It’s not easy being green

ANVE – Associazione Nazionale Vivaisti Esportatori (National Association of Nursery Stock Exporters) is an association that protects the interests of all Italian nurserymen. It was established several years ago to help industry entrepreneurs access targeted information and create advantageous conditions for services and supplies.

 ANVE includes Full members, Supporting members and Partners in order to guarantee maximum national representation through direct contact with local entities. It is especially active in creating dialogues with institutions, both on the national and European level.

Through ANVE, growers have their needs and those of the nursery and gardening industry represented before trade unions and political, administrative and social institutions. Important topics include environmental and safety issues, expanding the market to include other countries, creating a network amongst entrepreneurs who favor aggregation of common projects and the exchange of ideas, information, and experiences. Associates are regularly updated when useful sector documents or information are found.

The services offered by ANVE include assistance regarding phytosanitary and customs aspects, promotional activity in European and Extra-European markets and monitoring and assistance in public funding for companies.

Within ENA (European Nursery stock Association) and AIPH (International Association of Horticultural Producers) ANVE participates in the Legislation, Promotion, Royalty and Quality Working Groups.

Lobbying

According to Marco Cappellini, President of ANVE, one of the most important achievements has been the important lobbying role of the Association in new European legislation about Xylella: “The IMPLEMENTING DECISION (EU) 2017/2352 by the COMMISSION dated 14 December, 2017 will guarantee the buyers healthy plants through modern diagnosis methods, but at reduced costs and without too much bureaucracy.” ENA has stated that “Current scientific evidence and legislation does not justify a movement ban of plants from an entire country or from some regions of a country, just because the country contains some demarcated zones or areas infected by Xylella.”

This bacterial disease has caused severe damage to olive trees in a restricted area (Salento) in the Apulia region. On the other hand, the outbreak of further strains of the pathogen in other European countries is potentially more dangerous to additional ornamental plants.

In Italy, ANVE was one of the associations that gave approval of the so-called ‘Bonus Verde’ (Green Bonus) that allows tax refunds for people who build new green areas or will incur substantial maintenance fees in 2018, up to 5,000 euros. “The discussion with authorities about the allowable cap to the expenses was very difficult and this amount is, in effect, quite low,” continues Marco Cappellini. “However this can be viewed as an initial acknowledgement of our industry. If the results of this trial year are positive, the amount could be higher in the future.” It is absolutely necessary to demonstrate to Italian politicians the benefits of green spaces in terms of health and environmental advantages.

New Challenges

“For 2018,” says Edoardo Sciutti, Executive Secretary of ANVE, “we are ready for new challenges: the definition of the new phytosanitary rules, going deeper in the CITES requirements for endangered species and together with the Italian Ministry of Environment, the project of standards for sustainable cities, directly connected to the acreage and quality of green areas. Our last project, with an insurance company, concerns coverage for disease and pest damage.”

Author: Aldo Colombo

Being green

In our industry, everyone is aware of retailers insisting on sustainability but there are a few green florists, too. Lynn Mehl of Good Old Days Eco Florist in New Windsor (New York, USA) is one of them. “Becoming an earth-minded, green florist turned out to be something bigger than just following my own beliefs. I could also promote my shop as a niche business.”

 “Of course more florists are becoming aware of the benefits of being green,” Lynn says. “But it does take an effort to reconstruct a traditional florist to a one-of-a-green mind. For me, it started in December 1997 while compiling my Valentine’s Day order. My Mother asked where those beautifully scented, American Beauty roses had gone we used to have. I had to admit they were no longer available because the Latin American roses had taken their place. I recalled the years of our complacency toward the lessened scent of flowers and seeing pesticide-covered foliage as just a common occurrence. However, in 1997 my rose research made me unhappy with what I found. Latin America’s track record on pesticides and labour circumstances was far from good. As an environmentalist I was living my life one way and having a career another. This knowledge made me extremely unhappy with the ways of my industry, so I decided to either change careers or try to change my business.”

