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Interview with Denise Patterson

conscious creativity sustainability Sep 17, 2021

The Future of Floral Sustainability

Smithers Oasis opens the door for a new approach on sustainability with the launch of the TerraBrick 

"At EMC we believe that each of us, as designers, are continually seeking and yearn for creative ideas and ambitions. We must allow ourselves to be changed and open to becoming “consciously creative” – not seeking out only the next trendy “trick or tip”, but discovering there are infinite possibilities that surround us to create. And you know what? Sustainability is strongly related to creativity.Creativity is at the heart of sustainability. It is rooted in sustainable social, economic, environmental and cultural practices. It can mean anything from ability to transform itself to tackling specific problems. 

Creativity is a special kind of renewable resource and human talent, as it involves transforming ideas, imagination and dreams into reality, often blending tradition and innovation.Creativity is an ability that exists not just in the floral design sector of our industry, as there is technological, scientific and  business creativity and products such as the Oasis Terra Brick is proof of that."

Tomas de Bruyne, CEO at European Master Certification

You can subscribe to the EMC Youtube Channel to see the full series of 3 videos of Tomas De Bruyne testing the Smithers Oasis Terra Brick for the first time, get insight on his way of approaching a new product and receive valuable information regarding this one in particular.

Interview with Denise Patterson, Director of Corporate Marketing @Smithers Oasis

Global strategy, local action is a guideline for how Smithers Oasis do business. Does this apply as well for sustainability as a corporate strategy?

"Smithers Oasis was one of the first companies in the industry to put together a sustainability plan and we did that formally in 2013, at a global level. Sustainability is something that we're always thinking about and this particular program is led by the senior leadership. This is something that's supported globally, although we have different units in different countries. No matter what country you're in, everyone is involved in implementing the sustainability plan. 

For example, the business unit of Flora Life, which has a very robust program builds on the foundation of our global program, the UK Smithers Oasis has a program of their own, which again builds on the corporate program and so on. Therefore, as we always upgrade our global program, theirs will still build on top of it. One of the philosophies of Smithers Oasis is that you think global, because we're always thinking about the world, but you act local, with respect to the local community. And we’re very proud of our work worldwide! 

Particularly in floral design, as this is an area that shows changes depending on what country you're in, incorporating cultural differences as to be able to customize things to fit the culture is very important to us. We approach sustainability the same way: we think global with our corporate program and then units can act locally as is appropriate, for their knowledge of the particularities of an area is very valuable."

Would you explain a little bit more how does this global strategy actually go from paper to production line and end customers, ultimately?

Sustainability isn't something that we just started thinking about a year ago or two years ago. In fact, in 2014, we launched our first floral foam under the Oasis brand that is biodegradable and up to this day we remain the only floral foam brand in the industry that is biodegradable. There are all sorts of things that can affect the biodegradable attribute, the rates vary slightly but we state those rates on the product so people know what they are getting, as honesty towards our customers is probably one of the most important things in approaching sustainability as a long term concept. 

The testing for our products is being done by an established protocol - the American Standards Testing, which is a globally recognised testing standard and all of those tests are conducted by a third party independent laboratory. We have subsequently taken all of those results to Intertek which is a third-party agency who has certified that our claims are valid. We are very confident in what our products and when we put the Oasis brand on our products that is because it has met all of those stringent requirements that we have as a company. 

We will continue to improve our foam and increase the sustainability attributes of it but there are a lot more factors to be considered in regards to this: what happen upstream with the materials going in it and then what happens downstream. There are alternatives that people may use rather than floral foam and I know chicken wire is common option, or large plastic buckets, glass or plastic tubes. Those and many more are all options but you also have to consider how often are you having to add more water, for instance or how does the chickenwire behave in time, affecting the environment. A brick of floral foam will extends the life of cut flowers as we really formulate our foam to make sure that the flower life is extended as much as possible. Sustainability means you also have to consider the harvesting of flowers and everything that goes along with that, because all of that adds to a carbon footprint as well. So, when we talk and act sustainable, the focus shouldn’t be on just one piece of foam, but on the overall concept. How long are those flowers going to live? or do you have to go harvest more flowers? do you have to keep adding you know clean water to a bucket because it's evaporating? or are you properly recycling all of those tubes and chicken wire are they going to landfill? and is the chicken wire rusting? These are all questions that add up to the very important issue of sustainability in the floral industry. 

These are all reactors to consider and it's very, very complex and we recognise this complexity of it. We just keep again trying to be honest about what we're doing and and also we're always moving forward to the next thing, through innovation, as that's very important. 

The testing process, how does that happen more precisely?

Smithers Oasis has 9 research laboratories around the world and there are two different kinds of tests that we will do. On one hand, we test the physical properties, which includes matters like how strong is the grip, does it have the right density, measuring the drainage or the absorption capacity and many many more. On the other hand, we also do flower life testing. All different varieties of flowers are being shipped from other countries, we use water from different parts of the world to see how that is acting, because you know water varies everywhere, and then we can also ship prototypes to different countries so that we can do testing in our different labs. In addition to that, all the expertise that we have from our Flora Life division comes into our flower life testing for floral foam or any other kind of floral media, like the new product that we're launching now, the Terra Brick.

