Which Tree is Greener ?

IMG-20161218-WA0001A friend’s daughter convinced him to have a “Vegan Christmass Tree” this year which essentially involved tying a number of fallen branches together such that they formed a tree like shape thus avoiding cutting down a living tree.

In my MBA class, book, and the new electronic course available on Coursera, I make the point that understanding what the true environmental impact of anything really is can be quite complex and decided to look at Christmass Trees in the this week’s post

Real or Artificial ?

While the environmental impact of my friend’s “tree” is clearly very low, most households which have a Christmass Trees will either opt for a real tree or an artificial one. As is often the case on the issue of sustainable products, both sides say their product is superior in terms of its having a more benign impact on the environment.

imagesOn its website, the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), which says it supports companies commercializing both types of trees, has done a study on the issue and determined that  it requires about the same amount of energy to make one artificial tree as to grow 6 natural trees. Other factors involve how long the tree had to “travel” to get to somebody’s house and also how far the artificial tree had to go as it was probably made in China.

Their advice is that is you keep the artificial tree for 6-9 years, the impact will be less than buying new natural trees every year.

A different group is called the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) which represents christmas tree farmers. The vision of the NCTA is for farm -grown trees to be “part of every Christmas celebration”. The NCTA which is, as you would expect, violently opposed to artificial trees, reports that 85% of the ones in the U.S. come from China and highlight a Washington Post article which is extremely critical of the working conditions in one factory in China.

Their view is that real trees are a much greener option as they are renewable, recyclable and that tree farmers actually help the environment.

imgresFor its part, GreenPeace clearly favors real Christmas trees and insists that they are, by definition, carbon neutral. The tree will have consumed as much carbon in its young life as will be released when burned or left to decompose. The eco friendly activists group is much more concerned about the PVC derivatives that most artificial  trees are made of and the eventual disposal of the “tree” at the end of its life, whenever it is.

Common sense?

Like so many things in the sustainability debate it is up to consumers to use their own common sense. If somebody lives in a part of the world with forests and tree farms a few hours away, then the natural tree will be greener.

If, however, tree farms are far away or non existent and it is likely that the family will re-use an artificial tree for many, many years, then its environmental impact will certainly not be too much more than importing trees every year from someplace far away and might even be less.

Of course a Chanukah Menorah lasts for many years and only uses a few candles.

Best wishes for the holidays……..

4 thoughts on “Which Tree is Greener ?

  1. Thanks Mike – of course, burning candles year after year in a closed room will kill you. Decisions, decisions…..
    I’ve enjoyed your blog this year, keep up the good work and I will keep up the cynical remarks.
    Merry Christmas,

  2. Your post raises some really interesting points about the positives and negatives of real v artificial trees. Whilst I love real trees, it broke my heart to see it go up in flames each January. For the past 8 years, we’ve had a wonderful artificial tree and it has plenty of years left in it yet so judging from the facts in your post, I made the right decision to go down the plastic fantastic route. I will remain content with looking at the supe-sized real Christmas tree errected in town. Merry Christmas, whatever type of tree you have 😉

  3. Thanks Mike, very nice blog. I have been using an artificial one for last 6 years and it seems like it can stay easily for another 6 ;). Happy New Year 🙂

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