Are We Essential?

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We spend so much time telling ourselves we are the original green industry that we often fail to consider exactly how green we are to industry outsiders.

Yes, our products are oxygen machines. And a number of growers produce their oxygen machines so sustainably that their stories should be shared with the world. The truth, however, is the world doesn’t know our great sustainability story. And, as several of this year’s Seeley Conference speakers pointed out, the world definitely doesn’t consider us the original green industry.

A simple Wikipedia search for “green collar worker,” for example, references green building architects, ecology educators and even environmental lawyers as green collar workers. Greenhouses and growers are found nowhere in the search–perhaps because we’re an ornamental industry, and ornamentals are associated with non-essentials.

As much as we believe ornamentals are essential, the world’s current perception is that it can do without us. It’s the honest truth. One Seeley speaker listed a few reasons floriculture is perceived as non-essential: 1) we’re non-native; 2) non-native equals invasive; 3) ornamental horticulture doesn’t equal agriculture; and 4) we’re urban when agriculture is considered rural.

Another knock against floriculture is the food versus flowers argument: We’ll lose that argument every time. I recently attended a media summit BASF hosted in which magazine editors from both agriculture and horticulture were present. The summit centered on sustainability and BASF’s role with it. Some of the discussion swirled around floriculture, but the question that kept coming up was how we’re going to feed the world when its population is growing exponentially. The question is a legitimate one–and one that certainly needs answers–but if these are the type of questions to which the world wants answers, we can’t supply them.

Still, there are other topical questions floriculture can answer once we put ourselves on the right path. How can we reduce crime? How do we improve our health?

Flowers have the potential to be part of a solution for both. We just need to start playing the cards that show the world we’re essential–and make sure our lobbyists at ANLA and SAF are relaying this information to Congress.

One lobbyist at Seeley reported less than $250,000 is invested in political action committees for floriculture. A quarter million is it? That’s a mind numbingly small number considering the amount spent lobbying the government on health care in just a single day.

Health care is deemed essential, though, while flowers are not. So we need to change the world’s perception of us. We need to show the world it needs us and that we truly are the original green industry–an industry that can produce its product with less like no other can.

A number of greenhouse operations already are on the doing-more-with-less road. And the upside to our position, as one public relations consultant revealed at Seeley, is that floriculture is in a better position to share its sustainability story today than every other industry with which that consultant serves.

Examples of sustainability’s payback are less impact on the environment, high employer productivity, an improved marketing advantage and the satisfaction of being part of a solution. So perhaps sustainability is the starting point for us to prove we are indeed essential.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.

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