Ask Ignacio: Valentine’s Edition

February 2013

What's more sustainable: chocolates or flowers? -Curiouscat

The quick answer is, it depends. Where are they from? How were they produced?

Valentine's Day often evokes a reaction out of people, either "it's a celebration of love" or "stupid Hallmark holiday." Or you could be more like me and spend it eating a can of beans, in the dark, alone....

However, if you're feverishly planning the perfect VDay celebration, I ask you to stop and think: does your partner really need more stuff? Because most things just ends up in landfill.

You have to admit, it's a little silly to buy a card that says, "I love you." You couldn't think of that yourself?

I challenge you to make something yourself. Make a card:

  1. Get 100% recycled paper, a picture of the two (or however many) of you, and a marker
  2. Fold the paper in to a card
  3. Glue the picture on the card
  4. Write your feelings all over the card

See? Done!

In terms of actual gifts--your partner probably doesn't want macaroni jewelry. They might not         (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻, but you might not convey what you meant.

So let's do this, I'll give you a quick list of how to spot more sustainable gifts.


Many of the flowers you see at grocery stores were doused in preservatives to survive the two-week journey from another continent. These flowers are either scentless or have a scent sprayed on. In other words, coated in LIES!

Try to buy local organic flowers; they smell nice and don't leave massive amounts of pesticides.


Valentine's Day chocolates are an experience, and who doesn't love gambling? Instead of mass-produced, mystery chocolates, opt for fair-trade or take a trip to the north side of Chicago, which is practically riddled with bakeries. It is a tasty trip to go and get delicious local chocolates. But what do I know, I'm the one eating beans in the dark.


Gemstones have by far the highest environmental and social footprint. They require the destruction of landscapes, through mining or draining lakes. In the 1990s 15% of diamonds came from areas where they fund insurgency or military activities in war zones, otherwise known as "blood" diamonds. Though this number has largely declined since then, there are still a few countries that don't adequately track the provenance of their diamonds.

That being said, if you must buy gemstones:

First, you can opt for cultured diamonds. Cultured diamonds (diamonds grown in a lab) can only be distinguished from their earthly counterparts with highly specialized equipment. They are also 10% cheaper!

Second, you can get stones like peridot from Arizona, tourmaline from California, and fire opal from Oregon, which are all abundant and accessible.

Third, colored gemstones (i.e. rubies, emeralds, etc.) have a smaller impact than diamonds due to being closer to the surface. Avoid gems from Colombia, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Just like the previously mentioned "blood" diamonds, these purchases can end up funding groups like drug cartels or warlords.

Finally, if you are going to buy real diamonds make sure they came from either Canada or Australia, where workers are paid fair market wages. The mining companies are also obligated to restore whatever habitat they disrupt.

There you have it. You have to get this right. I messed up last time. Now I'm just a shadow of my former self. Lonely, cold, sad...

Carry on my wayward son,