Jeroen Oudheusden is a keynote speaker at AIPH’s forthcoming Sustainability Conference and Chief Executive of the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI). In 2013, FSI members revealed their ambitions to have 90 per cent of their internationally traded production sustainable by 2020. What progress have they made?
In FSI, growers, wholesale, retail, associations, certification bodies and NGO’s work together to align and mainstream sustainability in global floriculture. Oudheusden freely admits that while the sector-wide, did not met the 2020 target entirely, significant achievements have happened so far.
Oudheusden says: “Nearly eight years after its official debut at the 2013 IPM Essen show with only 18 front runners, FSI is a shining example of how the global ornamental horticulture industry has taken a proactive approach in tackling key environmental and social issues. Since launch, FSI has expanded significantly. In just this year, membership increased to 75. ”
Job number one was to reduce fragmentation with different groups, countries and labels interpreting sustainability differently. With the help of the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva, FSI hacked its way to a jungle of more than 50 different sustainability certifications some of them with unclear content and governance. To date, there are 15 standards and label in the FSI basket. They all have successfully passed the test in terms of transparency and basic requirements.
FSI deserves credit for providing the trade with a one-stop-shop. Buying flowers and plants under basket label A is most of the time no different from doing the same under Basket label B. And that’s precisely why supermarkets such as Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Aldi-NL, online flower delivery service Bloomon, and Ikea decided the jump on the FSI bandwagon.
Oudheusden notes, ”By working with equivalent certificates we avoid an overlap in costs and work amd we reward the good work that has been done. And within FSI we try to link our members from trade and retail with growers and certification bodies to continuously improve our joint effort. The sustainability journey is one that never stops, and the trip is worthwhile in so many ways.”
A growing membership and certified product volumes
FSI members have made significant strides forward: a 2020 survey found that 75 per cent of their traded cut flowers and more than 80 per cent of houseplants is certified. These numbers mean these products meet the requirements as set by FSI’s Basket of Standards. Oudheusden says: “Year on year, FSI’s membership and certified product volumes are expanding. We are happy to see that the initiative is moving the sector forward on transparency and responsibility.”
At the same time, one of FSI’s major stakeholders, Royal FloraHolland notes that 44 per cent of its supplying growers are certified, which equals to 85 per cent of its turnover. Critics say estimations on sustainability in floriculture should not be based on auction turnovers but auction members. The question is whether the glass is half full or half empty, but the reality is that more than half of Royal FloraHolland’s members is not certified. They are not per se against sustainability certification but are not convinced about its need.
Oudheusden says, “From a FSI perspective, we have indeed seen that not all Royal FloraHolland members are certified. In our view, they should be stimulated to do so and helped in getting the proper certifications. It is no longer a question ‘if’ but ‘how’. Besides that, certification stimulates better practice. Being certified is rapidly becoming a license to produce. The new generation of flower and plant buyers are demanding transparency and good practice and with with stricter national and EU legislation, the best way to meet new requirements is to do it collectively. The schemes and standards will also evolve and adapt over time and will assist participants with data-driven tools to avoid double work. FSI shows the sector’s proactiveness in tackling environmental and social issues, making it future proof.”
Building a strong industry narrative
FSI is an excellent sector initiative because it encourages growers to document their processes, measure the impact of their actions and find ways to improve. And by benchmarking with industry peers, and constantly measuring in the field and greenhouses, they can find solutions that improve practices and keep business healthy.
On the surface, there has never been a better time to focus on the sustainability of the ornamental horticulture industry. A shared love for nature during Covid-19 has never been so strong, while millennials, in particular, say they want products that embrace purpose and sustainability. On the other hand, there is also an elusive green consumer: consumers who say they want to purchase sustainable products, but they don’t tend to buy them once they grab their shopping cart.
Oudheusden still believes that a strong industry narrative matters, particularly in the digital era we live in, where stories spread like wildfire on social media. “We, the sector as a whole, have the opportunity to leverage an industry narrative to lead and influence the direction of the flower and plant industry. The elements of the FSI narrative consists of a three-pillar framework: responsible production and trade, responsible business conduct and integrated reporting.”
He adds, “In this context, the 90 per cent ambition serves as a strong metaphor. Together we make sure that our sector is fully transparent, credible and continuously meeting and exceeding expectations. So that the true benefits of flowers and plants can be communicated. We do that by joining forces and improving practices. Still, there is work to be done. The sector, for example, should focus more on the bigger picture and a data-driven narrative; engage more vividly in sustainability debates to make sure that the consumer always makes the right choice when buying flowers and plants.”
Carbon footprinting and Life Cycle Analysis
Finally, true sustainability needs reliable record-keeping, and FSI encourages and will support growers to get ready for carbon footprinting and Life Cycle Analysis. “However, the FSI approach does not stop at the farmer’s gate. Carbon footprinting is only valid if it is calculated from farm to vase. Therefore, FSI members are investing in a tool based on the methodologies used by Hortifootprint and taking into account the impact of the entire value chain. A digital tool to simplify calculating a flower’s or plant’s carbon footprint is very new. By supporting this work, FSI members will learn what kind of data is needed and how they can find ways to reduce environmental and social impact. By the way, for growers that already earned environmental certification, 60 to 70 per cent of the data job is already done. Again a great motivation to get certified, avoid double work, and spend time on the business case of using fewer inputs in the production and trading of flowers and plants.
Reliable record keeping requires chrystal clear definition of things. By 2025, FSI wants 90 per cent of the members’ flowers and plants to be grown and traded responsibly and in a sustainable way. But what about bulbs, trees, shrubs, perennials, seeds and cuttings, all belonging to the magnificent world of plants? “Many of these products are inputs for commercial flower and plant production. And certification is already making sure that these products are grown under the same conditions. These products need to be certified as well. In an FSI project with breeders that was guided by MPS we found that you can reduce the use of pesticides with 45 per cent just by informing each other on what was used in previous stages. You don’t have to do the math to convince a grower what that means in euros or dollars saved.”