New report shows British grown flowers have lower carbon footprint than Kenyan imports

Bouquet of roses
Roses and carnations make up the majority of UK flower imports from Kenya.

New research from British cut flower cooperative Flowers From The Farm has found an imported mixed bouquet is responsible for emissions ten times greater than a British-grown mixed bouquet.

This is the first study to compare a bouquet of flowers sourced from different countries, and grown under different conditions (outdoor vs greenhouse) rather than individual stems of flowers.

A  medium price bouquet, which might comprise of roses, lilies and gyspophila in a supermarket or high street florist was chosen as the unit for comparison and the report used Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology to quantify and compare the carbon equivalent emissions from cultivation and transportation of seven cut-flowers available at UK retailers.

Under a broader umbrella of ‘sustainability’, it also addresses water use, fertiliser use and labour conditions – pertinent issues in cut flower cultivation.

Using the functional unit of kgCO2e/stem, emissions are found to be highest for Dutch lilies, followed by Kenyan gypsophila, Dutch roses and Kenyan roses.

Lilies, snapdragons and alstromeria produced by commercial-scale and small-scale flower growers in the UK were found to be significantly lower. Transport, heating and electricity use were identified as emission hotspots.

The report notes that due to pressure from buyers and supermarkets, environmental and ethical standards in Kenyan floriculture have increased, although concerns remain over labour conditions and fair access to water resources.

However, when analysing emissions per stem, it claims that that any CO2 savings made by growing outdoors in Kenya are cancelled out by fertiliser use and air freight emissions. Dutch greenhouse grown flowers also remain high in CO2 due to highly automated systems, inefficient heating and lighting, as well as several hundred miles transport.

Emissions per stem

  • Dutch Lily: 3.478 Kg CO2
  • Kenyan Gypsophila: 3.211 Kg CO2
  • Dutch Roses: 2.437 Kg CO2
  • Kenyan Roses: 2.407 Kg CO2
  • English Lily: 0.819 Kg CO2(approx. 1/4 of Dutch lily)
  • English Snapdragon (or any outdoor, locally grown flower) 0.114 Kg CO2per stem
  • English Alstromeria: 0.052 Kg CO2

When estimating the emissions per bouquet, the report found there was little difference between those from Holland and Kenya, supporting the often made claim that Kenyan roses have a lower carbon footprint than Dutch. The CO2 footprint of the nearest British flowers using commercially grown Lilies and Alstromeria was found to be approximately 10 per cent of either, but a locally outdoor grown bouquet of mixed garden flowers was estimated to have even lower emissions of around per cent of the Dutch or Kenyan equivalent.

Emissions per bouquet

  • 5 Kenyan roses + 3 Dutch Lily + 3 Kenyan Gypsophila – 31.132 Kg Co2
  • 5 Dutch Roses + 3 Dutch Lily + 3 Kenyan Gypsophila – 32.252 Kg CO2
  • 5 outdoor grown UK Snapdragons + 3 Uk Lily + 3 Uk Alstromeria – 3.287 Kg CO2
  • 15 stems mixed outdoor UK grown flowers, grown and sold locally (eg to Booths Supermarket, Lancashire)- 1.71 Kg CO2

By comparison, flying to Nairobi from London in economy class has a 590kg carbon footprint while a banana’s is 80g.

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