“I started with the flowers. From California and Florida to Minnesota and even more local from the East Coast, in season I researched growers and contacted them asking if they would send me their flowers. They happily agreed to. I Americanized the entire assortment in my shop, not only flowers and plants but decorative accessories, too. It greatly lessened the chemical use, vastly improved my carbon footprint on transport issues and supported our American farms. With my product issue solved, I then took each component of an operating florist, investigating all processes and materials from the smallest of cleaning and office supplies to recycling, and my energy and water use. Everything is recycled, reused, or upcycled. One by one I either discontinued as many non-green minded items and issues as possible or found sustainable alternatives.”

“Floristry is an industry based in nature so it should friendly to the environment. In our growing season of late Spring to the end of October we mainly use local flowers from the East coast. In winter, our flowers are mostly from California and the southern states. Fortunately, more people now, especially millennials, are interested in environmental practices and products so the demand is there and growing for local and domestic-sourced flowers and goods.”

“Being eco-friendly means being a traditional florist. I adapted early on when it came to the internet and having a website and I laid the groundwork for sustainability. Because of my website, green-minded people across the country have ordered bouquets, even to New York City, 60 miles from my shop. My flowers are sold to a mix of what I term dark green, light green, brown, and patriotic people. Some clients are more green-minded and others are less while some not at all, but the appeal is there and I pick my battles. When a bride-to-be enters my shop and asks for out-of-season flowers or a Colombian import variety, I show her the local, seasonal and American-grown alternatives that might be better for the environment and let her choose.”

“Year-round availability of any agricultural product has become the standard in our current society. I cannot change attitudes on my own but I can bring awareness and influence to as many as possible to be more responsible with purchasing, including florists. People visiting my shop come to see the best and brightest of flowers. This is why they choose to visit a florist instead of a supermarket. We can do things differently by offering both the most beautiful and sustainable. We must regain the florists’ exclusivity and price because if we have the same products & pricing as a supermarket, there is no benefit to visit us, much less place an order. Being a green and sustainable business and selling local products gave my business a certain image but without my realizing it. I also gained client trust and a valuable commercial niche within our industry. When people see you care about more than quick profit, this creates trust which is priceless. People trust me and have become the best kind of  customers: loyal.  I didn’t set out or intend to develop this clientele, it just happened as a consequence of greening my shop.”

Migros

Retailers can be a driving force in creating sustainable societies by translating consumers’ sustainability needs to their suppliers. Swiss retailer Migros is an example of this. What are Migros’ sustainability ambitions?

 Migros is Switzerland’s largest retailer with an annual turnover (2016) of US $27.8 billion and over 100,000 employees. It was founded in 1925 by Gottlieb Duttweiler as a co-operative because Duttweiler believed that Migros should be as vital to its customers as customers are to Migros. Customers have a voice in the Migros company policy and 1% of the company’s turnover is earmarked for cultural activities.

How did Migros establish its sustainability policy?

At Migros, sustainability is an integrated part of the company’s policy, not a separate program. Values like responsibility and credibility are integral components of the Migros strategy and guide the management’s decisions in sustainability issues. New sustainability issues are regularly introduced by the Migros co-operative. If an idea has potential it will be rolled out in the shops. Migros has a transparent sustainability policy, publishing results in its annual report and on its website.

What are the key sustainability values and how does Migros incorporate them ?

One of Migros’ key values is that societal benefits are more important than their own. So sustainability is an integrated part of Migros’ business interests and culture. It is part of the total value chain and has economic, social and ecological goals. In creating sustainability, promises are made on a general level, which are eventually carried out in the supermarkets. In the past, promises to offer more products for patients with allergies, 100% sustainable fish and better product leaflet information were kept. More recently Migros has promised to offer more vegetarian and vegan products, create more internships, disseminate information about environmental issues and sponsor local track events. So all aspects of sustainability are covered.

How about sustainability and flowers and plants?

Migros supermarkets sell cut flowers, house plants, garden and vegetable plants and herbs. The minimum demands in sustainability are standard Swiss GAP or Global GAP (GRASP). Another important label is FairTrade Max Havelaar. 90% of the roses sold by Migros are sold under this label. If a rose grower wants to sell roses to Migros Fair Trade, Max Havelaar is a must, which means it is virtually impossible for European rose growers to sell their flowers to Migros.

