You survived the holidays. But are you ready for the next big consumer-oriented holiday: Valentine’s Day?
I am a romantic at heart (I painted the heart painting above), but the tradition of celebrating love with chocolate, roses, and jewelry leaves a wake of environmental destruction that is not so romantic. Greenhouse gases, unfair labor practices, and waste are left in the wake of shipping roses from Ecuador, sourcing chocolate overseas, and mining for minerals. According to TerraPass, Americans spend about $2 billion on flowers for Valentine’s Day and purchase over 35 million heart shaped boxes of chocolate (75% of them sourced from Africa).
Over 80% of cut flowers are imported, creating a carbon footprint of over 20 million pounds of CO2. According to The Guardian, “The majority of those flowers will come from Colombia and Ecuador, two of the world’s leading producers. But these countries, and their flower industries specifically, have troubled records of abusing workers or hiring children, and your well-intentioned roses might go toward supporting some of these practices.”
Show the planet some love this Valentine’s Day and consider these five ideas for a greener day of love.
1. Make Your Own Card
Americans are expected to spend $1 billion on cards for Valentine’s Day, according to the Greeting Card Association. Be a rebel and make your own card. This idea came from my boyfriend, a third grade teacher, who has his students make cards for each other—no store bought cards allowed. Each is personalized by completing the statement, “I like (or admire) you because…” Get out some old cards, images from magazines, colored paper, glue, crayons/markers, and scissors, and make a card the old-fashioned way.
Image: Janice Sandeen
2. Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative, so this Valentine’s Day make time to get outside and take a walk on the wild side. Living in the Bay Area, it is easy to get outdoors and reconnect with nature and a date, or yourself. According to a study from Stanford access to natural areas is “vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.” Here are some of the best hikes in the Bay Area, according to KQED.
3. Be Present Instead of Buying a Present
Mindfulness isn’t just for robe-wearing monks; it can be a gift for your relationship as well. Instead of buying your sweetie a gift, consider spending the day together at a local gem, Spirit Rock Meditation Center. On February 17, Spirit Rock is offering Heart Practices for Couples, “An opportunity for couples to awaken the heart of joy and love together…Through partner meditations, verbal and nonverbal communication exercises and group sharing, couples will practice the art of intimacy and learn skills to deepen the shared journey.
4. Just Don’t Spend
We spend over $18 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day, with 20% of consumer’s buying jewelry. Mining for precious metals and gems for jewelry can have serious environmental and human rights implications. Here are a few gift ideas from the heart that don’t require major consumption:
- Give a massage (add a few drops of organic essential oil to sesame oil);
- Take some time to answer the New York Times’ 36 questions, known to cultivate love and intimacy;
- Make a homemade meal from local, fresh ingredients;
- Plan an activity to do together; or
- Write a love letter.
5. Eat Ethical Chocolate
If you can’t resist buying your sweetie something sweet, take a moment to pick an ethical brand. According to an article in Grist, for the world’s biggest chocolate makers, practices like child slave labor, rainforest demolition, and heavy reliance on GMOs are just a part of doing business. When it comes to chocolate, it is not so simple as looking for organic or fair trade label. A great resource is Rainforest Alliance, which certifies chocolate that’s better for the environment and that ensures cocoa farmers have good living and working conditions. Grist recommends a visit to San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate, which exemplifies an ethical brand.
Chocolate is also fueling climate change. The HuffPost recently stressed, “Your afternoon chocolate bar may be fueling climate change, destroying protected forests and threatening elephants, chimpanzees and hippos in West Africa, research suggests.” Deforestation-linked cocoa has entered the supply chains of some of the biggest players in the chocolate industry; A report from Mighty Earth, Chocolate’s Dark Secret, found that a large amount of the cocoa used in chocolate produced by Mars, Nestle, Hershey’s, Godiva, and other major chocolate companies was grown illegally in dwindling national parks and reserves in Ivory Coast and Ghana.
The good news is that 22 major chocolate companies recently made a promise to stop destroying forests in West Africa, a huge step to save our planet’s rainforest. But this is just the start. Please consider signing the petition to tell Cadbury and Ferrero to commit to no new deforestation for cocoa worldwide.