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If working from home has awakened your inner botanist with the allure of an Instagram-friendly urban jungle, you’re not alone. Houseplants are big business, and the sector is growing online, pushed along by COVID-19, which eliminated not only our access to garden centers and other physical plant retailers, but for some of us, the great, green outdoors. Buying a plant just feels like an inherently eco-friendly act.
While a relatively small percentage of plant sales happen online, the sector is being rapidly disrupted by agile, direct-to-consumer brands that have honed their branding and marketing to lure in style-conscious millennials.
In 2016, Europeans spent $42 billion on houseplants, and in the U.S., sales have reportedly surged by 50% in the last four years, with millennials thought to be responsible for a third of all houseplant sales. With plenty of redeeming qualities, especially for young city dwellers in small apartments with limited access to green spaces, there’s a myriad of reasons why houseplants are so popular.
In a rush of horticultural enthusiasm, it’s easy to forget that, like the fashion industry, the wide world of houseplants offers a full spectrum of quality: everything from fast and cheap mass retailers to the more expensive, bespoke, and sustainable brands are a few clicks away. But what sets the small, independent brands apart from the mass market retailers?
Selling house plants online presents major challenges in packaging and delivering your items safely and importantly, the right way up. Companies often overcompensate with bubble wrap, cardboard, and paper padding to protect your plant—all of which ends up in a landfill. On top of this, the black plastic plant containers that most houseplants arrive in aren’t recognized by the technology used in recycling centers, meaning they too end up in landfill. Startups are at an advantage here, because they are able to build their business with sustainability at the core, and are investing in innovative packaging solutions, with everything from transformable tubes to compostable coconut fibers being used to pack and ship plants efficiently.
The market is dominated by the retail giants like Amazon, Home Depot, IKEA and Walmart — all of which source their house plants from Costa Farms—one of the largest growers in the world which produces across 4,000 acres of land in Florida. Sourcing from one centralized grower that serves all of North America means that the carbon emissions from greenhouse to your house are far greater. Independent brands pride themselves on working with a network of local growers to cut out the middle man (the shop floor) to ensure you’re getting the healthiest plant with the least carbon emissions possible.
Like any product you buy from a major retailer, there’s very little personal communication on offer once the product is in your home, which is especially concerning when it’s a living, breathing house plant. A big point of difference for small online brands is their ability to offer personalized support through social media, online chat, and text services. This helps to keep plants thriving, reduces the turnover of plants dying, and encourages novices to stick with it.
Below, check out six environmentally conscious, independent companies providing locally sourced and ethically delivered houseplants to your door.
Founded by Justin Mast in 2018, Bloomscape ships houseplants directly from the greenhouses where they’re grown, cutting out the transport to warehouses and shop floors where plants may not be cared for properly before being sold. This means there are fewer carbon emissions involved, and your houseplants will arrive healthy and strong. If you need advice on your plants, Bloomscape’s Plant Mom service connects you with Mast’s actual mom—who has 40 years of experience in horticulture—to offer support.
Started by Eliza Blank in 2012, The Sill offers the whole package: every plant comes ready to go without the need to buy your own compost or plant pot. Education is key to the Sill’s offering, with workshops and 1-on-1 virtual consultations to ensure you buy the right plant for your level of light and living situation, reducing the likelihood of a dead plant. Last year, the team completely redesigned their packaging to reduce waste, so it’s now entirely recyclable and compostable.
Horti started out in 2017 by mailing seedlings of hardy house plants to customers, with the aim to help people realize how easy horticulture can be. A sustainable philosophy runs through Horti, from the small businesses that supply their plants to the natural terra-cotta clay pots that each plant arrives in. There’s even a Plant Kindness program that allows you to nominate or give a houseplant to someone in your life (or a stranger) who might need a botanical pick-me-up.
Based in London, the Stem launched in October 2019 with the goal to make the city more green, healthy and happy. Sustainability is at the core of every step in the supply chain. From their partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects (where a tree is planted for every order placed), right through to the 100% electric vans delivering their plants, The Stem aims to have as small a carbon footprint as possible. You can even plant their thank you cards, which have seeds embedded in the paper.
The duo behind Rooted NYC, based in Chinatown, began selling house plants in 2018 by hosting Plant Parties in their apartment. The mission has always been to help educate people on environmental and sustainability issues, using house plants as a gateway to wider discussions. Rather than one centralized warehouse, Rooted NYC works with a network of local growers to ship directly to your door while supporting independent nurseries. Rooted NYC’s plants come in a tube, which transforms into a temporary plant pot. They’re also part of 1% For The Planet, committed to donating 1 percent of all profits to environmental organizations.
Another London-based offering, Patch Plants was born in December 2015 and works with a “just-in-time” supply model, meaning they don’t buy stock from their growers in Holland until it sells on site. Because of this, and the lack of packaging on all purchases for London-based customers, there’s almost no waste. Patch is currently going through the application to become a B Corp, and is refining sustainability measures across the business.