The majority of Migros garden plants are offered under a private bio label, Migros-Bio. When possible, these plants come from local (Swiss) growers under the label “From the region. For the region.” Customers are keen on buying local plants.

What does this sustainability policy bring to Migros?

Switzerland is a prosperous country with consumers that are involved in sustainability issues. Sustainability has a long history in Swiss culture, in both ecological and social aspects. Therefore, a solid reputation in sustainability is of vital importance for Swiss retailers. On top of that, within the Migros co-operative customers get their voices heard.

Therefore, Migros is considered to be one of the world’s most sustainable retailers. Migros is involved in ratings like these in order to further improve itself.

Switzerland is a good market for flowers and plants and Migros is one of the key players in this market. It is therefore an interesting market for plant and floral wholesalers and growers. But if you want to compete in this market, be sure to be a sustainable supplier. Because sustainability is a cornerstone of the Migros company policy.

Creating indoor nature

“We create indoor nature by adding natural elements to office buildings. Planters. Fixed and mobile green walls. Green landscapes. Indoor gardens. Green works of art. But also plug and play product where it only takes putting the plug into the socket to activate it. On top of that we are specialists in water walls and indoor water elements.”

 In brief, Tonny van Hall explains what his company, art aqua, is doing. Art aqua is a German company that creates greener office buildings and Tonny is art aqua’s Dutch representative, building up a European dealer organisation and a network of interior decorators.

More and more people are convinced of the power of green. People work more effectively when there are plants in their workplace. There is less absenteeism. In general, they are in a better mood which affects their work in both quality and quantity.

 

“Architects may be our most important group of clients,” Tonny says. “Years ago plant decorations were only used when an office building was almost completed. These days we work with architects from the beginning of the design process. By doing so we integrate our vision for plants and water elements into the overall plan, which improves the end results enormously. And being part of the team means you are not indistinguishable anymore.”

“Many of our products have been tested by the renowned German Fraunhofer Society. This means our products have proven benefits. It is, for instance, a proven fact that a good indoor climate in an office building diminishes the number of sick days per employee each year by 2.5 to 3. So investing in a good indoor climate makes a lot of sense and gives a quick return on investment.”

“Another of our usp’s is our ability to create solid water walls and water elements. Everyone is afraid of flooding but our products are solid enough to avoid it. And there is proof that you can lower the indoor temperature by creating humidity in your space. This is important since lowering your indoor temperature by 1°C equates with lowering your energy costs by 6%.”

“A green office is a healthy office. Plants improve the air quality and reduce harmful substances. Plants and water features are an even better combination in an office building for with water features you can diminish dust, electrosmog, smells and other harmful substances. Office water features create a healthier environment for plants. They won’t get dusty and their stomata remain open so they continue to release oxygen.”

In modern offices the air is often too dry. By using plants and water you can improve that, which, for example, prevents your employees’ contact lenses from getting dry (and your employees from getting irritated).”

“Greening office buildings creates opportunities for both companies like art aqua and for interior decorators and plants growers. The plants we use are purchased from a local grower. Next to our Dutch showroom is a specialized nursery for large project plants so we do quite a lot of business with them.”

“There are endless applications in greening buildings and we are full of ideas, so there are endless possibilities to use plants in and around offices. It is a product that makes sense in today’s work environment. Employers try to unite good, talented (often young) employees. Creating an agreeable, healthy workspace is an excellent way for employees to bond because this makes them feel better. So here is a sustainability issue that is full of promise.”

Creating sustainability

Sustainability is about saving the planet and caring for people. But in order to do so, companies need to turn a profit. Sustainability also means creating a profitable continuity. Naturally Harvest Ltd Kenya is supportive of sustainability being certified in Fair Trade, MPS A, MPS SQ and KFC (Silver Status). But there is more to be told.

 Jay Williams, Managing Director of Harvest Flower Kenya, took over the business from his father, the late John Williams, who founded Harvest Flowers Ltd in 1995. John Williams was one of the first rose growers to set up in Kenya.

