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International conference demonstrates many initiatives to make ornamental horticulture more sustainable

Sustainability is now a high priority, at Board level, for many businesses in the ornamental horticulture industry. Not only is it critical for making a better world, but it is a core part of business decision making.

Addressing this issue on 30th September 2021, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) brought together online an impressive line-up of 27 expert international industry speakers to discuss sustainability in the ornamental horticultural industry and the prospective outlook.

Organised in partnership with GreenTech Live & Online, Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI) and FloraCulture International magazine, the event was hosted on the Hoppin platform, where delegates could hear about why it is so important to become more sustainable.

Thank you to gold sponsors Royal FloraHolland, Pera and Expo 2021 Hatay bronze sponsor Chrysal, and conference partners Ciopora, ENA, Florint and Union Fleurs for their support of this event.

The keynote speaker was Dr David Bek, a Reader in Sustainable Economies at Coventry University (UK). He said that the pandemic had reminded people of their vulnerability (and has revealed supply chain vulnerability).

Bek talked about what climate change means for horticulture, particularly threatening the viability of production areas across the globe.  He adds that the insurance industry has been ahead of the game in adjusting its risk policies whilst investors are also taking climate change very seriously. They are profiling potential investments carefully against climate change risk. Simply put: if you as a horticultural entrepreneur want insurance or investment, then be ready to demonstrate your climate change mitigation planning.

So, what is it that our sector can actually do? In the next session, Mr Jeroen Oudheusden, FSI Manager, Mr Albert Haasnoot, Royal FloraHolland, and Mr Daan de Vries, CEO of MPS, gave updates on sustainable initiatives, measuring footprints and the benefits of certified sustainability.

An interesting panel discussion ensued, chaired by Dr Bek. Concluding with whatever our perspectives are, the sector must be mindful that policymakers and consumers will be making trade-offs in the coming years as the imperatives to confront the climate crisis grows.

AIPH took a snapshot of current attitudes within our sector, with our Sustainability Survey sent to members ahead of the conference. This preliminary focus showed that the top sustainability priorities were water management and reducing plastics, pesticides, and energy use. However, when it comes to demonstrating sustainability to the world, our sector does not own up to its sustainable efforts.

Horticulture has a vital role to play in tackling the climate crisis. The following panel discussion asked: What does a sustainable ornamentals industry look like?

Key players in the global ornamentals industry from Northern Europe to North America debated how they see the challenges of sustainability changing their businesses and the industry’s future.

With sustainability becoming more of a focus for the ornamentals industry, leading to a greater choice in growing media, pots and packaging, the mindset changes that are also needed can be a barrier. The afternoon sessions put the spotlight on areas of our industry that need that change in mindset. The panel streams looked at packaging and the circular economy, growing media, people, and sustainability marketing.

A point that came up from the first-panel discussion included the need for more partnerships between companies along the supply chain to ensure the industry’s route to greater sustainability.

For example, the first collaboration for Colombia’s flower exporters association’s Florverde Sustainable Flowers certification scheme, established in 1996, was with an organisation collecting waste pesticide containers. It now has 105 certified growers in Colombia and Ecuador. It has just drawn up a set of guidelines for a ‘circular economy’ in the floriculture industry in partnership with Colombia’s environment ministry, based on results from pilot projects over the last 25 years.

When it comes to growing media, the discussion on sustainability is being driven by political pressure to stop using peat. Ms Cecilia Luetgebrune, of Growing Media Europe, points out that a replacement material unfit for purpose is unsustainable. “It has to be economically viable and socially compliant as well as having a low environmental footprint,” she said. GME is helping suppliers by creating a protocol for analysing and calculating the environmental footprints of substrates.

As well as wanting to know more about where and how their plants and flowers are grown, customers are increasingly interested in the people who grow them. The Fairtrade International assurance scheme was among the first to start protecting workers from exploitation. Still, stricter legislation is coming too – measures on human rights are expected in forthcoming EU supply-chain due diligence regulations.

Richard Fernandes, co-owner of Kenya-based flower grower Marginpar and president of the Kenya Flower Council, believes focusing on people makes sense on every level. “We say we grow people, and our people grow flowers: it’s people who make the company successful,”

When it comes to sustainability marketing Dr Charlie Hall, professor of floriculture at Texas A&M University, provides some research. Forty per cent of the shoppers surveyed rated sustainability as ‘very important’, well ahead of issues such as local sourcing or organic production.

Closing the inspiring conference AIPH Secretary General Tim Briercliffe said, “Why should we address sustainability? The reality of climate change is clear, and we need to be here in the future, so addressing sustainability is important. Our discussions have shown that working together in the supply chain is clearly critical, we should each measure the suatainability of our own business, have our own footprint, and follow certification. It’s important we understand and develop our own plans for the future. I don’t think there has ever been a better time to discuss sustainability now in our industry. We should do it because we care, and also because the consumer cares.”

The conference videos and speaker presentations are available on the AIPH website. Register to access here

The October 2021 issue of FCI has the full report of the AIPH Conference written by Ron van der Ploeg, Spence Gunn and Rachel Wakefield

Rachel Wakefield

Communications Executive and Associate Editor
United Kingdom