How Green is your Christmas Tree?

The time has come to buy your Christmas tree, but for the conscientious shopper which is better;artificial or natural? As it turns out the answer is not straightforward; depending largely on how long you own your artificial tree.

Using Trucost analysis, the environmental costs of natural andartificial Christmas trees were determined and screened for materiality. Greenhouse gases and water were found to be material, and further calculations using more product specific factors were made.

According to the research, artificial trees have an impact between 6 and 10 times higher than that of a natural tree – but then you may have many natural trees throughout the lifetime of a single artificial one.The only accurate way to compare is to think of the comparison in terms of impact per year – a natural tree will be replaced each year and is therefore the same regardless, while an artificial tree will have a progressively lower impact for each year you use it.

Of course, comparisons here are based on ‘typical’ tree impacts, with real life products produced under good or bad practice, for both type of tree. Some artificial trees have lesser impacts due to highly efficient and better managed production plants, use of recycled materials and good practice in emission and waste management.Likewise, operations in tree farms vary and may include harvesting with helicopters, cold storage and use of other energy consuming equipment which will influence the impact realised.

Nurseries may or may not need to be irrigated artificially (depending on local weather), and aggressive techniques may be utilised to remove pests. The data used for the costings in this example have presumed minimal irrigation of seedlings for the first 3-4 years of the tree’s life only, and rainfall irrigation following this.

Impacts of natural Christmas trees vary considerably depending on the species, geography, farming/cultivation methods, soil type and many other variables.All trees have a positive carbon intake during their growth, with carbon sequestration removing carbon from the atmosphere and ‘storing’ it. This is highly variable, however, and depends on factors such as type of tree, age, location and soil type.

More important than purchasing patterns is perhaps the consumer use phase – notably, how long the tree will be kept for, and what will happen to it once it is no longer needed.Durable, long life artificial trees which are reused for many years (at minimum 8), can present a similar environmental cost to natural trees which are well managed at end of life.

Here are some simple suggestions to minimise the impact of your tree;

Excluded from calculations

Variations in methodology

Assumptions

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SOURCE TruCost