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Rose Parade moving at a crawl toward being green

The annual New Year's Day tradition is far behind other major public events in the trend to offset environmental impact.

December 31, 2010|By Louis Sahagun and P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times

Passion Flowers is a leading supplier of roses to the United States and stocks more than 5,000 retailers with flowers, including Ralphs grocery stores in California, according to company spokesman Brandon Hamm. But none of those flowers will be on a single float on Saturday, Hamm said.

The sponsorship news infuriated state officials and local farmers.

"Whether this has been an issue of inattention or economics, this parade has been shifting away from being a reflection of pride about California," said Kasey Cronquist, chief executive officer of the California Cut Flower Commission. "This is the first year they take it a step further, by identifying a sponsor of the rose [for the Bowl] — and it's not a rose from California."

As for the power behind the floats, there are not many ways that the enterprise can become more fuel-efficient or replace gasoline with more environmentally friendly fuels, according to its two largest float-building companies.

Seated on a workbench with his right foot resting on one of his trusty V-8 engines, Tim Estes, president of Fiesta floats, said: "I think it's great to use this new Honda technology. And if Honda wants to donate hybrid engines to us, fine. But in order to make them fit our chassis, we'll also need new transmissions, drive shafts, radiators, motor mounts, spare parts and technological expertise."

Efforts to modernize have come in fits and starts.

Two decades ago, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. proposed the idea of equipping Rose Parade floats with engines designed to run on natural gas. "That idea fell flat the moment someone asked, 'Who is going to pay for it?'" said Estes, whose company maintained an all-electric float from 1992 to 2002. "The chassis for that float was designed to accommodate batteries that weighed a total 9,900 pounds," Estes said.

A year ago, Gerald Prolman, the founder and former chief executive of Organic Bouquet, the first national online distributor of organic flowers, said he presented the American Honda Motor Co. "with an eco-friendly challenge: Why not roll in a green New Year with a float pulled by a hybrid engine and adorned with certified organic flowers?"

"The idea apparently fell on deaf ears, because I never heard back from them," Prolman said.

Even with the best of intentions, the path to a green Rose Parade can be strewn with thorns.

In a crowded and chilly tent on Thursday, scores of bleary-eyed students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo rushed among buckets of fragrant yellow button mums, eggplant-hued carnations and bags of ground statice petals, scrambling to finish their space-themed float.

The students were determined to cover as much of their float with locally sourced flowers as possible.

Cash-strapped, the students had sought the help of the state's flower producer association, putting out a call for donations of any sort after first scrounging flowers and other blooms from their own campus. A month ago, the group realized that the "planet" on the back of the float — to be covered in roses — may not get finished because of dwindling local supplies.

Facing a deadline, the Cal Poly students placed an order for roses — shipped from South America.

Although California farmers did send a semi-trailer full of flowers, including 12,000 roses, the delivery came in the wee hours Thursday.

"We were trying our best to be eco-friendly," said Katie Castellano, 22, a nutrition major and decorations chair of the school's float committee. "We are surrounded by farmers and we wanted to help them out. We didn't think it would be that difficult."

Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this report.

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