Jay has been involved in the company for twelve years, six of which were spent running their UK flower import company before returning to Kenya in October 2016 after John passed away. “When I returned to Kenya it was evident that my father had established a very strong business platform but Harvest Flowers required re-structuring to be aligned with market developments. In addition, we had to streamline the business and reduce costs against rising inflation rates in Kenya. I will continue my father’s legacy but also build on it and take responsibility for the 820 employees who depend on Harvest Flowers. Our first challenge was to identify the right people, the right processes and simplify the supply chain.”

Three flower farms

Harvest Ltd has three flower farms located at both high and low altitudes. Harvest Flowers (23 hectares) is based in Athi River, located 20km from the International airport (JKIA) at an altitude of 1550 meters above sea level. It specialises in growing large intermediate and spray roses for the retail market. Athi River is the perfect location for producing high yielding varieties due to its high daily temperatures and many hours of sunlight.

The two high altitude farms branded Aberdare Roses are made up of seventeen hectares combined. They are located in the foothills of the iconic Aberdare mountain range 2400 meters above sea level, perfect for growing the large headed T-hybrid rose and premium spray roses. There are plans to expand an additional twenty hectares at high altitude farms in the next two years.

Back to the auction

“For the past ten years our roses were sold through direct sales channels,” Jay continues. “When my father ran the company this was the right business model. But the industry changed and our company needs to adapt to the market. Our marketing strategy for our Athi farm is 100% direct sales to a variety of international large scale importers located worldwide.

Our two high altitude farms sell via our partner, Fresco Flowers, to Royal FloraHolland Aalsmeer. There were too many direct clients which complicated the business process. When dealing with direct sales, a company requires clients buying large weekly volumes to pay in a timely manner. Buyers in continental Europe and the wider market purchase premium roses via the auction and pay on a weekly basis. By simplifying this process we can turn our full attention to producing the highest quality roses on a consistent basis to achieve the best net price for the farm.

Fresco Flowers is a leading Dutch packing company with a great network of local and international buyers. By working with Fresco we can ensure our quality and packaging is second to none. It allows us to widen our market through online sales and the auction. We see this cooperation with Fresco Flowers and Royal FloraHolland (via the auction) as a strategic one enabling us to create a better future for our company.”

People, process, product

“We have re-structured our company by making key strategic decisions,” Jay concludes. “We have a clear direction for the future of the business. Aberdares Roses is the brand name for T-Hybrid and Premium spray roses auctioned daily through Fresco Flowers. Harvest Flowers sells directly to the retail market. In 2018, we’ll start a complete re-planting with intermediate varieties not only matching the retail market demand but also producing a high yield per square meter.

Being a reliable supplier is extremely important to our customers, both direct- and auction-based. It’s all about having the right people, simple processes and the right product to suit your market. These three have to be aligned to create a reliable supply chain and position ourselves as the leader within the market.

In addition, we created a simple but effective digital stock management system on the three farms. This gives us complete transparency and accountability with our team and also allows our clients to have real-time analysis of our stock which is integrated into our sales process. We are one of the first farms in Kenya to adapt this approach. By working on all of the above we are assured of creating a sustainable future for the business.”

Sustainability

Although some European growers still believe their African counterparts are not well-informed on sustainability, sustainable production is high on agendas in countries like Kenya.

 Nearly every Kenyan farm has any certificate their customers might request, an expert told us. So their eyes are open, although it is hard to see if these certificates are only an obligation or the result of internal conviction. But the certificates depend on solid checks which are then often double-checked by European retailers.

The sustainability issue in Kenya may be primarily market-driven, but the issue gets extra attention in production and transport. The variety of labels worries many Kenyans, too, and there is always a risk that retailers will put further demands on sustainability issues which would lead to more complexity and pressure on resources. Another risk it that growers won’t be able to fulfill every demand consumers or retailers request.

