The Green Wedding Guild loves fresh flowers and we are big supporters of the slow flower movement, but fresh is not the only flower option out there, and we were thrilled to receive this report from Guild member Silk Stem Collective! They recently commissioned an investigation into the environmental impact of flowers, focusing on fresh, faux, and wood. We are excited to share the results- they might surprise you! Please keep in mind that the impact of fresh flowers reported here is assuming traditional methods of floral design. The impact of fresh flowers can of course be reduced when organic farming methods are used, and when sourcing locally rather than shipping flowers. We are excited to share this to show that there is more than one "better option" for your wedding flowers!
Fresh flowers, faux flowers, and wood flowers all have their benefits and drawbacks but some are more
eco-friendly than others. Below we investigate the environmental impact of each from production to
Ordering fresh flowers from a florist or wholesale flower supplier is the most common option for wedding flowers but it has one of the highest environmental impacts. Most fresh flowers are grown outside the US and flown in. 45% of fresh flowers die before they make it to the customer. The exact carbon footprint relies heavily on the practices of the growing facility, but the production of an average bouquet results in emissions of 10.4 kg CO2e. Water use, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides used in the production of fresh flowers can have a significant environmental impact depending on the practices of the facility. For example, 20% of chemicals sprayed on Colombian flowers are illegal in the US or Europe. They have contaminated the soil and caused severe health problems for many workers. Once harvested, flowers rely on energy intensive refrigerated airplanes to get them to the US. Because of this, they have the highest transportation emissions compared to faux and wooden flowers. During peak season in a typical year, 30 to 35 fully loaded planes fly from Bogotá to Miami each day to meet the demand of the U.S. market. Locally grown, domestic flower farms are growing in popularity but still do not make up a significant part of the US market.
In addition, cut flowers are often wrapped in cellophane or other plastics inside of a cardboard box for transport. While cellophane is a bioplastic that breaks down in 2 to 4 months, other plastic films such as PVC and polypropylene are not biodegradable.
After use, fresh flowers are biodegradable! But in reality, just 4% of cut flowers are composted correctly in the US. A majority end up in the trash where they will degrade anaerobically (without oxygen) producing methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas with global warming potential approximately 85 times higher than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year time period.
The production of faux flowers has by far the biggest carbon footprint compared to fresh and wood flowers. Most artificial flowers are made from plastics and fabrics which require advanced
manufacturing techniques, bleaches, and dyes. Like any plastic, production is energy intensive and single use items have a significant environmental impact. But unlike fresh flowers, faux flowers can travel by standard truck and cargo ship which releases 60 times less carbon emissions than planes. In addition, faux flowers have minimal packaging often arriving in just a cardboard box.
Faux flowers are not biodegradable like fresh flowers and the plastic composite cannot be recycled. At the end of their life, they go to a landfill. Like any plastic, faux flowers should not be a single use item. If only used once, faux flowers have a carbon footprint over double that of fresh. But because they do not degrade like fresh flowers, they can be reused many times for different events. With faux flower rental, the same bouquet is used on average 5 times.
Under average conditions, a faux flower bouquet must be rented 2.5 times to break even with the climate impact of a fresh flower bouquet. If it is rented consistently, it can have a smaller environmental impact compared to fresh.
Sola Wood Flowers
Sola wood flowers are the most environmentally conscious wedding flower choice by far even if they are only used one time. Sola wood is a renewable resource that comes from an aquatic plant, Aeschynomene aspera, which mainly grows in marshy wetlands of Southeast Asia. The manufacturing process is all done by hand with simple tools and no automated machinery. Unlike fresh flowers that us pesticides and chemical fertilizers or faux flowers that produce almost 30 kg CO2e in manufacturing, the production of sola wood flowers is near carbon neutral up to this point. If anything, the plant may sequester a marginal amount of carbon prior to harvesting.
Like faux flowers, wooden flowers can travel by standard truck and cargo ship which releases 60 times less carbon emissions than planes. It is worth noting, wooden flowers seem to have more plastic packaging than faux due to their delicate construction.
For use in bouquets or floral arrangements, sola wood flowers need a stem or stick attached. The most popular option is to hot glue wire to each one. Using aluminum wire and hot glue, the stems for the flowers in a bouquet would result in emissions of 230 g CO2e. The choice of stem is actually the most significant decision when it comes to environmental impact of wooden flowers. It produces a majority of the carbon emissions and determines if the bouquet can be composted or not.
Although some paints may not biodegrade, the flowers themselves are made of wood and will break down fully if composted correctly. Metal stems may be recyclable depending on the municipal recycling facilities, but any plastic stems would need to be thrown away. Compared to faux flowers which inevitably end up in a landfill, disposal of wooden flowers is much more eco-friendly.
Single use faux flowers are clearly the worst choice when it comes to eco-consciousness due to the energy intensive manufacturing process and inability to compost after use.
Compared to fresh and faux flowers, sola wood flowers are by far the most environmentally friendly choice. They are made from renewable wood and free of damaging pollutants and chemicals. Except for paints and some stems, a wood flower bouquet is compostable and, if composted correctly, will break down without a trace. Overall, a wooden flower bouquet produces just 1.3 kg CO2e from production to disposal which is amazingly little!
Renting faux is another responsible choice. Though emissions are still higher than sola wood flowers, they beat fresh flowers as long as they are rented 3 times or more.
For couples set on fresh flowers, consider locally grown options. Emissions vary significantly based on the practices of the facility and the region in which they are grown so do not be afraid to ask questions.
Silk Stem Collective is a US based company specializing in faux floral rentals. They are committed to a low waste rent-and-return model, which means they rent the same collections as long as possible before retiring and selling pieces to former clients as keepsakes. You can read more about the Environmental Impact of Sola Wood Flowers here, and read Silk Stem Collective's full Emissions Study for Fresh & Faux Flowers here.