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Selling a Sustainable Valentine: Four Promising Trends

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday February 12th, 2010 | 10 Comments

photo: elineof

Ironically, the backstories behind the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts—flowers, chocolate and jewelry—are not always warm and cuddly. Roses are often grown in far-flung corners of the world using water- and chemical-intensive methods before they’re shipped thousands of miles to consumers in the US and Europe. Conventional chocolate has unsavory connections to child labor, used for cocoa harvesting. And diamond mining in some parts of the world has a history tied to funding brutal wars.

But fortunately, socially-responsible entrepreneurs have in recent years seen ripe opportunities for sourcing and marketing these products in a sustainable, low-impact and conflict-free manner.

Flower power
Some roses have a very tainted past by the time they reach a vase on the mantle. Environmental groups have called out floriculturists in a number of regions, including Lake Naivasha in Kenya, where flower farms have contributed to water quantity and quality depletion.

In response, some supermarket buyers, rose-growers and international environmental groups are working together to develop more sustainable growing methods and to find ways that they can work with other users of the lake’s resources to balance the needs of the local people with the business interests to produce material from the region.

Transfair USA has also created certification process for flower growers, which ensures that flower workers are paid a fair wage and offered benefits, and that the growers environmental standards governing the use of pesticides and water. More than ten growers in Columbia, Kenya and Ecuador have achieved Transfair’s certified flower designation.

Still, there’s nothing that can be done to erase the many miles that flowers grown overseas must travel. This makes the floral offerings at farmer’s markets a great option for consumers, assuming the flowers are grown locally and with few or no pesticides. Of course, this won’t do much for most American consumers who can’t access a farmer’s market in mid-February. But there are some US-based growers, including California Organic Flowers, based in Chico, Calif. who ship organically-grown flowers.

Truly tasteful chocolate
Fair trade and sustainably sources chocolate is pretty hot these days—thanks in no small part to the raucous raised by environmentalists and human rights activists.

Fair trade chocolate is becoming as much a household phrase as fair trade coffee, and even the largest chocolate makers in the world have signified commitments to sustainability. And like coffee, chocolate is something for which consumers will pay a premium, so many small startups, from TCHO to Dagoba, seem to be finding their own sweet spots in the chocolate market.

Brilliant bling
Flowers and chocolate are lovely, but for serious gift-givers (and receivers), it’s about the bling. So in the past ten years, in the wake of growing consumer awareness abound the links between diamond extraction and warfare, in places such as Sierra Leone, an entire market based on conflict-free and environmentally-friendly jewelry has emerged. As with flowers and market, the focus here is on sourcing products using fair trade and low impact means, but there’s also a focus on refurbishing heirloom items, when possible, and on designing custom products.

The list of purveyors of conflict-free jewelry is long and growing, though perhaps the most widely-recognized is the San Francisco-based Brilliant Earth. It was co-founded in 2005 by Beth Gerstein and Eric Grossberg, who both knew that the demand for responsibly-sourced diamond jewelry was strong and growing stronger. Another SF jeweler, the Clarity Project, uses only ethically-sourced diamonds and reclaimed metals. It also invests all profits back into mining communities. But the movement toward conflict-free jewelry has extended well beyond these niche suppliers and into the mainstream market—and not just high-end sellers such as Tiffany’s. Even Walmart has gotten in on the act, saying it has set a goal to be able to full trace the origins of 10 percent of the gold, silver and diamond jewelry it sells.

All of which begs the question: says who? There is a United Nations effort called the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme which was set up ensure the origins of diamonds and prevent blood diamonds from entering the marketplace. But this group has been criticized for failing to kick out Zimbabwe, despite evidence that it has failed to meet the group’s standards, says Grossberg. One of the architects of the Kimberly Process recently left the organization, claiming it had become ineffective. Transfair USA, which, as noted, developed fair trade labeling programs for products including flowers and chocolate, is exploring the establishment of a similar program for diamonds. (Transfair also offers a Valentine’s Day Gift Guide.)

