The season of romance is nearly upon us and according to the UK Retail Occasions Report 2013, half of all British consumers will buy something for Valentine’s Day this year, with 32m dates taking place to mark the day.

Rakuten Marketing tells us that the average Brit will spend £119 on Valentine’s gifts, with most of the cash being spent by men, who spend almost twice as much as women on Valentine’s gifts.

What better way to say ‘I love you’ than with cards, flowers and chocolates? A Brandwatch analysis of Twitter found that 99% of conversations about Valentine’s gifts in 2013 were about traditional presents like these. Men were more likely to discuss flowers, while women were more likely to discuss chocolates.

But all of this spending and gift-giving can have hidden problems. Many consumers are realising that their beautiful Valentine’s gifts often have a big carbon footprint.

Flowers

According to the Kenya Flower Council, around 70% of the roses sold in the UK for Valentine’s Day are cut in the Great Rift Valley, often around Lake Naivasha. That’s around 10,900km to travel before they reach you. And because flowers have to be in perfect condition, they’re often refrigerated for the entire journey, which increases emissions levels. Flower production also uses a large amount of water. As a result, the water levels at Lake Naivasha have dropped rapidly in the last few years, impacting the native hippos and birds.

Leaving aside the environmental impact, there are also a number of concerns about the welfare of those who grow and pick the plants. Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of flowers. Thousands of workers are employed by the industry, but War on Want claims that, of the 70% of flower workers who are women, many are on short-term contracts that are often not renewed in the case of illness or pregnancy. Many of the women earn less than $1 a day.

Chocolate

Ghana and Ivory Coast supply 75% of the world’s cocoa, meaning that just getting your chocolates to the UK racks up a substantial carbon footprint. Growing cocoa plants is not a particularly energy efficient business either. As demand for cheap chocolate rises, pressure is being put on the rainforest land where cocoa grows, occasionally leading to deforestation and degradation of the soil quality. Some environmentalists warn that we are over-farming cocoa so intensively that there’s a strong possibility we will begin to run out within our lifetime.

Have a Greener Valentine’s

Looking for alternative ways to say I love you?

Why not plan a romantic evening in and cook a meal? Or you could always treat your loved-one to a local mini-break. A poll carried out by Sunshine.co.uk found that weekends away were at the top of most people’s Valentine’s wish lists. Keep your carbon footprint in check by staying in the UK and visiting one of the top 5 most romantic cities according to Brandwatch’s Twitter analysis: Bristol, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast.

If you’re determined to give flowers this year, then it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. Some retailers and florists offer ethical flower ranges. Look out for the ‘Fair Flowers Fair Plants’ label. Fair-trade chocolate is also readily available.

Finally, instead of a card, why not use social media or text message to express how much you care? In 2013 the Huffington Post reported that an average of 11 million more texts were sent on 14th February than on any other day of the month. This could be your year to join the trend, so avoid wasting paper and go digital with your love messages.

What unusual, eco-friendly Valentine’s gifts will you be giving this year?

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