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A colourful tulip field

Sustainable cut-flowers project


WWF-South Africa, Leverhulme/British Academy


Dr. David Bek (PI), Dr. Jill Timms, Dr. Nora Lanari, Lizette Vorster, and Rebecca Beech


Flower Valley Conservation Trust (South Africa), Cape Flora-SA, MM-UK, Flowers from the Farm, Fairtrade Foundation, British Florist Association, Fleurametz, the Flower Council of Holland and Lavender Green Flowers.


2015 to 2019

Project overview

Between 2015 and 2019 Dr. David Bek and Dr. Jill Timms managed externally funded projects examining different facets of sustainability within the global cut-flower industry. Principal funders include: Leverhulme/British Academy who funded work focusing upon the apparent disconnect between increased levels of certification and low levels of awareness amongst consumers; WWF-South Africa who funded a project examining sustainability within supply chains producing indigenous flowers for global markets. Investments from these core funders have been supplemented by funds from Coventry University’s pump prime grants, impact delivery funding and QR-SRF grants. The project as a whole has involved a wide range of stakeholders.

Our work has investigated an interesting disconnect between investment in certification by producers and a lack of awareness amongst consumers and wholesalers of the existence of these standards. Indeed, many are often unable to recognise the significance of the certification logos. The research has sought to understand why knowledge of certifications is lost in the supply chain and also provided the empirical foundation for a study to further develop and implement a model for exploiting the business benefits of certification throughout the chain. These issues have also been explored within the South African Cape Flora industry, which grew rapidly following the inception of a programme to develop bouquets for the UK retail market. Sustainability credentials were a key component for gaining support from retailers but these were weakly communicated to consumers. Our research traced the drivers behind the growth in the bouquet sector and identified a disconnect between sustainability claims and the reality on the ground.


This research has led to direct impacts within the cut-flower industry, such as: (i) changes in policy by wholesalers to ensure certification information is available to buyers so they can make decisions about which flower to purchase, (ii) increased penetration of Fairtrade flowers into retailer and floristry markets; (iii) commitment within the Cape Flora industry to sign-up to sustainability principles; (iv) development of a new certification model for continuous improvement towards sustainable practices being tested amongst small-scale UK flower growers; (v) dissemination of ideas about sustainability to UK florists via an information pack.

As a result of the overall project a steering group has been established amongst a cross-section of industry stakeholders. Workshops have been held each year since 2017 in Coventry, at MM-UK, Alsmeer Holland and Cape Town. The impact outcomes from the project have been recognised through the award of ‘Highly Commended’ status at the UK national Green Gown Awards held in Glasgow in November 2019.

Academic dissemination has occurred via presentations given at international conferences including: The Development Studies Association 2019; The Development Studies Association 2018; International Sustainable Development Research Society 2018; Royal Geographic Society Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference 2017; British Sociology Association Annual Conference 2019. Other forms of dissemination have included an article in The Conversation entitled ‘Valentine’s Day: Five ways to ensure your flowers are ethical’ and various blogs on the Coventry University website.

More information can be found on our project website.

Watch the Sustainable Cut Flowers project video on YouTube.

Further details can be obtained by contacting Dr. David Bek or Dr. Jill Timms.

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023