A sustained climax
A Valentine’s Day post would not be complete without making mention of a fourth encouraging trend: sustainable sex toys are getting—ahem—bigger! Even as far back as 2006, Treehugger was bringing important news about from fair trade, sustainably-made paddles (behave!) and solar-power vibrators. Four years later, some of those pleasure aides might just have lost their youthful vigor. Luckily, you can now recycle that sex toy.

Have yourself a merry little Valentine’s Day.


▼▼▼      10 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.ecohearth.com/ EcoLove

    Don't forget about those searching for Eco Love! For the environmentally conscious soul in search of romance, the days of wearily scrolling through one-line Craigslist.com ads or clicking “not interested” on profile after profile of non-recycling, animal-indifferent and camping-resistant potential mates on Match.com are over. Read on…http://bit.ly/cfKuQN

    Happy Earth-Friendly Valentine’s Day! And here's to making more responsible, sustainable choices that honor the earth.

  • patriciapinkney

    Great article, and while shiny stone jewelry is one way to go on valentine's there are also other fair trade jewelry options which include silver jewelry, eco jewelry and other cultural pieces, which come with a much lower price tag. While lower cost, the meaning is significant. Fair trade jewelry not only helps the artisans achieve the art of self reliance, it also helps preserve traditional jewelry techniques.

    Consider a piece of fair trade jewelry this valentines.
    Patricia
    http://www.pangea-collection.com

  • elineof

    Great article! I'm happy that Woolly Ted is here to illustrate a sustainable Valentine's gift. Both he and I want to do our part in living a life that our planet can live with as well! Happy St Valentines Day!!!

    • mcoc

      thanks elineof! that is one adorable bear.

  • http://theclarityproject.com/ Jesse Finfrock

    Thanks for mentioning The Clarity Project. We're a small social-enterprise dedicated to improving the quality of life for miners and their families. Everything we do is oriented toward that goal, including investing all of our net profits back into mining communities through our non-profit partners. We have several classic designs, but many of our pieces are entirely custom. We're preparing another trip to South Africa, so be sure to follow us at http://twitter.com/clarityproject.

    Thanks,
    Jesse Finfrock

    Cofounder
    The Clarity Project
    http://theclarityproject.com

  • http://www.ecohearth.com/ EcoLove

    Don't forget about those searching for Eco Love! For the environmentally conscious soul in search of romance, the days of wearily scrolling through one-line Craigslist.com ads or clicking “not interested” on profile after profile of non-recycling, animal-indifferent and camping-resistant potential mates on Match.com are over. Read on…http://bit.ly/cfKuQN

    Happy Earth-Friendly Valentine’s Day! And here's to making more responsible, sustainable choices that honor the earth.

  • patriciapinkney

    Great article, and while shiny stone jewelry is one way to go on valentine's there are also other fair trade jewelry options which include silver jewelry, eco jewelry and other cultural pieces, which come with a much lower price tag. While lower cost, the meaning is significant. Fair trade jewelry not only helps the artisans achieve the art of self reliance, it also helps preserve traditional jewelry techniques.

    Consider a piece of fair trade jewelry this valentines.
    Patricia
    http://www.pangea-collection.com

  • elineof

    Great article! I'm happy that Woolly Ted is here to illustrate a sustainable Valentine's gift. Both he and I want to do our part in living a life that our planet can live with as well! Happy St Valentines Day!!!

  • http://theclarityproject.com/ Jesse Finfrock

    Thanks for mentioning The Clarity Project. We're a small social-enterprise dedicated to improving the quality of life for miners and their families. Everything we do is oriented toward that goal, including investing all of our net profits back into mining communities through our non-profit partners. We have several classic designs, but many of our pieces are entirely custom. We're preparing another trip to South Africa, so be sure to follow us at http://twitter.com/clarityproject.

    Thanks,
    Jesse Finfrock

    Cofounder
    The Clarity Project
    http://theclarityproject.com

  • mcoc

    thanks elineof! that is one adorable bear.

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