We wish you a sustainable Valentine’s Day

Love is a feeling that deserves to be celebrated, especially if it is shared

Throughout the years, we’ve been told that on Valentine’s Day we have to give our loved one’s chocolates, flowers, teddy bears or a surprise dinner. However, let’s just stop for a second and think about the environmental and social consequences that this massively commercialised day brings with it.

To be honest, I’ve never given it a thought, until a few days ago I started to look for information to write about Valentine’s Day. And the information can be a wee bit overwhelming. Around the 14th of February, the consumption of chocolates, flowers and cards increases worldwide. The first thought tends to be that we’re stimulating the economy, but more than that, we’re participating in practices that aren’t sustainable for the environment and enhances human exploitation.

So, let’s look at some of the activities or materials that go in to making this special day that comes about oh but one a year.

 Let’s talk flowers

Given that red roses and love are totally interconnected, an industry scale production is needed to satisfy the world’s demand for brightly coloured rose petals. 83% of the cut flowers are from the Netherlands, Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Although there are certain controls, the environmental impact of this industry can’t be ignored. The first one that comes to mind is the chemical pollution, which deteriorates the soil, destroys air quality and poisons the water supply. Also, the carbon footprint related to this production is quite impressive. Only the Netherlands generates 35 thousand kilogrammes of carbon dioxide by growing 12 thousand long-stemmed roses.

In several regions, the massive production of flowers can cause more damage to the community than economic benefits. Some of the current main issues are the access to water for this type of plantations.

Kenya, for example, needs to import water in order to be able to maintain both, flowers and food crops. Similarly, competition for land use may affect food security, not only in the country where the production occurs but also in all the countries where they export their production.

Also, this high flowers demand has led to exploitation in some countries. Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers in the world. However, many of the floriculture companies don’t respect the rights of their workers, making them work up to 20 hours a day, with almost no breaks and very poor working conditions.

Paper gifts are also part of the problem

According to Hallmark, 141 millions of greeting cards are bought ahead of Valentine’s Day. unsurprisingly, most of them will end up in a bin, which leads to more wasted energy and pollution, even if they are recycled. Why not get creative and make your own? It is much more heartfelt!

Chocolate is not child-friendly

In 2013, it was reported that 40% of the cacao used by the chocolate industry comes from plantations in Western Africa, where child labour is still occurring. You can avoid this pitfall by buying fairtrade and checking the supply chain of any products you consume. Although not a romantic staple, the same advice goes for coffee!

So, what can we do?

I know, it’s overwhelming, and the solution to many of these problems seem to be beyond our scope. The solution isn’t to stop celebrating Valentine’s Day, we can have a huge impact by just making wise choices when it comes to buying our gifts. We can start giving flower pots, for example, which won’t die in a few days, or you can buy ethically sourced and sustainable cosmetics.  But if you, or your lover, love flowers, think about buying locally produced or fair trade ones. Same with chocolates. Every day there are more and more brands that buy cacao from socially responsible companies in many countries in the Global South.

Finally, this day, at the end, is all about sharing time with your partner. So one of the best gifts you can give are homemade dinner, watching movies together or just walking in the park. In other words, your time.

By Mariana Cover