Happy Earth Day!

What better time than Earth Day to explain our sustainable approach to floral design!  I started Pollen specifically to offer an eco-friendly floral design option to couples planning their weddings.  In both our operations and in our sourcing of materials, we operate in as eco-friendly of a way as possible.  It’s been an evolving process, finding workarounds to the traditional ways of doing things as we go.  Here are a few of the things that we are doing differently…

We avoid using floral foam.  Floral foam is a petroleum product, never biodegrades, and contains formaldehyde.  The less of it we are putting out there, the better.  Instead of using foam, we design our arrangements in water, using chicken wire and/or tape if necessary to provide some support to the arrangement.

summer locally grown wedding bouquetWe work with local flower farmers as much as possible.  In the Chicago area, for about half the year we have access to beautiful locally grown product. During the growing season, we work with these local blooms as much as possible.  This means the product doesn’t have to travel as far (less fossil fuel required), we’re supporting the local farming community, and our designs reflect the seasons!

Throughout the year, we have several partners we lean on for our sustainable approach.

Bright Endeavors

I met the folks at Bright Endeavors when Pollen and Bright Endeavors were located in the same building in Ravenswood.  Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise that makes eco-friendly candles and bath products while providing job skills training to women who are at risk for poverty.  They have a votive refill program, where I am able to bring back my votive candles again and again to be filled with soy wax.  (Pssst…They also have products appropriate for wedding favors!)

Collective Resource

Collective Resource swings by each week to pick up our compostable materials.  They transport all of our leaves, stems, and spent flowers to a commercial composting facility. And. yes, Collective Resource offers this service for home food scraps as well.  They can also help you plan a zero-waste event!

Chicago Green Wedding Alliance

Chicago Green Wedding Alliance approved vendorThis group of wedding vendors began as a grassroots effort, formed by myself and a few other like-minded business owners wanting to encourage greener weddings and make it easier for couples to find eco-friendly wedding vendors.  We’ve grown to a membership of 40+ businesses, hosting an annual wedding show as well as other educational and fun events.  This Sunday, April 27, 2014 we’re holding our second annual Wedding Recyclery, a tag sale for couples to sell and buy gently used wedding items.  More info on the Recyclery here.

What’s next as I continue to green the business?  This year, I’m trying out growing a few things right here in our own backyard at Pollen.  Also, I’m going to work harder this year to more consistently find new homes for the flowers we bring back from events.  (If you have an organization that would benefit from slightly used flowers, feel free to reach out.)  Heads up: I’ll be looking for a volunteer to rework our picked-up flowers and coordinate their delivery!

Wedding Profile: Eco-Examples

Rachel and Jason’s wedding at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum reminded me that there are many little things, easy to overlook, that we at Pollen do to minimize the ecological impact of our clients’ weddings.  Some are more obvious, liking working with locally grown flowers whenever possible.  Others are less obvious.  Here are a couple of the easy-to-miss things we do to be more eco-friendly, illustrated through yesterday’s wedding.

Avoiding Floral Foam:
This is a biggie.  We have nearly entirely eliminated our use of floral foam, and yesterday’s wedding was another step toward foam-freedom.  Why avoid floral foam?  It’s a petroleum product, and we don’t need more reasons to be digging around for oil, do we?  Floral foam doesn’t biodegrade.  And it contains formaldehyde.  When cut while dry, it creates a dust that the person cutting it can’t help but inhale.  My fellow florists can attest to the evidence of this inhalation, seen when one blows his or her nose after cutting dry floral foam.  Gross, yes, but illustrative, no?

There are just a few applications left that I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to avoid using floral foam.  One of those was to decorate structures, such as chuppahs.  What to do?  I went old school: chicken wire.  I bundled up some chicken wire, secured it to the chuppah, and added the foliage and flowers on site.


Another application requiring some trial and error in order to avoid floral foam was in designing tall centerpieces.  Usually those are designed in floral foam that is taped to a tray, then the tray then is set on top of the tall vase.  Instead of going this route, I’ve been using a tall vase and designing directly in the vase, with the stems in water.  Getting a perfect sphere of flowers is tricky with this technique, but most of my clients are looking for a looser outline, which works out perfectly!

And yet another challenge is when designing in low bowls.   In this case, I went old school again and used floral frogs in the containers.  Floral frogs come in a few different forms, including glass ones with holes in them and metal ones that look like a bunch of pins sticking up.  I used the latter in these low glass bowls, then put in some small rocks to camouflage the frog.

Below you can see a low centerpiece, as well as the tall centerpieces in the background.

On the table, we provided soy wax candles to provide soft light once the sun set.  We also lined the window ledges with votive candles.  Speaking of our candles…

Thoughtful Candles
The clients chose Pollen to provide the candles because we offer soy wax votive candles, which we have refilled by Bright Endeavors.  Most candles are made from paraffin wax.  You guessed it: another petroleum product.   Soy wax votives burn cleaner and are plant-derived.

Many times after weddings and events, the votive candles simply get thrown out.  It’s cheaper to buy new ones than the cost of having someone remove the stubborn paraffin wax from spent candles.  Soy wax, on the other hand, is quite easy to remove.   Pollen partners with Bright Endeavors, a social enterprise that provides job skills training to women at risk for poverty while producing eco-friendly bath and candle products.  Bright Endeavors offers a votive refill program that allows us to bring back our spent votives again and again to be refilled with soy wax.

Even for our clients that don’t prioritize sustainability in their wedding planning, we’re working in ways that minimize waste in our business, and therefore at their weddings.  For those who place value on sustainability, Pollen is the perfect florist to work with to host a greener wedding.