A daily, solid, checkable registration

Recently Royal FloraHolland’s Managers Sustainability & CSR visited Kenya to discuss sustainability issues. “We had excellent discussions. We were able to advise growers in the world of changing market demand and changing availability of certification and registration programs in Kenya and worldwide. It is important that they start or continue a daily, solid, checkable registration on the use of agrochemicals in the production and use of water. I am happy with the role the Kenyan Flower Council (KFC) takes, but this element isn’t yet completely in the KFC certificates, as it is in MPS certificates, for example. It is good that KFC and Kenyan authorities have created export licenses, but should KFC control these certificates themselves?”

“I know that many Kenyan growers are well under way on sustainability issues, but I know others aren’t. By the year 2020, 90% of the traded flowers and plants worldwide should be produced by the Basket of Standards of the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). In simple terms, this means they have to be produced under label (see also page 37 of this magazine). This could mean flowers and plants produced outside the Basket of Standards would no longer be welcome at major outlet channels. FSI created the Basket of Standards to protect ethical growers from growers who don’t care about the environmental, legal and social implications of sustainability. The European market asks for sustainably-produced flowers and plants and consumers ask for transparency. It is time to create and implement it.”

Combining our push

“The planet is asking for it. We want it. And our clients are requesting it. That’s why Royal Lemkes is working on sustainability issues,” says Managing Director Michiel de Haan.

 Royal Lemkes is a large, Dutch wholesale company, specializing in plant sales to sizable European retailers. Michiel de Haan and Elise Wieringa (Quality Assurance & Sustainability) told us how their company approaches sustainability.

Bottom up.

“Some twenty Royal Lemkes employees from a cross section of the organisation looked at the issue of sustainability. We decided that our impetus should be what we want to achieve as a company, what our customers want and what the planet needs. So we formulated six themes. Three of them, climate, raw materials and biodiversity, are ecologically-oriented. The other three, well-being/health/society, labour conditions in the supply chain and our own employees, are people-oriented.”

 

Loyal to our roots.

“Royal Lemkes has a green heart with three ingredients: a grower’s history since 1882, lots of knowledge about plants and a sustainable heart. For our current owner, Cees van der Meij, and his predecessor, Hans Lemkes, sustainability is not just a word, it has always been a conviction. So we do not strive for maximum profits but rather sufficient profit to keep our company running and innovative. The impact of what we do for our employees, our customers and the planet is at least as important as our profit. This is who we are. Thus, our slogan is ‘Let’s plantify ® the future. Together.’

We believe in plants because they brighten up lives, strengthen the business of our trading partners and contribute to a sustainable world. Therefore, we feel privileged to work in this industry.”

Faster than the slowest one.

“We believe in cooperation and we also believe in leadership. If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. But going with the entire group gets us nowhere. So we create coalitions, for example with fellow wholesale companies Dutch Flower Group, Waterdrinker and FleuraMetz and with Royal FloraHolland. This collaboration helps us go faster. Together we have enough weight and ambition to get things going. We have signed a Manifesto to speed up the industry’s sustainability policy and organized sessions for growers in which we inspired and informed them, offered our help and asked for their commitment. We also participate in the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). In 2020, FSI wants 90% of all flowers and plants to come from reliable sources. This means they have a certificate from the FSI basket of standards (GAP or equal, supplemented for producers from high-risk countries in Africa and Latin America with a social compliance certificate).

Sometimes plans do not actualize so it falls on ethical entrepreneurs to be transparent about this. Sometimes you cannot get things done on your own so you need to ask for help: from customers, suppliers, government agencies or NGO’s focussed on environmental or labour issues . We consider them partners, not enemies. They keep us on our toes. Sometimes we use their knowledge, sometimes they use ours. But in the end, we have the same objectives.”

A normal planning cycle.

“We did what any decent company does during a planning cycle: define the goals of all sustainability themes (for 2020), define plans and monitor our achievements. On the basis of our beliefs, we try to stimulate our customers to act sustainably and many of our customers stimulate us, as well. We have the privilege of supplying major European retailers such as IKEA, KingFisher and Aldi, who want to be frontrunners in sustainability. This is incredibly cool because we combine our push with their pull.”