Once internal tests are showing results we are pleased with, the laboratories will perform  formal testing of properties, of flower life and then we will do prototype evaluation within our floral units, which means we send product to the different units and say just try this and tell us what you think internally. Afterwards, when we are happy with those results we'll do field testing and work with florists in different markets so then they get to test it. We take all of that feedback and we determine what adjustments need to be made and only then we send the product to an outside lab before making any claims regarding our products. As you can imagine, this entire process takes years to succeed. 

Everybody is very eager to know more about the story of the Terra Brick? What should we know about the product?

This new product that we're launching the Oasis Terra Brick floral medium has taken years and a lot of effort to develop. We are experts in the floral industry and we want to remain that way and we know that when people see the Oasis brand on something they have certain expectations. We need to fulfil the expectations and that comes as a promise on behalf of Oasis: no matter what it is: foam or this new floral media, a container or something else that we've decided to sell it has to have a certain level of quality.  

The first thing that I have to remind myself every day and remind everyone that I work with in our company is that this is not floral foam. There are all sorts of things that we are used to when it comes to floral foam that we now have to set aside and almost start from scratch. And of course, this goes for florists and designers as well. For instance, the Terra Brick is available in bricks only because this is a completely different kind of product it is made with a plant-based renewable natural core and a compostable binder. We've been working on the patent now for almost two years so it is something completely different which means the manufacturing process is completely different. We know where we want it to be down the road, we do want to provide different options and certainly as the market responds to the bricks that we first launched we will hear feedback and adapt to it, but for the now we have launched it in the form of a brick.

The brick has a slight angle to it, it's 11 cm across the widest part on the top, 8.5 cm on the bottom and it's 5 cm high. When we were thinking about size, while this product can be cut easily, we were aware of sizes that people tend to cut down to, and so we considered that when we were selecting the first size option we are launching now.

It is a product that has been certified OK compost home and OK compost industrial so basically if you do an arrangement with it in a container, whenever the flowers die, you can just pile it in your compost and take the container out and that's going to be a big game changer for florists all over the world for sure. Those certifications were issued by TUV Austria so we were very excited and proud of that.

How will Terra Brick be priced on the market? 

The Oasis Terra Brick floral media will sell at a higher price than any of the oasis floral foams and that's for a few reasons.We’ve been working very hard on this, it has unique materials, it's a completely different manufacturing process that requires a lot of investments and refining and all of those things naturally will reflected in a higher selling price, but ultimately I think people will have to accept that sustainability as a concept is not cheap, because if it were cheap and easy, we would have done it from the very beginning and sustainability wouldn’t be such a big issues nowadays. We have to also change our mindset, generally speaking, it's not just for the floral industry that if we want to go sustainable we have to put in effort, time and energy and that also translates financially in the prices we pay. When we even looked at achieving the OK compost home and the OK compost industrial certifications we were at a point where we realised that there would be costs associated with that, not only for all of the testing and certification, but also of the ingredients that we put into the product itself. We had to make a decision: do we want to stay with our values of having the product that we felt very strongly we wanted or did we want to say well we're only going to think about price?  

We wanted to walk those values that we had started out with, to have a medium that had these compostable certifications so that's the way that we've traveled and we feel and we know that we've made the right decision. We're also so excited about the product and we know the market is able to catch up to that, just as in 1954, when we invented floral foam, that was something very different back then, the market caught up with it.

Where do you see or hope Terra Brick will go from here?

You can see for any of the products that we launch, whether it's under the Oasis brand or Flora Life or the Grower Solutions, which is our grower brand, we don't launch a product and just leave it there. We launch a product and we improve it, and we improve it, and we improve it. This is our initial launch of Oasis Terra Brick floral medium but we will keep improving it. We feel like we're opening the doors and moving in a new path and we're not walking away from floral foam, we continue to make significant investments again to improve the sustainable attributes of that another performance so we're going to keep moving there but now we have more options.

This launch, we have coordinated in a more formal way than we've ever done before so that it's consistent around the world. So we've made this consistent and we're launching it with more resources than we've ever had before: we already have videos and photography to help people understand how to use, we've even had illustrations done of the product to take people through each step of how to use it because we want people to feel confident.

What are your expectations from the designers and florists when they start working with this product? 

We've tried to think of as much as we could in terms of offering information on the Terra Brick, but now we are going to get to learn a lot because everyone is going to give feedback and we're going to find out what works, what doesn't work, what could we do next. I would encourage and say to all designers: experiment and have fun and and then give us feedback, let us know what do you like and what surprises you had, what did you have to adjust to because it is different.

I spent a lot of my career in a different industry, but doing marketing for consumers and we used to say that consumers come up with a better idea of how to use our products than we ever could and I feel that florists are the same way. What I know and I think why you hear so much excitement from me is that we've tried to think of as much as we could but now I'm going to get to learn a lot as well through the feedback we will receive. And we're going to find out what works, what doesn't work, what could we do next and so I would say to all designers out there: experiment and have fun and and then give us feedback!

Let us know what do you like and what surprises you, what did you have to adjust and so on. It is the natural process for a product to go through and we hope the Terra Brick will be opening the door for a whole new future in floristry, with the help of a collaborative work between Oasis and florists.

Have you tried the new Smithers Oasis Terra Brick? You can also add your contribution to improving and adjusting in time the product to better serve your creative ideas by email to [email protected].

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