlife. Shame on Defenders of Wildlife: If it used an organic florist, the organization and the environment would benefit.
A traditional, shade-grown cacao farm can be the next best thing to wild rainforest for species diversity. These days, however, most cacao is grown on conventional farms characterized by environmentally damaging pesticides, child labor, and poor working conditions. The truly compassionate Valentine cares not just for her or his sweetie, but also for the health and welfare of the people who cultivate chocolate — not to mention for the local forests and wildlife, including migratory songbirds. All do better without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and when crops are grown beneath the shade of indigenous trees.
Organically grown chocolate may be a touch more pricey, but so are Godiva and other premium chocolates that don’t help support sustainable agriculture and healthy communities. Plus, sharp-eyed shoppers can often find big bars of eco-chocolate on sale at natural-food markets around Valentine’s Day. If you really want to be one step ahead of the game, think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and stock up!
What You Can Do:
- Buy certified fair-trade chocolate, which pays a living wage to workers on plantations that do not use forced child labor. You can find such chocolate at: Newman’s Own Organics, Rapunzel Pure Organics, and Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate.
- Buy organic chocolate: Gift-wrapped boxes are available from Village Organics, or Dagoba. Children will pounce on Bug Bites, and for a Valentine’s breakfast or bedtime treat, you can serve hot cocoa made with Equal Exchange’s organic, fairly traded cocoa powder.
- Oppose child labor by joining Global Exchange’s chocolate campaign.
- Send a Valentine’s card to M&M/Mars, asking the company to use fair-trade, slavery-free chocolate. Also, encourage a school to sell socially responsible chocolate during fundraising drives. (Chocolate companies make megabucks off of candy bars sold through school fundraisers.)
- See the Green Guide’s Chocolate Product Report (Green Guide subscribers only) for more info on label criteria, and a list of more brands that are certified, organic, shade-grown, and fair-trade.