Sustainability matters for the horticulture industry

DIDCOT, UK: A good mix of growers, garden retailers and suppliers attended the sell-out HTA Sustainability Matters Conference, held at Horticulture House in Oxfordshire this week – demonstrating the importance of this topic to the industry. There was also wider interest from the media with representatives from BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and BBC’s Radio 4’s You and Yours programme also attending, along with the trade press.

Opening the event HTA President Adam Taylor from Taylors Bulbs began with a definition of sustainability making the point that it is not just about plastics. With TV programmes gaining more public momentum, there has been no time more important than now to make it top of your priority list. It isn’t about pointing the finger and giving blame, it is about working together and finding strategies that work across the industry.

George Bullivant, Director of Gardenforum who was chairing the day, then followed discussing how important the matter of sustainability is for the industry. It is a subject that has an emotional connection with so many people, and if as an industry we get it wrong, it will have a detrimental effect across the whole industry.

Key takeaways from speakers throughout the day included:

  • 95% of consumers say that the environment is important to them
  • Keen gardeners are more likely to be eco-friendly, recycle and willing to make a lifestyle compromise to benefit the environment than other consumers.

David Denny and Laura Jeffrey, HTA Marketing and Insights team

  • Sustainability can help to create a competitive advantage for a brand and help you to build trust with consumers.
  • Green hush – lots of actions taking place behind the scenes but it is important that businesses take consumers on the journey with them to avoid being accused of doing nothing.
  • Keep up to date with current sustainability issues. A good starting point is to look at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – and the BRC’s Better Retail, Better World initiative –

Leah Riley Brown, Sustainability Policy Adviser, British Retail Consortium

  • The industry response to Government targets has seen great strides in producing growing media with reduced peat content.
  • It is important to assess the environmental impact of all constituent ingredients of growing media – not just peat. The Responsible Sourcing Guide for Growing Media will be available later in the year.

Steve Harper, Head of Commercial and Marketing, Bord Na Mona

  • Collins Word of the Year 2018 was ‘single-use’, largely due to the interest created by the media snowstorm that Blue Planet II created.
  • Demand for the more ‘recyclable’ polymers are on the up with a 6% increase in use of PP and 4% increase in use of PE.
  • The HTA is working with RECOUP to develop and align a plan regarding non-black plastic pot recycling for the industry. The intention is to bring together individual conversations and discussions, plans and thinking, to develop and deliver a co-ordinated approach.

Stuart Foster, CEO, RECOUP

  • The clear consumer message should be that non-black plastic pots are recyclable – recognising that other colours, in addition to taupe can be processed.
  • Consider a re-use scheme – a positive way of showing consumers what you are doing. Why not create a wonky pot initiative!
  • A universal product that could be used in a close loop system is a possible viable solution for the industry.

Plastics panel session – Sally Cullimore (HTA), Nick Mathias (Floramedia), Shaun Herdsman (Modiform), David Chilvers (The Bransford Webbs Plant Company) and Matthew Appleby (Horticulture Week).

  • Social media is creating a chat storm around environmental issues but there is still a large gap between what people say and what they do.
  • Tell a story about what you are doing as it will be businesses that respond positively to environmental challenges that will succeed.

Trewin Restorick, CEO Hubbub Foundation

  • Take a positive approach to environmental communication with customers – we want them to keep on gardening!
  • Join in with local initiatives, such as your local Wildlife Trust’s activity, to show customers how positive actions can make a difference.

Mike Burks, Managing Director from The Gardens Group

  • Environmental actions result in cost savings in the long run.
  • Government could do more to incentivise businesses to become more sustainable.
  • Collaboration between garden centres could help reduce recycling costs.

Colin Jones, General Manager from Carr Farm Garden Centre

  • Current recyclable alternatives are not the end solution and work continues in developing new options.
  • The materials being used are re-processable through existing infrastructure and there is demand for them as they have a value.
  • Local authorities need to step up to the mark and accept the pots.

Natalie Porter, Sales and Marketing Manager, Porters Fuchsias/Happy Plants

In summing up the day HTA President-Elect Boyd Douglas-Davies from Hillview Group commented,

“What an insightful and stimulating day with plenty of food for thought. The event demonstrated how small actions can make big differences and we need to take our customers with us on the journey. As an industry we are making great progress with regard to recyclable pots and let’s not forget that we are producing a great product in the shape of plants or ‘clean air machines’. We need to shout about this helping to ensure that the buyers of the future continue to come to us for great products with a positive impact on the environment.

A full event report can be downloaded here:


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