Red is the traditional colour of Valentine's Day, but for environmentally minded romantics there are ways to paint it green.
Valentine’s Day is a multibillion-dollar industry. The National Retail Federation estimated that in 2011, $15.7 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. alone. And many of the products aimed at the love-struck – from chocolate and flowers to cards – carry a surprising amount of environmental and ethical baggage.
Issues surrounding how Valentine's Day fare is made, transported and disposed of can be a mood-killer for anyone who is passionate about the planet. If you or your significant other is green-minded or socially conscious, you may think the best thing to do is to skip the day dedicated to romance altogether.
That's certainly an option, but before you put the kibosh on cupid it's worth looking at some of the options available to those who take the time to seek them out. It’s easier now than ever before to get a gift that celebrates romance without jilting Mother Earth, according to Vanessa Farquharson, author of Sleeping Naked is Green.
"It’s just putting thought into the gift in terms of where it’s come from," she said. "The green thing has spread so much that there’s really no reason [to not buy green]."
In short, there are still plenty of ways to say "I love you" while keeping your conscience clean.
Flowers may seem like an easy way to buy a green gift – they are plants after all - but be wary of where they come from.
Many flowers are sprayed with dangerous chemicals to keep them insect-free and well preserved.
'The quality from the local growers is phenomenal.' —Rob Harrington, West Van Florists
Conditions on the farms where these flowers are grown may also be substandard, with workers forced to toil long hours for low wages, while being exposed to those dangerous chemicals.
Imported flowers may also be flown and trucked thousands of kilometres to your local store or florist, which can have a major environmental impact.
There are some options available to give a green, guilt free bouquet. There are plenty of flowers available year-round from local growers in most regions. Sometimes these flowers are grown in hothouses that consume energy in colder months, but buying local does reduce the distance the flowers have to be transported. PickOntario – the marketing campaign for the Ontario branch of the Flower Growers of Canada – explains that local flowers sold in stores may only be on display days, or in some cases hours, after from being picked at a local greenhouse.
In many cases, the quality of the flowers is also better than anything that could be imported, said Rob Harrington, owner of West Van Florists. "The quality from the local growers is phenomenal," he said, adding that he sources many of his local flowers from B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
One reason for the quality, Harrington said, is that many local growers use bio-bugs – specialty insects that eat other pest insects – to protect the flowers, rather than pesticides that affect the plant.
Harrington said he’s not sure if his customers knowingly pick local buds because of the environmental repercussions, or simply because they’re often healthier-looking flowers. "I think they’re looking for quality flowers, and fresh flowers," he said.
Most grocery stores, garden centres and florists carry both local and imported flowers, added Laura Schouwenaar, marketing assistant for pickOntario, and the easiest way to find local flowers is simply to ask staff where you shop about the origin of their stock. Some regions may also have a specific logo to help identify local flowers.
Another option is to look for the Veriflora logo on your flowers. Veriflora is considered an international standard for sustainable business practices in the flower industry, and ensures growers meet a variety of conditions, including environmental sustainability and fair labour practices.
Cacao – the plant chocolate is produced from – grows only in certain regions of the world. About 70 per cent of it is grown in West Africa, most in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Most cacao producers are small family farms, and farmers may struggle to get a fair price for their crop. This can lead to the use of child, and in some cases slave labour, on cacao farms.
PEI-based Island Chocolates sources some of its chocolate from a co-op in Ecuador, said Linda Gilbert.
"The nice thing about getting the chocolate from them is we know who made it and we know exactly what’s in it," she said.
Gilbert’s son, Eric, first visited Ecuador as part of his studies at Trent University, and has worked closely with the co-op ever since. She said being located in PEI prevents the company from importing large amounts of chocolate from the co-op, but her son transports as much as possible when he travels to Ecuador.
Gilbert said she tries to run her business in as socially conscious manner as possible, while also focusing on producing quality chocolates for her customers. "We look at getting as much locally and good quality [as we can], and being the best corporate citizen we can be."
A quick way to make sure your chocolate is produced in an ethical fashion is to look for the Fairtrade logo. Products bearing the Fairtrade Certified logo have undergone rigorous inspections at all levels of production – from the farms they’re produced on all the way to the manufacturer.
Among other things, the Fairtrade process ensures that farmers are paid a fair wage by manufacturers, said Michael Zelmer, director of communications for Fairtrade Canada.
It’s also easy to buy fair trade chocolate. A variety o f companies participate in the Fairtrade program, ranging from small independent producers all the way up to confectionary giant Cadbury, which in 2009 announced that its flagship Dairy Milk bars would start carrying Fairtrade certification.
"There’s fair trade chocolate in pretty much every store, grocery store, convenience store in Canada right now," Zelmer said.
Want to attach a romantic card to the local flowers or fair trade chocolate you’re giving your loved one? You’re not alone. Hallmark estimates that in the U.S. alone, 144 million cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day every year.
While most major card companies have some lines of recycled cards and use a percentage of recycled paper in their production, there’s stull a lot of paper that eventually makes it into the garbage. Here are some other options.
A number of companies sell 'plantable' cards – greeting cards with flower seeds woven into the paper.
Websites such as tinyprints.com and etsy.com have a variety of eco-friendly cards, from the simple to the extravagant. Eco-friendly company Pistachio has a line greeting cards available at select Chapters/Indigo locations that use recycled paper and soy and vegetable inks.
Or why not combine the flowers and card for your loved one into one eco-friendly package? A number of companies sell "plantable" cards – greeting cards with flower seeds woven into the paper. Just plant the card into some soil and watch the flowers bloom.
Creative types could always woo their partner with a homemade card. There are a number of suggestions online, such as cutting out hearts from newspapers or store flyers or making a card out of a letter envelope, both of which use paper that would have normally been destined for the recycling bin.
Alternatively, you can go paper-free and send an e-card.
Or you can just do what one British couple has done. The Daily Telegraph reports that Harry and Doris Ward have been exchanging the same Valentine’s Day card every year – for the past 70 years. The couple met during the Second World War and Harry gave Doris the card for the first time on February 14, 1941. Since then, they’ve dusted off the same card every Valentine’s Day.
In The Bedroom
If all goes well on Valentine’s Day, there’s no reason not to keep your lovemaking green too.
One of the simplest things that can be done when trying to set the mood is to swap traditional petroleum-based candles with ones made of beeswax or soy, said Vanessa Farquharson.
"Especially when you have people who will fill an entire room with candles on Valentine’s Day," she said, because burning petroleum-based candles can actually diminish the air quality in a room.
If your partner is a fan of massages, take a closer look at the oil you’re using. Many store bought massage oils may be loaded with chemical products. However, there are plenty of natural alternatives, such as coconut oil (which Farquharson said also makes a great lubricant when things get steamy).
Many drugs stores and adult shops carry lines of natural products.
When it to comes to contraceptives, there are eco-options, too.
Traditional latex condoms are biodegradeable, though chemicals used in manufacturing will slow the process down. Lamb skin condoms break down faster than latex ones, but be warned – they don’t protect as well against sexually transmitted diseases.
Vegan condoms are also available – even latex condoms use a milk by-product in their manufacturing.
And British company French Letter Condoms produces fair trade prophylactics that ensure latex farmers earn a fair wage.