- 21st December 2011
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By most accounts, the Christmas Tree has been a tradition since the 16th century. The lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House has been an unbroken tradition for 89 years, that tree is a living Blue Spruce. But the tree inside the White House is not, this year’s 19-foot tall Balsam Fir came from Wisconsin.
Nearly every year since a debate goes on in communities and households across the nation, is it more sustainable to have a fresh cut tree, a live tree or an artificial tree?
In the debate between fresh cut and artificial, environmentalists say the fresh tree is more sustainable pointing out that an artificial tree has a larger carbon footprint. Researchers at the North Carolina State University found Christmas tree production used less chemical than other agriculture endeavors, provided habitat for insects and animals and in some cases aided in slope stabilization. In addition the cost of shipping that tree (most are made outside the United States) adds to the artificial tree’s carbon footprint. Also, tree farms are good for the atmosphere, by removing carbon dioxide, one of the contributors to global warming.
Because of greenhouse gases released during production and distribution, an artificial Christmas tree would have to be used for 20 years to offset its carbon footprint, according to a study done by an environmental consulting firm.
The fresh cut tree also has a positive impact on the workforce, creating jobs both at tree farms and Christmas tree lots. Christmas tree farms are usually family run businesses. There are about 15,000 farms in the United States which grow 400 million trees and employ 100,000 full-time and part-time workers, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Less than 10 percent of planted trees are cut annually, leaving 90 percent in the fields, improving the air we breathe.
Then there is what most environmentalist feel is the ultimate sustainable tree, the living Christmas tree. It has all the benefits of a cut tree plus you only pay for it once. But the living tree is not without its drawbacks. Keeping an evergreen tree potted means having to transplant it to larger containers periodically, which is an added cost. There are businesses that rents potted evergreen trees. But then there is the environmental cost of transporting the tree back and forth to the nursery.
Maybe in the end the only truly “green” aspect of a Christmas tree is its color.