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A few roses in a Dutch greenhouse

Promoting the value of sustainable practices in global cut-flower supply chains

The cut-flower sector generates annual revenues of $55 billion globally. However, the industry has been associated with high carbon and water footprints and poor labour practices within its international supply chains.

Research by Dr David Bek from the Centre for Business in Society and Dr Jill Timms has shown how cut-flower producers, wholesalers, retailers, governments, and representative groups could embed sustainability policies and practices within supply chains.

Since 2015, Timms and Bek have investigated how stakeholders in the cut-flower industry can move from a narrow, environment only, definition of sustainable supply chains, towards a more holistic approach that balances ‘People, Planet and Profit’ in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The research was conducted in South Africa, Kenya, Holland and the UK to raise awareness, and understand the benefits, of sustainability practices within the operations of elite producers, processors and retailers, including Tesco, Woolworths, Haygrove, United Exports and Kromco. These benefits were identified through a series of interviews with retailers, producers and industry representative bodies, including the British Florist Association (BFA) and Flowers from the Farm (FFTF). The findings established that improving sustainability practices could help to meet consumer demands for more sustainably produced goods and reduce operational costs.

When investigating the factors that affected the long term economic and environmental sustainability of the wild cut-flower industry in South Africa, Bek identified that weak regulation by the State conservation agency had led to hotspots of unsustainable practices. The research concluded that the natural wildflower resource base would be damaged, and market share would be lost, unless practices within the industry became more joined up and sustainable.

Raising awareness of sustainability practices amongst members of the British Florist Association, the research placed sustainability at the top of the BFA’s priorities. Following this, Bek and Timms co-created a guide for florists with the BFA, providing information about sustainability challenges, solutions and certifications.

“This project has completely changed our thinking as an organisation. If it were not for the project, sustainability would not be on our agenda” Chair of the British Florist Association.

Following the research, sustainability is now a priority for Flowers from the Farm and the research team are piloting a Sustainable Cut-flower Standard with FFTF members. In South Africa, an e-learning training course in holistic sustainability practices in horticulture, integrating the Improvement Cycle Model, has been developed and successfully rolled-out with support from Tesco, Woolworths, Intaba Flowers and WWF-SA .

Bek and Timms have contributed evidence from the research to two UK parliamentary consultations and the research has received UK government recognition through funding awarded by the Department for International Development to support a multi-stakeholder Covid-19 response project, led by the Fairtrade Foundation and MM-Flowers, to build resilience within Kenyan cut-flower supply chains and provide direct support to 6000+ workers during the pandemic.

As a result of the research, the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs & Development Planning commissioned the Sustainability Business Plan for the Wild Harvesting Industry. This is being used as a model for developing a roadmap, under Bek and Timms’ guidance, towards adoption of sustainability standards for the global wildflower industry in a Dutch government funded project led by the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative and importers including the Dutch Flower Group (the world’s largest cut-flower trading firm) .

Ultimately, this research has raised awareness of sustainability issues in the international cut-flower industry; changed industry sustainability standards, certifications and practices globally; and influenced government policy in the UK, EU and Africa.

To view the Sustainable Cut Flowers Project video, click here.

To find out more about the research that formed this case study like the 'Sustainable Wild Harvest Products' project, visit the projects directory. 

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