February 14th is Valentines' Day. Consumers will purchase an estimated 180 million roses, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and an incredible 188 million greeting cards (not including the kind packaged for kids). And that's just the United States. Valentine's Day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark, and Italy. It's too bad that behind every long-stemmed rose, heart-shaped box of chocolates and fancy dye-cut greeting card is the potential for a disturbing set of environmental and social ills. Here are some ways to say 'I love you', while loving Mother Earth.
Give Organic Flowers
- Valentine's Day is the number one holiday for the florist industry.
- According to the Society for American Florists, for fresh flower purchases, Valentine's Day captures 35% of the industry's holiday transactions and 34% of dollar volume.
- Each year over 180 million roses are sold for Valentine's Day.
The Facts: More than 120 million (over 70%) of the roses sold for Valentine's day are imported from Central American and South American countries where it is legal to grow them using pesticides currently banned or restricted in the U.S. Not only are the greenhouse workers (many of whom are children) exposed to and injured by hazardous chemicals, but these chemicals leech into the soil and water and become a toxic part of the food chain. Spray from pesticides and herbicides also ends up in the atmosphere and fall in other parts of the planet as rain or snow. According to the Organic Trade Association, from stem to store, imported flowers travel an average of 1,500 miles. Not only does importing them contribute to global warming, but these toxic bouquets can end up being touched or inhaled by your loved ones on Valentine's Day.
- Buy Local: Organic flowers are grown using techniques designed to minimize the use of chemicals and keep the final product as close to Mother Nature as possible. The best organic flowers are purchased locally. Visit Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org) and type in your zip code to find sustainable producers in your area.
- Grow Your Own: An even better option is to break with tradition and send your loved one a package of heirloom flower seeds or a gift certificate from a local nursery for a sweet-scented rose bush. Try www.greenpeople.org/seeds.htm for a list of organic and heirlooms seed producers by state.
- Double Your Love: www.OrganicBouquet.com offers nationwide delivery of organic flowers called Charitable Bouquets. Proceeds from the sale of each bouquet are used to support non-profit organizations dedicated to social justice, wildlife conservations, animal rights and environmental protection.
Buy Fair Trade Chocolate
- Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry and America is the world's largest consumer. In 2000, the U.S. imported 729,000 tons of cocoa beans/processed products, ate 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate and spent $13 billion on it.
- West Africa is at the center of world cocoa cultivation, producing over 67% of the world's crop. The Ivory Coast alone produces 43% of the world chocolate market.
The Facts: West African economies rely heavily on revenues generated by exporting cocoa. According to the European Fair Trade Association, cocoa farmers receive less than an average of 5 cents for every dollar worth of cocoa they produce, while companies make 70 cents of profit on every dollar produced-14 times more. Even worse than the unfair trading conditions that exist, the U.S. State Department has reported that more than 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cocoa plantations in the northern Ivory Coast. Deforestation and the heavy use of chemical pesticides and herbicides have also taken a toll on the region's environment. Despite pressure from the Fair Trade Association, large chocolate manufacturers have not yet incorporated the use of fair trade chocolate into their products.
- Chocolate products that have been certified Fair Trade enable farmers to receive minimum prices for their cocoa crops and insure that no child or forced slave labor has been used in its production. Now that's sweet!
- Find Fair Trade chocolate at your local Whole Foods Market or order it online. The TransFair USA lists brands, importers, distributors, manufacturers and European Exporters for Fair Trade Chocolate. http://www.transfairusa.org/content/certification/licensees2.php#cocoa
- Looking for delicious chocolate without all of the calories? How about adopting a chocolate tree? For $49, The Foundation for Integrated Education and Development (FUNEDESIN) offers a certificate of adoption, two bags of Ecuadorian chocolate and throws in a 10% discount off the regular price of Yachana Lodge tours. http://www.funedesin.org/index.php
Send Recycled Greetings
- According to Hallmark, Valentine's Day is the second most popular card-sending holiday behind Christmas
- Around half of the U.S. population celebrates Valentine's Day by purchasing at least one greeting card.
The Facts: According to the Greeting Card Association, 90% of all U.S. households buy greeting cards, with American consumers purchasing approximately 7 billion greeting cards each year. That's a lot of paper and a lot of fuel needed to deliver them! Despite the fact that recycled paper and vegetable-based inks are available, most of the greeting cards manufactured are still being printed on virgin paper using petroleum-based dyes. Many also end up in the waste stream when discarded.
- Plan Ahead: More than 50 percent of cards are sold the week of the holiday with the largest and most elaborate Valentine cards (and the least environmentally friendly) sold 48 hours before February 14.
- Save paper by sending your Valentine's greeting electronically. E-cards http://www.e-cards.com/ lets you send free online holiday cards with a global, educational and environmental twist.
- Send cards made from recycled paper. Recycled Paper Greetings (www.recycledpapergreetings.com), now the fourth-largest card company in the United States, has built a reputation by offering consumers a wide range of greeting cards printed on 100% recycled paper. Look for them at large retailers like Target or wherever fine greetings cards are sold.
- Mail-A-Tree. Instead of consuming a tree, why not mail one? Mail-A-Tree (www.mailatree.com) will deliver a live Colorado Blue Spruce or Meyer Spruce to your loved one anywhere in the U.S. The tree seedling comes in a 10 tube, complete with a personalized message printed on recycled paper. According to their website, the tube creates a micro-climate in which the seedling can survive for up to a month before being planted (indoors or outside). Planting instructions are included with the tree, and if for some reason it doesn't arrive healthy, they will replace it immediately if notified within 48 hours.