Environmental Impact of Sola Wood Flowers
We recently released an article on the carbon emissions analysis of fresh flowers and faux flowers and received so many wonderful responses. But many of you had additional questions! Good information on the environmental impact of wedding flowers is hard to find. The most frequent questions we got were regarding the environmental impact of sola wood flowers. We were also curious to see how they compared to fresh and faux flowers.
We started investigating and found sola wood flowers have the smallest environmental impact compared to fresh or faux flowers by far! Let’s look at how wooden flowers are made, transported, packaged, used, and disposed of to help understand the environmental impact and how that compares to other floral options.
Wooden flowers used for wedding arrangements are most often made from sola wood. Although other types of thinly cut, light weight woods like balsa and cedar are sometimes used, sola wood is by far the most popular.
Sola wood, (also known as shola, sholapith, and Indian cork) is a renewable resource that comes from an aquatic plant, Aeschynomene aspera, which mainly grows in marshy wetlands of Southeast Asia. It is native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.(1)
After harvesting, most manufacturing occurs in India. (2) The manufacturing process is truly an artform and all work is done by hand. If you haven’t seen these artisans at work, we recommend this video. Workers use sharp knives to cut thick stems into small sections, peel off the bark, and cut the remaining wood into extremely thin sheets. Next, artisans hand cut the thin sheets of wood into petals shapes. The petals are assembled by hand and wrapped thread holds the petals in place to form the flower. (3)
Unlike fresh flowers that use pesticides and chemical fertilizers or faux flowers that produce almost 30 kg CO2e in manufacturing, the production of sola wood flowers is near carbon neutral up to this point. (4) If anything, the plant may sequester a marginal amount of carbon prior to harvesting.
Some sola wood flowers are sold naturally while others are bleached, dyed, or painted first. Those that choose to buy natural flowers typically color them at home with acrylic paint, spray paint, watercolor paint, fabric dye, or more natural colorants like wine or coffee. The environmental impact of this stage depends heavily on the method used, but watered-down acrylic paint is the most popular option. Acrylic paints are better than oil-based ones but are still quite resource intensive to produce. Extracting pigments such as TiO2 is a polluting process. (5) Luckily, the amount of paint needed is relatively low.
One of the top five Sola wood distributers in the US volunteered to partner with us and allowed us to use their supply chain as a case study.
Although locations of farms and facilities vary by company, West Bengal, India is a hub of the sola flower industry.
In the case of the distributer we interviewed, their sola plants are grown in West Bengal, India where they are harvested, placed on trucks, and driven a short journey to the factory in Kolkata. Once produced, flowers are packaged and sent to Kolkata Port via truck, just 25 km away from the factory.
Like faux flowers, wood flowers don’t have a shelf life. Thus, they can be boxed up and placed on ships rather than transported via airplane like fresh flowers. Air travel produces about 60 times more emissions than ship (Maritime shipping produces 10-15 grams of greenhouse emissions per ton-kilometer. Compare that to airplane emissions at 673-847 grams per ton-kilometer). (6) And because airplane emissions are released into the atmosphere at such a high altitude, they are more damaging than those emitted on the ground. (7) Considering all transportation factors, we found 95% fewer CO2 emissions per shipment with wood flowers compared to fresh.
We relied on unboxing videos to determine how much packaging comes along with sola wood flowers. It looks like most shipments come in a cardboard box and have a small plastic bag around each floral bundle with a bit of unbleached crumpled paper mixed in to keep things from shifting around. The amount of plastic appears to be comparable to that of fresh flowers although the plastic appears to be low-density polyethylene rather than cellophane. It is worth noting, LDPE is not widely recyclable.
For use in bouquets or floral arrangements, sola wood flowers need a stem or stick attached. The most popular option is to hot glue an 18 to 22-gauge wire to each one. Wooden skewers, preserved eucalyptus, or plastic stems are also options. Interestingly, the choice of stem is actually the most significant decision when it comes to environmental impact of sola wood flowers. It produces a majority of the carbon emissions and determines if the bouquet can be composted or not.
If using aluminum wire and hot glue, the stems for a bouquet would result in emissions of an estimated 230 g CO2e. (8) This is still quite small compared to the emissions of fresh flowers.
Rarely is sola wood used to make greenery so some couples use dried greenery or faux greenery in their bouquets. This is another factor that can have a significant impact on the overall emissions of the bouquet. For this study, we eliminated greenery from the equation as many sola wood flower bouquets have no greenery at all.
Although some paints may not biodegrade, the flowers themselves are made of wood and will break down fully if composted correctly. Metal stems may be recyclable depending on the municipal recycling facilities, but any plastic stems would need to be thrown away. Compared to faux flowers which inevitably end up in a landfill, disposal of wooden flowers is much more eco-friendly.
Like faux flowers, wood flowers can be reused many times for multiple events. However, the rate of reuse and resale of sola wood flowers seems less common than that of faux.
Compared to fresh and faux flowers, sola wood flowers are by far the most environmentally conscious choice. They are made from renewable wood and are free of damaging pollutants and chemicals. Except for paints and some stems, a wood flower bouquet is compostable and, if composted correctly, will break down without a trace.
Overall, a wooden flower bouquet produces just 1.3 kg CO2e from production to disposal which is amazingly little! This is 90% less emissions than imported fresh flowers. Even a faux flower bouquet rented 5 times still has carbon emissions 5 times greater than a bouquet of wooden flowers.
Emissions aside, sola wood flowers are still the winners when it comes to comparing waste generated and pollutants released into the environment. Sola wood flowers are an excellent “green” option.
At Silk Stem we take sustainability very seriously. It is our mission to be part of the movement towards greener weddings. We hope this article was helpful and inspires couples out there to make even just one eco-conscious choice when wedding planning. If you’d like to learn more about the carbon emissions of wedding flowers, check out our emission study of fresh and faux flowers.
- “Pith Plant – Encyclopedia of Life.” EOL, National Museum of Natural History, eol.org/pages/654981. Accessed 23 June 2021.
- “Dried Flowers, Natural Dried Flower Manufacturer and Exporter from India.” VAC International, www.vacinternational.com. Accessed 29 June 2021.
- “Sola Wood Flowers Making Process.” YouTube, uploaded by khushi internationals, 22 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=FlW4nogV67E.
- “What Is the Environmental Impact of My Wedding?” Less Stuff – More Meaning, 10 Mar. 2021, lessstuffmoremeaning.org/weddingfootprintcalculator.
- “Sustainability and Acrylic Paint – Woodguide.Org.” The Upstyle Wood Guide, 7 Nov. 2014, www.woodguide.org/guide/acrylic-paint.
- “OECD ILibrary | OECD Observer, Volume 2008 Issue 2.” OECD ILibrary, www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/oecd-observer/volume-2008/issue-2_observer-v2008-2-en. Accessed 29 June 2021.
- Bannon, Eoin. “Aviation: 2 to 3 Times More Damaging to the Climate than Industry.” Transport & Environment, 2 June 2018, transportenvironment.org/news/aviation-2-3-times-more-damaging-climate-industry-claims.
- Clemence, Christopher. “Leaders Emerge In The Aluminium Industry’s Race To Zero Carbon –.” Aluminium Insider, 2 Apr. 2019, aluminiuminsider.com/leaders-emerge-in-the-aluminium-industrys-race-to-zero-carbon/#:%7E:text=At%20present%2C%20the%20global%20average,CO2%20per%20ton%20of%20aluminium.