Lovers exchanged millions of bouquets on Valentine’s Day. Nice to give, nice to receive. But a dozen long-stemmed red roses handed over during the northern winter create a bunch of carbon emissions. Lex has a floriferous, if radical, solution to the problem.
A traditional rose bouquet is responsible for almost 30kg of CO₂, according to a doctoral thesis supervised by climate expert Mike Berners-Lee at Lancaster university. That is a lot. If you stump up for the 24-rose bumper pack, you are responsible for the same emissions as flying your beloved from London to Paris for the weekend (on a one-way economy ticket).
How can a gift that looks so — well — green have such high emissions? The snag is the northern hemisphere winter. About 20 per cent of February roses are grown in Dutch hothouses. Most of the others are flown in from sunny Kenya and Ethiopia. That gives them similar emissions of 2.4kg of CO₂ per stem — equivalent to burning 1kg of coal.
This makes Valentine’s Day a carbon-fest, as well as a love-fest. About 3.5bn roses are sold in Europe, according to Lambert van Horen, an analyst at Rabobank, for a total retail value of between €2bn and €2.5bn. That is more than 15 per cent of Europe’s cut flower market.
Valentine’s Day accounts for more than 5 per cent of roses sold. That suggests we are looking at about 200mn stems. That is equivalent to 500,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions a year, the same carbon footprint generated by 50,000 Britons yearly.
Some flower growers are trying to save carbon by sea-freighting roses. The journey takes a month. It cuts transport emissions by approximately 80 per cent. Chilled and low-oxygen containers keep the flowers fresh. This supply method now accounts for 3 to 4 per cent of imports from Kenya into Europe.
Another option is to forgo February roses while focusing on romantic dinners a deux.
A more radical approach is for couples to reset their romantic calendars. The Catholic Church probably only placed St Valentine’s Day in mid-February to supplant pagan festivities. The Eastern Orthodox Church meanwhile celebrates two Saint Valentines in July.
Why not celebrate then, when the temperate north is in full bloom? What better way to say “I love you” than with a bouquet grown locally, even by your own caring hands?
Carbon counter is a series of Lex notes estimating carbon savings from lifestyle choices. See here.