Horticulture industry debates future for sustainability

Conference debates how to forge a unified approach to getting sustainability message across to garden retail customers.

Ryton Gardens hosted a Garden Organic conference on sustainability - image: HW
Ryton Gardens hosted a Garden Organic conference on sustainability - image: HW

The peat issues is "toxifying" the horticulture industry's move to becoming more sustainable, delegates at a garden retail conference heard last week.

Speaking at the Garden Organic event on sustainability, former B&Q and Wyevale consultant Dr Alan Knight said: "The peat issue has got out of proportion. We have a great story to tell but peat gets in the way."

Garden Organic is understood to want to run a certification scheme for garden products sold in garden centres. President Tim Lang said there was concern about "drift" in getting the sustainability message across.

"Collaboration is the name of the game because things are so serious," he added. He said label systems needed to be more integrated and were only as good as the trust systems behind them.

Knight said carbon use and the impact of people and health were the issues for which to watch. Old arguments with environmentalists calling industries evil for using peat, patio heaters or rainforest timber were "toxic", he declared.

The new sustainability narrative was about your contribution rather than what you did not do as a company, said Knight. He added that the garden sector was on message because it sold wildlife, grow your own and plants.

Graham Russell, head of the Defra centre for influencing behaviour, said the department was researching sustainable gardening and monitoring peat use in horticulture. "Choice editing" was the way forward, with retailers promoting green products ahead of conventional ones, he said.

Gardeners' World magazine editor Adam Pasco said there was massive opportunity for growth in garden retail but "gardeners who do their best are being victimised by lobby groups".

Scotsdales managing director Caroline Owen reported that her centre's "Natural Alternative" organic promotion had helped sales.

Scotts R&D head Bob Daniels said the UK market was worth just EUR15m, rather than the quoted EUR150m. It was EUR45m in Germany and EUR70m in France. "We need a second green revolution but organic alone cannot deliver that. Biotechnology can bring a great deal to the debate."

Bransford Webbs managing director Geoff Caesar concluded: "The issue as a grower who is taking a positive environmental stance is that it has a cost as well as benefits. I want to get that message over to the consumer."

Surveys in Which? Gardening cited cost, availability, resistance to change and products not working as reasons why gardeners did not use organic products.

Editor Ceri Thomas said her readers were confused about green label claims. But Wiggly Wigglers owner Heather Gorringe said consumers were more educated than speakers claimed.

Green choices

Bob Daniels, R&D chief scientist, Scotts

"We could be seen as the villain. We seek to give choice to the customer. The worst thing that can happen is polarisation of views."

Caroline Owen, managing director, Scotsdales

"How we become more profitable in a sustainable world, I'm not sure. We need to keep a range of products on our shelves but consumers are choosing a softer approach to gardening."

Alan Knight, sustainability consultant

"Sustainability provides gardening with a huge commercial opportunity but engaging with it is the biggest problem because it is all about threat. It is moving from ethics to a supply chain problem. The system does not sustain itself."

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