The Greening of a Sanctuary: Some Thoughts on Flowers

By Laura Emerson

Flowers and greens are an integral part of worship services, marriages and funerals in all religions.  Have you ever wondered where these floral gifts and decorations in our homes, offices, and sanctuaries come from?  It is so easy to take something for granted until we ask simple questions.

For UU’s concerned about carbon footprints and social justice, the international floral industry warrants our consideration.  Did you know that 80% of all flowers sold in the US are imported, primarily from South American industrial flower farms?  For decades, these farms have been the subject of exposé about toxic chemicals and pesticides that poison the land and the workers, as well as onerous labor practices.

The world’s biggest producers of familiar flowers are:

Roses:  Ecuador

Tulips and Peonies:  The Netherlands

Carnations:  Colombia

Orchids:  Thailand

Internationally, the top producers of cut flowers in the world are the Netherlands (52%), Colombia (15%) and Ecuador (9%) as of 2023. Kenya and Ethiopia are #4 and #5.  The USA is not even in the top ten.

In addition to the chemicals and labor issues,  we can quantify the carbon footprint of transporting those lovely flowers to the chancel or dining room table. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), in the three weeks preceding Valentine’s Day in 2018, 30 freight planes carried loads entirely comprised of flowers into the US EVERY SINGLE DAY.  The environmental impact of delivering those 15,000 tons of flowers was 360,000 metric tons of CO2 and 115 million liters of airplane fuel.   

If this information prompts you to reconsider your purchases of bouquets, what might you do instead?

  • Buy in-season flowers and plants that are grown locally.
  • Grow your own flowers and plants.
  • Enliven your church, home, synagogue, community center, and office with long lasting, living plants.
  • Decorate with other natural products, such as shells, leaves, rocks, pine cones, or branches.  A church in Alaska decorates its chancel with a lovely structure of birch trunks, rather like a huppah. 
  • Engage friends, family, and members of the congregation to create art works depicting plants and other aspects of nature, such needlepointed images, or framed, pressed flowers. 
  • The cleverest art installation I saw was at a Houston, TX synagogue.  Arrayed along a long table was a beautiful display of 20 bouquets that I thought were made of glass.  In actuality, the synagogue’s resident artist taught adults and children to cut up used plastic soda and other bottles of various colors to create individual works of art that look stunning en masse!
  • Botanical gardens offer great ideas and classes, such as creating cement leaf prints as stepping stones and birdbaths.
  • Feature a wall of nature photographs, taken by church members, or a rotating power point display.

Ministering to and for Earth can seem like a daunting task.  Asking simple questions, like “where does this bouquet come from” arms us to make intentional choices about how we interact with and impact the earth ourselves.

For more information, see these and many other articles:  

  • Floristry and Floriculture Industry Statistics & Trends (2023)

By Petal Republic Team,