Oserian roses

New study confirms Fairtrade roses from Kenya have smaller environmental footprint

Fairtrade roses from Kenya have a smaller environmental footprint when compared to roses produced in Holland, even when factoring in transport to Europe, according to a recently released report.

The report, titled Life Cycle Assessment Cut Roses, found that Fairtrade cut roses from Kenya – whether transported to Switzerland by air or sea – have a lower impact across all the environmental areas analysed, including cumulative energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions, and freshwater eutrophication, a pollution process where lakes or streams become over-rich in plant nutrients.

For the Dutch roses, the most significant factors are cumulative energy use (electricity and natural gas combustion) and greenhouse gas emissions, both of which are driven by greenhouse lighting and heating in the Netherlands that is not necessary in Kenya. Specifically, the cumulative energy demand for Kenyan roses transported by ship is 22 times lower than that of conventional Dutch roses, while the energy footprint for Kenyan roses transported by air is 6.4 times lower than for Dutch roses.

Lower emissions

For Fairtrade Kenyan roses, air transport has the greatest impact, specifically on greenhouse gas emissions. That said, greenhouse gas emissions of Fairtrade roses transported by plane from Kenya to Switzerland are still 2.9 times lower than emissions for Dutch roses, while for ship transport the difference increases to 21 times lower for Fairtrade Kenyan roses.

In Kenya there are 48 Fairtrade certified flower and plant producer organisations that employ more than 38,000 workers. They produce approximately 2.6 billion stems per year.

Commissioned by Fairtrade Max Havelaar Switzerland and the Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund (MGB), the study examined the three stages of production, packaging, and transport of roses to Switzerland. The key figures for agricultural production of Dutch roses were compiled from existing literature. The Fairtrade roses production data were collected directly from five Fairtrade producer organisations in Kenya. This is a follow-up to a similar 2018 study, aiming to measure updated production practices and impacts.

Impacts on biodiversity

Some other key findings include that Fairtrade Kenyan roses shipped by sea fare better in comparison to Dutch roses on water use (65 percent less), terrestrial acidification (4.3 times less impact), and freshwater eutrophication (18 times less impact). Comparing impacts on biodiversity loss, both types of Fairtrade roses have less impact than Dutch roses, with those transported by air having a smaller footprint than ship transport due to longer ground transport by lorry from ports, rather than closer airports. Pesticide use is the only factor that was higher for Kenyan roses than Dutch roses, though the study data set was limited.

The study also suggests that reducing packaging could further improve the Kenyan roses footprint. In comparison to the Fairtrade production assessed in 2018, the amount of plastic for packaging decreased but a further reduction of paper and cardboard would improve resource consumption and transport weight.

Flowers are a key Fairtrade product and are popular among consumers, particularly around fixed annual events such as Valentine’s Day. According to the latest data, around one billion Fairtrade flower stems and young plants are sold each year, with workers in 2022 earning more than €7.5 million in Fairtrade Premium to invest in improving their lives and communities.

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