Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

A Valentine's Day for people who love the planet

A hand-tied bouquet or an exquisite box of chocolates are traditional signifiers of affection on St Valentine's Day. But choose your gift carefully and you can brighten the prospects of the planet as well as the eyes of your lover.

Campaigners say that people should think as much about buying the right thing in the run-up to the day as they do during the rest of the year.



As every ethical shopper knows, present-buyers will be confronted with environmental and social dilemmas. Take a simple bunch of flowers. Have they been grown in Africa and flown thousands of miles to the UK with the consequent damage from aviation? Did their growing take water from local people? Are they Fairtrade, or have the workers who tended the stems been poorly paid?



What, then, should you buy to have a clear conscience on St Valentine's Day? Ethical shopping experts say the foundation of good buying is to get organic and local, and, if not local, Fairtrade. Organic food uses no pesticides, local goods reduce pollution from transportation, and Fairtrade guarantees producers and workers in developing countries a better return than they would otherwise receive.



Anna Mitchell, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We would say buy local food. If you are making a St Valentine's Day meal we suggestyou make it with locally grown products, organic and GM-free. You don't have to buy a jumbo Valentine's card. You can send an e-card or make your own. If you are going to buy flowers then buy local or go for Fairtrade which should be clearly marked. If you're going to a restaurant, go to one serving organic, locally sourced food."



Most roses given on St Valentine's Day come from the Netherlands rather than British gardens and some other flowers, such as carnations, may have come as far as Kenya and Chile. Chocolate can have a bitter aftertaste, given claims of child slavery in cocoa plantations in Africa - hence the advice to buy Fairtrade.



Similarly, Amnesty International urges shoppers to ensure they do not buy " blood diamonds" responsible for fuelling civil wars in Africa in the 1990s.



Nick Dearden, Amnesty's campaigns manager, said: "We are asking customers to ask a few questions in the shop: Do you have a conflict-free policy? How do you enforce that policy? How do you know your suppliers are not using conflict diamonds?'."



The credit card company's survey suggests precious stones are not necessary to win the heart of a woman or man. Women said they most wanted, in the following order: a Valentine's card that says "I love you" (47 per cent); a kiss (44 per cent); flowers (43 per cent) and a meal cooked by their partner (39 per cent).



How to have an ethical, ecological Valentine's Day



Jewellery



Diamonds should be conflict-free, thanks to the new Kimberley agreement on traceability. But Amnesty says corruption is a problem and the best way to ensure the diamond business puts its house in order is to ask questions in the shop, such as: "How do you enforce your conflict-free policy?'



Flowers



Some flowers, such as tulips, are grown in the UK. If you opt for foreign flowers, make sure the workers are well-treated and buy Fairtrade - available from the most grocery chains. Ask your florist where their flowers come from.



Cards



Buy recycled or make your own. Or do both. Paperchase sells this kit of four 100 per cent recycled cards, infused with corn flower petals. Display your creativity as well as your love.



Chocolates



With concerns about quality, pollution and labour conditions in commercial cocoa plantations, Fairtrade and organic chocolate is growing in popularity. Green and Black's sells boxes such as the ones shown here online.



Wine



Fairtrade wine helps small vineyards and their workforces in developing countries. This Colombard Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa is in the new Origin range from Threshers. Smaller online merchants sell organic wines.

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