Today is Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate than to discuss flower miles… Could they be featured on product labels to reduce the environmental impact of these goods?
Joseph Muchemi, the Kenyan high commissioner to Britain, said: “‘Food miles’ is a valuable concept but it must be looked at in the whole. It is neither fair nor sustainable to stigmatise certain goods purely on the basis that they have been freighted by air. ‘Food miles’, or the distance food has travelled, is on its own not a reliable indicator of the environmental impact of food transport.”
It is certainly the case that the distance travelled by a product is only one component of its ecological impact. At a minimum, the exact transport mechanisms used and the amount of other goods carried at the same time need to be taken into account.
UK International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said:
“Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they’re not grown in heated greenhouses.
“So, this Valentine’s day, you can be a romantic, reduce your environmental impact and help make poverty history. This is about social justice and making it easier, not harder, for African people to make a decent living.”
This “total energy used” metric has also been used in recent research to show that tomatoes grown outdoors in Spain then flown to the UK are responsible for fewer carbon emissions than UK tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses. UK Environment Secretary David Miliband has blogged his views on this work. However, there are also other factors to consider:
Thousands of workers who have flocked to the shores of Lake Naivasha to work in the flower-growing areas are placing enormous strain on the local ecology, such that the lake could soon be polluted beyond use and have all but dried up in the next 10 to 15 years.
David Harper, a University of Leicester ecologist, says the flower trade is devastating the area. “The lake is being destroyed at an alarming rate by the sheer pressure of people on it.” He does not advocate boycotting Kenyan flowers but wants to see a “Fair Trade” system and “Fair Planet” label to highlight the problem. Its profits would be used to improve the lake’s environment, he says.
In such a complex debate, where government intervention is politically unlikely and individuals will value developmental and environmental factors differently, can we give consumers all of this information so that they can make their own minds up?