Carbon Footprints & Fair Trade (a response)

Sustainability is NOT an environmental concept only. Sustainability also includes people and profitability. If companies are not making money, they cannot be sustained. Also, if people and societies are leached of HUMAN resources, no business is sustained. Fair Trade is the best possible sustainable option for consumers when buying certain products. This post is in response to an article about Fair Trade vs. Carbon Footprints written by Graeme Wiser on the EbioAnt blog. Click here to see the original post.

 

Written by Alaina Paradise:

I agree that the statistics in this post are very well researched; however the frustration about Fair Trade’s carbon footprint might be misdirected. As the owner of a Fair Trade licensed flower business, One World Flowers, I believe you missed two key points and one other consideration that’s more based on personal beliefs/values:

1) Sustainability is NOT an environmental concept only.

Sustainability also includes people and profitability, which you can read more about in “The Triple Bottom Line” by Savitz. If companies are not making money, they cannot be sustained. Also, if people and societies are leached of HUMAN resources, no business is sustained. Fair Trade is the best possible sustainable option for consumers when buying certain products. I won’t argue this for all products, but let’s take flowers for example.

In the United States, 70 – 80% (depending on which year and report you’re looking at) of all cut flowers sold in the market are imported from other countries. These countries include Ecuador, Colombia, Holland, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and even India. The 20 – 30 % of flowers produced within the United States could very well have a lower carbon footprint than those that are imported; however, they are only available in peak growing seasons.

My first point is this: What are consumers supposed to do 80% of the time; stop buying flowers all together? No! Fair Trade offers consumers a sustainable option for purchasing flowers in off-seasons. While they might not be the most sustainable carbon option, Fair Trade makes a huge impact in decreasing environmental pollution in foreign countries. It is also SOCIALLY sustainable because it creates jobs that pay living wages and provide human rights protections to workers, raising their quality of life, providing education, stopping poverty cycles,  and putting food on the table for children of floral farm workers.

Your article stated that, “Fairtrade produce[r]s generally account for 1-20% of all sales in their product category in Europe and North America.” If the volume is so low, why attack Fair Trade? Bad form. Why not go after the companies who are doing nothing in the way of sustainability, and dominate 80+% of the market sales?

2) Carbon Reduction and Fair Trade are NOT opposed to one another.

As you said in your article above, “The principles of fair trade already discussed have touched the compassionate nerve of the nation and the supermarkets are exploiting it for all its worth. It’s a shame that with every ‘fair-trade’ item they don’t put a ‘carbon footprint’ label.” I’ll start by saying that if supermarkets were exploiting Fair Trade for all it’s worth, this world would be a much happier place for agricultural workers (over 90% of whom still work in non Fair Trade conditions), and all farms would be Fair Trade Certified.

There are many Fair Trade Certified companies who go to great lengths to offset their carbon footprint. Many donate to various Carbon Funds. Our company, One World Flowers, has office recycling programs, uses only hybrid delivery vehicles, and is powered for electricity by a wind farm in our state. We make very conscious choices to reduce our carbon footprint in various ways.

I would like to suggest that you take a less myopic view of Fair Trade as taking away from environmental sustainability, and try to view it as an integral piece of the sustainability puzzle. That brings me to my last point, which is more about personal beliefs and values.

 

There is much to do to improve this world we all call home. Being competitive and adversarial with one another is not going to accomplish anything, but rather tear us  both down. True sustainability and health in this planet is only found where people and the environment are both well cared for. People function in societies, societies have economies, and economies need healthy businesses to be sustainable.

If you are committed to reducing Carbon Footprints, more power to you! If you are committed to other environmental causes, please give it all you’ve got! But please don’t forget that life is human, too. Our business is wholly focused on making business sustainable for people who have been abused, who live in depleted societies sucked of their resources, with failing and struggling economies as a result. We can’t do it all, but we’d like your support in doing what we can to make the entire planet a better place to be.

Published on Monday, October 10, 2011