 

Green Parc Energy, sustainability in practice

A very practical example of Royal Lemkes’ sustainability policy is apparent in Green Parc Energy. The roof of the Bleiswijk Royal Lemkes building is full of solar panels, generating electricity. The energy that is not used is stored in a huge battery next to the building. Employees can buy this electricity thus lowering their personal carbon footprint. To date, almost 50 of the 180 employees have signed up for this initiative.

The problems of a grower’s utopia

New Zealand could be a grower’s utopia. Its climate enables growing virtually any kind of flower. It is a prosperous country whose people like flowers. And it is quite strict on importing flowers and plants. Still, the number of growers dropped from 1400 several years ago to around 500-600 today. What’s the matter with this grower’s utopia?

New Zealand used to be a large floral exporter. Bruce O’Brien remembers it well. He is the CEO of United Flower Growers (UFG), New Zealand’s largest flower marketing entity with auctions and markets all over the country. “Today we cannot compete with low-wage countries,” Bruce says. “We do grow considerable numbers of Hydrangea, Calla, Peonies, etc. But since our dollar rate has remained quite high, exporting is difficult.

As an organisation we do not auction many imported flowers, but since import flowers are a reality they are sold at our markets and we combine them with local flowers in mixed bouquets. The strict conditions on importing flowers are not always of great benefit as you can never be completely sure what products will be offered. On the other hand, it gives New Zealand growers new opportunities, for instance growing other product groups that are not imported.

As an organisation we also emphasize the importance of a wide assortment. There are plenty of opportunities to grow what the Dutch call ‘summer flowers’. Nowadays we have plenty of Roses, Lilies and Gerberas, but we lack true niche products.”

Many New Zealand growers have closed their businesses in recent years. There are few young people who are starting out as growers or taking over their parents’ nursery. So many growers have now reached retirement age. As a consequence of New Zealand urbanisation, many have offers to sell their land and most do. UFG tries to stimulate the industry, not only because we like to but because someone in the industry needs to try to,” Bruce says. “We try to keep older growers in business by helping them find better opportunities to market their flowers and, at same time, we are looking for ways to bring young growers into the business by researching best practices to assist them.”

The situation of the New Zealand floral business is quite peculiar. “Due to our geographic isolation we are not enormously influenced by the rest of the floral world. Developments with only limited international success can have tremendous influence here, but the reverse applies, as well. One thing is for certain: as a marketing organisation we have a massive responsibility for maintaining our local industry and we do acknowledge this responsibility. By informing, inspiring and stimulating our growers, we help them take chances.”

UFG is a grower-owned organisation. Its objective is to promote, market and distribute flowers and foliage around the country. Growers can rest assured their products are being offered in the right marketplace at the right time to secure the best possible price. Bruce O’Brien added, “We have strengthened ourselves by merging and buying out competitors. UFG has auctions in Auckland and Wellington (both on the North Island) and in Christchurch (South Island) but it has a sophisticated Remote Buying system with live images from the auction hall that enable buyers all over the country to purchase fresh flowers. By creating this system and good transport facilities we have increased the impact of our auction clocks. On top of that we have various wholesale markets on the North and South Islands, so local florists can have their pick of fresh flowers, too.”

“UFG is trying to make a difference for the New Zealand floral industry by creating favourable sales and promotion conditions for our grower members, but also by stimulating them and keeping our industry alive and vibrant.”

Different continent, similar challenges

The Australian continent has a surface area of roughly 80 % of continental Europe. But Europe has 731 million inhabitants and Australia just over 23 million. So you can imagine large parts of Australia are empty and this has influenced the floral industry. With the help of John and Anthony Tesselaar, who worked in the Australian flower and plant business their entire lives, we tried to analyse floral activities on the Australian mainland.

 The challenges of a large country

The Australian climate allows most types of flowers to be grown. But the country is large and not very densely populated. So the domestic market is not large enough to be able to grow the quantities you need to be efficient. And of course there are transport challenges.

