Sustainability, and How Floral Foam Doesn't Go with It

Compote Workshop - 2015 - Raney Day Photography - 21Acres (16)_preview.jpg

I consider myself and our business to be pretty ecologically considerate. Partly because we love happy organisms (slugs and seaweed are exceptions) but mostly because waste is so unnecessary. Sustainability just makes sense, especially when it comes to floral and garden design.

Composting? duh. Recycling? Um, yeah. Reuse? Why would I buy a material twice when it’s right here staring me down? Local materials, flowers, and plants in season? Yes. Let’s celebrate what we’ve got here. Toxic substances? Hmmmmm. Wellll, seems like a no-brainer, but here’s the thing… they’re so useful.

I’ve recently become aware of a soft spot in my shiny green shell. I’ve been suffering from a self sown affliction called artistic ignorance. This is the state in which adherence to any ecological values is ignored in pursuit of a creative endeavor. It’s the idea that the process of making something new is so exciting and noble that any talk of ecology is a buzz-kill. After all, what about all the useful adhesives, foams, and coatings that could improve our designs?  (sigh)

This has been something I’ve allowed myself to believe since I was in art school. Something I keep to myself  within the walls of my studio and has made its way with me into the walls of Lola Event Floral & Design. When the part that taps me on the shoulder and says, “Um, hey, isn’t that stuff bad?” (This part of me wears a hand knit sweater and barefoot running shoes.) But, the part of me that likes to make cool stuff belts out, “Why never you mind! We are making something out of imagination and raw materials. We are amazing! Muah ah ah!” (This part of me wears feather eyebrow extensions, a cape, and shiny boots.) Recently however, I’ve found myself having to explain why we use these harsh chemicals to my employees. The more I have to explain it out loud, the less and less it make sense. Like a kid who has fabricated a reality only to feed her own selfish habits. My explanation starts out confident then, as I continue to babble on, my people’s eyebrows furrow, they start giving me the slow blink, and my voice gets weaker. Pretty soon I’m just squeaking out some sort of sheepish response only mildly better than, “Because. So there. Now grab your gloves and respirator.”

Compote Workshop - 2015 - Raney Day Photography - 21Acres (89)_preview.jpg

The truth is, I haven’t really worked too hard to find better alternatives because the toxic materials that I’ve gotten used to using are so convenient and efficient- my kryptonite. Add to that the ‘everyone else is doing it’, and ‘we are sustainable in other ways’ phrase and you’ve got the number one lame excuse to hold back the pursuit and dispersal of greener technologies.

So, after throwing a full on “I don’t wanna” grown woman tantrum, I’ve concluded that we’ve just got to alter our way of approaching our designs. I don’t want to be in contact with this stuff and neither do my people.

The first and perhaps biggest offender? Floral foam. It’s everywhere. Nearly every floral designer I know uses this stuff, us included. Floral foam is that green squishy, weird substance that holds water and provides a structure in which stems are inserted.  It’s such a staple in the industry that it’s accepted as a necessary evil. From a functional standpoint it’s awesome. It’s fast, cheap, and allows for secure delivery and gravity defying creations. Friends, the green foam is grotey. Not only will it stick around in a landfill for all time, it’s full of nasty substances like formaldehyde, and gives factory workers the floral equivalent of black lung. The fumes have been fatal when burned and the dust makes you want to scratch your eyeballs out. At the age of 29 I started to get arthritis in my hands. Coincidence? Maybe not considering how much of this stuff and pesticides I’ve come in contact with.

While this realization was bubbling up, we met Studio Choo out of San Francisco- a chemical free floral design outfit with a great new book out. They don’t use the green monster and are thriving. After speaking with Jill and Alethea in May, we concluded that we should attempt to revise our summer’s events to eliminate green foam. We were pretty happy with our success. In many cases, we feel the looks were better than if we had used foam. As we go into a new season, we’ll be able to approach all our events differently.

We’ll be sharing our exploration with you in the coming weeks but for now, here’s some eye candy from some of this summer’s foam free arrangements!

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