In recent years, industries have begun to restructure their business model to one that is more environmentally sustainable (Ouvrard et al., 2020). Due to rising concerns about health risks and environmental degradation related to the overuse of pesticides, there are increases in “organic,” “sustainable,” and “fair trade” branded items being sold in the United States and around the world (Lernoud and Willer, 2017; Toumi et al., 2016). These brands are related to certifications that help to ensure growing conditions meet or exceed legal government mandates and industry norms as they relate to environmental sustainability (Lernoud and Willer, 2017; Raynold, 2012).
Environmentally healthy practices are not only good for the environment, but there is increasing evidence that these practices lead to an increase in customer loyalty (Jayaraman et al., 2012). Research suggests consumers are willing to pay a premium, up to 40% more, for products from horticultural industries that are produced using environmentally sound practices (Behe et al., 2013; Laroche et al., 2016).
Consumers who are typically willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products are female, married, and have at least one child living at home (Laroche et al., 2016). Additionally, consumers 36 to 50 years of age are the most likely to be proactively purchasing products from environmentally friendly companies (Patel et al., 2017). Incidentally, research found that younger consumers are more concerned about the environment but may lack the necessary income to purchase sustainable products at the same rate as middle-aged and older adults due to the associated higher costs (Panzone et al., 2016). Environmentally conscious consumers spent a total of $128.5 billion on sustainable goods in 2018 and are projected to spend $150 billion on sustainable goods by 2021 (Nielsen, 2018). This realization led businesses from all over the world to alter their supply chains to reduce waste (Jayaraman et al., 2012).
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), composting is one of several environmentally friendly ways to offset waste that would otherwise enter a landfill and is often easier to implement at a local level when decision-makers and the general public see the value of such a program (Bradley, 2014; EPA, 2019). The trend of environmental self-regulation, willingly imposing more stringent environmental policies than those required by the government, is progressing toward a time where environmentally friendly practices will be a competitive necessity for businesses to survive (Jayaraman et al., 2012).
In industrialized nations, as cities expand due to the migration of people from rural to urban areas, the problem of where to dispose of all the daily waste humans create, remains an issue. Most waste generated ends up in a landfill, a discrete area of excavated land in which garbage is buried (EPA, 2019). As of 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, 262.4 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated, of which 137.7 million tons were disposed of in landfills; an estimated 10.8 million tons of this waste is categorized as yard trimmings, which would include grass, leaves, and brush (EPA, 2019). According to one study, total landfill capacity in the United States is forecasted to decrease by more than 15% over the next 5 years and by 2021, only 15 years of landfill capacity will remain (Thompson, 2018).
Estimates of operational landfills in the United States range from 1700 to 2000 and make up the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States, emitting the equivalent of 107.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the form of methane in a single year into the atmosphere (EPA, 2017). Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, trap some of the earth’s outgoing heat, causing heat to be retained in the atmosphere (EPA, 2018). Trapped heat causes a radiative imbalance, the balance between energy received from the sun and emitted from the earth, thus altering climate and weather patterns at a global and regional level (EPA, 2018).
Offsite or community composting is one of the suggestions given by the EPA to offset the amount of waste entering landfills and waterways (EPA, 2019). Composting is also an innovative way to involve waste generators in their own waste treatment, raising community environmental awareness (Arrigoni et al., 2018). An additional consideration regarding floral shop waste includes the potential excessive leaching of pesticides (Singh et al., 2017) into land and waterways because floral products are produced with a host of chemicals.
During a personal interview with the manager of The University Florist, a full-service retail flower shop located on the campus of Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, it was found that on average, 60 lb of fresh cut floral waste is disposed of weekly, an estimated 3120 lb/year, from this single retail flower shop. It was also found that most retail florists in the industry dispose of their floral waste in municipal dumpsters in plastic garbage bags (T. Bowden, personal communication). There are an estimated 13,200 retail flower shop locations in the United States, comprising single- and multiple-location companies (Dun and Bradstreet, 2019). States with the highest employment levels of florists include California, Texas, Florida, Missouri, and New York (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018).
In recent years there has been a push in the floral industry to become more sustainable and environmentally aware (Thursd, 2020). At the biennial Trend Summit, Conference, Symposium, and Workshop in which professionals within the floral industry meet to discuss the most current trend directions in floral design, the first statement on sustainability was crafted, which states, in part, a belief in the zero-waste hierarchy to rethink, redesign, reduce, and repurpose (Thursd, 2020). One method a company can use to differentiate itself from the rest and remain competitive is through branding. Branding has been shown to increase profit margins and help to stimulate demand in a saturated market (Collart et al., 2010). In recent years, there have been a number of brands established in the green industry as well as through state-sponsored programs (Collart et al., 2010). The main purpose of branding is to increase profits by raising awareness and increasing demand among consumers through promotion (Collart et al., 2010). Behe et al. (2013) concluded, “environmentally and socially responsible business differentiation strategies have become important components for the green industry’s competitive landscape,” after studying consumer preferences for local sustainable plant production characteristics, especially with the maturation of the industry.
The main purpose of this research was to investigate the perceptions of environmental health of retail flower shop owners and their willingness to recycle fresh cut floral waste produced at retail flower shops for use as compost and to determine whether there is a statistical correlation between environmental awareness and willingness to compost fresh cut flower waste.
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