Sustainability - it's a buzz word and not something you might consider for the flower industry, but we've been quietly toiling away at how we can be a part of a movement towards better practices in our little flower shop. Here's what we've been up to:
It sounds easy, but buying local and persuading customers to buy products in season is harder than you think! We have become so accustomed to having fresh produce available to us year round because our shores have been open to imported goods for so long. The same is going on in the flower industry, local growers of roses, chrysanthemums, lisianthus and other varieties are being squeezed out of the Australian market by cheap imports that guarantee supply all year round.
We have made a conscious effort to select only local flowers for our store where there is an Australian grower available and we simply don't stock lines that might impact a local market. Further to that, we do our best to source most of our lines from smaller growers operating within 200kms from our store, the quality of their products is better and their farm practices are often more ethical because they are operating from their family property.
We choose not to stock orchids, anthuriums, roses and tropical foliage which are flown multiple times per week in boxes from Asia & Africa to our airports - the carbon footprint this leaves is immense and unnecessary. There is so much packaging associated with imported flowers to keep them arriving in perfect condition, including ample pesticides to get them through customs checks, cardboard boxes & inners, plastic sleeves, cotton wool, water vials, twist ties - all of which are destined for landfill.
Educating our customers in store about why we don't have certain flowers at certain times of the year is the beginning of a larger conversation about the impact flower purchases are having on the local farmers and Mother Earth. Flower buyers are discerning people who are interested in this stuff, we just need to start talking and changing...
Working with many local farmers enables us to develop practices that are more sustainable like asking for flowers to be delivered without plastic packaging, returning buckets and elastic bands, being aware of what sprays and chemicals may (or may not) have been used and working together to sell a quality product with as little waste and impact as possible.
In the waste disposal space, we have found a local waste collection service that allows us to separate our commercial green flower/foliage waste from all other non-recyclable waste products that sneak into the store. It's quite a job to separate these from one another, but a small ask for a pretty big environmental return. We produce only one bin of plastic-type waste and up to 6 bins of biodegradable green waste every fortnight, before we engaged the local company to remove our waste, ALL these bins were going straight to landfill.
Once a fortnight we take all of our flattened cardboard to VISY (https://www.visy.com.au/locate) for recycling and refuse any to accept any gift stock that comes into our store packaged with polystyrene, packing noodles or bubble wrap.
We've also become (almost) 100% florist foam free. Florist foam is a non-biodegradable, single use plastic that has been used in our industry since the 1950s. We have now reverted to some of the better practices that florist foam overtook, using chicken wire, mesh, tape, straw, water vials, flower spikes and reusable structures to create most of our designs. We were purchasing over 100 boxes of florist foam bricks every year, that's 6000 bricks straight into landfill but we have not bought any for the last 6 months. There are still some particular funeral designs we have to rework to be foam-free, but we are not far off our 100% foam-free goal.
On a smaller scale, we have eliminated plastic card forks from our shop, another single use plastic product used to hold gift cards in place in floral designs. We would traditionally have sent almost 5000 of these out with our flowers every year and they would have ended up as rubbish. We have had a conversation with one of our larger florist sundry suppliers to persuade their factories to produce the same product in bamboo and a prototype is in the works. In the meantime, we are using modified bamboo chopsticks to do the same job until something better is developed. On another note, we save all the elastic bands that our flowers arrive tied with and reuse them - we have not bought an elastic band since the shop opened 23 years ago. Every year we print over 25,000 Smellies gift cards for all those lovely messages and use a locally owned business who print on recycled card using soy based ink so they can be composted.
We have reduced the amount of cellophane we use to package and present our flowers. No longer do we use cellophane on the outside of our wrapping, instead opting for thick recycled biodegradable brown paper and we ASK if clients want plastic wet wrapping on their flowers before automatically doing so and give them the choice to opt out.
In terms of our other purchases, we make sure all staff amenities from toilet paper, tissues, milk, teabags, sugar to computer paper, staff aprons and cleaning products are all Australian made. We don't allow staff to bring plastic water bottles or any other single use plastic to work, their food & drink packaging has to be reusable.
BUILDING SUSTAINABLE RELATIONSHIPS
We are extending our narrative about better practices to our corporate clients, telling them about what we are working towards and encouraging them to embrace the changes with us.
With some bigger clients we have been working on reducing the carbon miles we do in servicing them by clustering deliveries to certain areas on certain days so we are not travelling to every suburb, every day for single items. The imprint is much smaller if we deliver multiple items to a zone at one time/day and most of our clients have taken this new initiative on board. Less miles = less footprint.
We are doing our best to align ourselves with like-minded businesses to help share concerns and ideas about our operations are open to discussion about anything that might reduce our footprint. As part of this we have been a Nespresso pod drop off point for a few years now, having sent back over 20,000 coffee pods for recycling to Nespresso (https://www.nespresso.com/au/en/how-to-recycle-coffee-capsules) If you want to drop your pods into our store, please bring them in a container/bag that you can empty straight into the boxes and take your container/bag away with you to use again.
Our ideas for improving the way we do things don't always work, sometimes they might cost a little more, sometimes it takes us longer, but its time to put efficiency and profitability to one side and explore the possibilities.