Monday, 21 June 2010

I'm sorry, Leti!

I am the worst friend ever.
Over the years, I have repeatedly done the following: cancelled on friends at the last minute; stood people up; forgotten I was supposed to meet them; turned up very late for dinner; forgotten important dates; given away friends’ present, and much, much more.

Last Saturday was no different. My good and patient – within reason – friend Leticia had taken into account my dreadful record and let me know months in advance of her birthday barbecue. Sadly, my also very good friend Dina, aware of my reputation, agreed several weeks ago to come over mine for lunch. Being the fickle and inconsiderate person that I am, I happily said yes to both dates, until I realised, too late, the double-booking situation.
And so I considered who I would possibly offend more, and only went for Dina because she was the one I had cancelled on the last time. On that occasion I learned in no uncertain terms how difficult it is to find a babysitter on Proms night, and Dina listened to Mozart on her own.

Whilst I had a really lovely lunch with Dina and Kathryn and Mr Schemthical and little Lukas, I did feel terrible for contributing to Leticia’s membership to the over-subscribed I Hate Renata facebook group.
Feeling that my sincere apologies would never be enough, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to find out about a subject that’s been nagging me for a while: ethical flowers. Can I send flowers the sustainable way?

It is difficult to imagine anything less than lovely behind a bunch of daisies. It’s as if the world of underpaid labourers and pesticide overuse could never touch the romance of a bouquet.

Sadly, this is an industry capable of some serious environmental damage. In countries like Kenya, for example, the impact of flower farms on the water quality and wildlife around the lake Naivasha Riparian has brought devastating consequences to the local community. Under pressure from European importers and terrible publicity, growers have created a voluntary council to develop more sustainable farming practices. The Kenya Flowers Council uses a code of practice to self regulate the industry’s use of pesticides, workers’ rights and impact on local communities.

This is an area where Western consumers can be particularly influential, considering that massive volumes of cut flowers consumed here are produced in developing countries with weak legislation and too many ways of not complying with them.
In Europe, the Fair Flowers Fair Plants label attests to the sustainable credential of flowers.
I have some reservations with this kind of certification. As with the Organic Soil Association label, it becomes difficult for very small producers to display the coveted logo. Not having the FFP label does not necessarily mean that flowers weren’t grown organically, or that workers were treated unfairly. But the certification process costs money. It demands time and dedicated personnel to work on it. If you’re a small cottage business, you may not be able to afford the extra red tape.

But of course it is a very good start, and if you’re buying from Interflora or large supermarkets, then there’s no excuse. Look for the FFP logo before you send those roses.

My own experience on Friday was this: Interflora had a very limited range of fair trade flowers, but I did find these gorgeous antique pink roses, which unfortunately could not be delivered before Tuesday. Who sends flowers with that much notice?

Arena flowers were highly recommended as a leading ethical florist, but the arrangements didn’t really do it for me.
So I settled for this vase of fair trade roses and lisianthus, from the lovely Forever Flowers along with a crawling, self-humiliating note begging forgiveness.

To finalise the mea culpa, here’s a list of overdue apologies:

  • Leti, you come first: SORRY for not showing up to your barbecue!
  • Julia: I’m sorry for forgetting your birthday practically every year.
  • Sorry Vale, Jason, Kathryn and half the population of London for arranging drinks I never showed up to.
Oh, and I am so very sorry for the lovely lady whose name I forget, but who painstakingly arranged my leaving do a few years ago, to which I didn’t go.

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