Most Australian flowers are grown in Victoria and New South Wales, in the southeastern part of the country. There is production of tropical flowers (heliconia, ginger) in Queensland but Orchids and foliage are mainly imported from Southeast Asia.

Kenyan rose imports have decimated the domestic rose production. On a wholesale level, 20% of all flowers sold in Australia are imported (mainly from Kenya, Ecuador and Asia and, to a lesser degree, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Vietnam). Imports are expected to rise as there is no promotion whatsoever of domestic products.

Average products for average prices

There are some large nurseries in Australia, but most nurseries are relatively small. Flowers like lilies and lisianthus are grown in plastic houses or greenhouses. Summer flowers like Limonium and strawflowers are grown in the field. In general, Australian growers have excellent technical skills but the costs of growing are high. There is only one auction which means there is no comprehensive quality policy nor any promotion. So it is hard for Australian growers to distinguish themselves with premium quality and it is even harder to get a premium price for producing this quality. So most growers focus on average products for average prices and this development is strengthened by the fact that supermarkets have been gaining ground in floral sales while taking market share from florists.

Grading is a problem and the price difference between excellent and average flowers is too small, which is being reinforced by an oversupply. Pre-treatments are not always being done the way they should.

All flowers are sold through flower markets, suburban wholesalers or delivered overnight by growers directly to shops. Some florists pick up their flowers directly from flower farms. This probably doesn’t sound very efficient and it isn’t. A distribution company sources all flowers for supermarkets, both local and imported.

No cooperation, no exports

Likely because of Australia’s size there is hardly any cooperation between growers. As previously mentioned, there is only one small auction in Queensland. There is hardly any attention or support for the floral industry from the Agricultural Department. So it is difficult to innovate and it is virtually impossible to popularize flowers and plants, since there is hardly any backing.

Amazingly enough, so insiders say, flowers sales have been on the rise in recent years. But it is not the traditional florist who benefits from this positive development, it’s the supermarket and the online florists. Most flowers are sold on traditional flower days like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. Other flower days like Chinese New Year and International Women’s Day are of minor importance.

Australia is a prosperous country and flowers and plants could take a more dominant position than they currently do. But Australia is also a high-wage country and therefore local production is expensive. And since there is limited local production, Australia cannot compete with low-wage countries in Africa and Latin America.

As in many countries, supermarkets and online florists have displaced the traditional florist. There is a chance that through this development, supermarkets could make the industry more efficient and online florists could help promote the product better than it is currently.

Better to love nature

“Investing in a green environment is an investment for yourself and your health. Man is part of nature. Nature helps man get rid of stress and relax. I want to make people aware of that fact.”

Tjisse Brookman is not some obscure environmentalist. For decades (and until recently) he worked for a Dutch health insurance company as their Relations Manager. “Individually or with partners I looked for added value for our company, our clients, partners and society as a whole. It’s an insurer’s social responsibility to encourage people to go outdoors because it is better for their health and a positive outlook. It’s better to love nature than end up a patient. Being more active and, thus, healthy is good for them as individuals, for society as a whole and for the insurer. Our company wishes to add value to our clients’ policies without being overbearing. In doing so there is a connection between nature and health.”

“A green environment adds to people’s health, vitality and well-being. So it also leads to lower health costs although it is not easy to quantify that in insurance premiums. It will reduce the chance, for instance, of diabetes or chronic obstructive respiratory disease but also conditions related to stress. As an example, walking in nature has a positive influence on combatting burnout.

Why? There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon. Trees give off phytoncides that stimulate the operation of our immune system. And because nature provides us with fractal patterns, it lulls the brain into a restful state thus creating the capacity for renewed creativity and taking on new challenges.

We do not know what nature does exactly or which specific diseases are counteracted by a green environment. But we do know that there are positive effects and some of these are very specific. Take, for instance, the fact that some plants purify the air inside a room and think of the possibilities this creates for hospitals, offices, classrooms and homes. There is already a group of growers adapting their output to this knowledge (see also www.airsopure.nl). I think growers should be aware of the possibilities and work together in order to create green concepts with commercial value. And at the same time do what they can to contribute to the better health and well-being of humanity.”