A good mix of growers, garden retailers and suppliers attended the sell-out Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) Sustainability Matters Conference, held at Horticulture House in Oxfordshire this week.

The attendance of the event demonstrated the importance of this topic to the industry.

There was also wider interest from the media with representatives from BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and BBC’s Radio 4’s You and Yours programme also attending, along with the trade press.

Opening the event HTA President Adam Taylor from Taylors Bulbs began with a definition of sustainability making the point that it is not just about plastics. He pointed out that with TV programmes gaining more public momentum, there has been no time more important than now to make it top of your priority list. It isn’t about pointing the finger and giving blame, it is about working together and finding strategies that work across the industry, he said.

George Bullivant, director of Gardenforum who was chairing the day, then followed discussing how important the matter of sustainability is for the industry. He talked about how it is a subject that has an emotional connection with so many people, and pointed out that if as an industry we get it wrong, it will have a detrimental effect across the whole industry.

Key points made by speakers throughout the day:

• 95 percent of consumers say that the environment is important to them

• Keen gardeners are more likely to be eco-friendly, recycle and willing to make a lifestyle compromise to benefit the environment than other consumers.

• Sustainability can help to create a competitive advantage for a brand and help you to build trust with consumers.

• It is important to assess the environmental impact of all constituent ingredients of growing media – not just peat. The Responsible Sourcing Guide for Growing Media will be available later in the year.

• Collins Word of the Year 2018 was ‘single-use’, largely due to the interest created by the media snowstorm that Blue Planet II created.

• The clear consumer message should be that non-black plastic pots are recyclable – recognising that other colours, in addition to taupe can be processed.

• Consider a re-use scheme – a positive way of showing consumers what you are doing. Why not create a wonky pot initiative!

• Social media is creating a chat storm around environmental issues but there is still a large gap between what people say and what they do.

• Tell a story about what you are doing as it will be businesses that respond positively to environmental challenges that will succeed.

• Take a positive approach to environmental communication with customers – we want them to keep on gardening!

• Environmental actions result in cost savings in the long run.

• Current recyclable alternatives are not the end solution and work continues in developing new options.

In summing up the day HTA president-elect Boyd Douglas-Davies from Hillview Group said: “What an insightful and stimulating day with plenty of food for thought.

"The event demonstrated how small actions can make big differences and we need to take our customers with us on the journey. As an industry we are making great progress with regard to recyclable pots and let’s not forget that we are producing a great product in the shape of plants or ‘clean air machines’. We need to shout about this helping to ensure that the buyers of the future continue to come to us for great products with a positive impact on the environment."