Green Tree

As it is December there is an expectation that you will display a Christmas tree adorned with lights and sparkly paraphernalia in your home.  Personally I like this tradition as it builds excitement leading up to the main event.  A period where you get to spend quality time with your family and friends; away from the pressures of work and life in general.

I purchased our [real] Christmas tree at the weekend, from a local farm near Market Harborough[1].  A four foot Nordman Fir, fresh from the ground.  As with all things now, there is a sustainability debate surrounding your tree choice.  Real or fake, potted or plastic.  At this stage I probably need to point out that I did not make the choice on such grounds, the Christmas tree farm owners are friends.  There is also a fantastic grotto, Christmas shop, farmyard animals and donkey that transports your chosen tree to the car park.  So it was a great experience all round.

As a logistics person with an interest in sustainability there are numerous considerations here.  Is the ‘green’ option the fake or real tree?  If I have a real tree:

  • Should it have its root structure intact so I can move it to the garden and then re-use it next year?
  • Will the tree survive a Northamptonshire winter after a month of centrally heated tropical paradise?
  • Where was the tree grown?
  • Is it Organic?
  • FSC certified?
  • What was the transport footprint to get the tree into place in the living room?

It would appear on the face of it that having a plastic re-usable tree would be the green option, however, also relevant would undoubtedly be:

  • How many years you use it for
  • The materials it is made from
  • Where it is produced
  • The distribution footprint from production to your living room

Depending on who you choose to believe you would have to re-use your fake tree for 10[2] or 20[3] years for it to have a lower CO? footprint than a locally grown tree, disposed of after a month.  The majority of fake trees are made in China, you will no doubt be surprised to hear[4].  Even then you would need to factor in that your PVC tree will sit in landfill decomposing over 1000 years.  On the other hand your ‘disposable’ tree will likely be collected by the local council, chipped and re-used as compost; the grower will plant a new one to continue de-carbonising the atmosphere, wildlife will flourish in the surroundings and a virtuous circle will be created[5].  That is the argument I’ve decided to use to rationalise my choice anyway. In reality the obvious although somewhat scrooge-like conclusion would be to not have one at all.

In my mind this scenario neatly encapsulates the whole green debate.  Many will feel that they do not wish to consider environmental arguments when emotions, convenience, cost or ease in a challenging and pressurised modern life conflict.  It is difficult to walk rather than drive to the local shop at 20:00 at night to collect a needed loaf of bread, or to take the school run to the pavement rather than the SUV. Or in this instance to have no tree at all.

I wonder whether many people choose to factor the green aspect into their daily personal and work based decisions.  For some, they will have a real Christmas tree as they like the look or fragrance, or they will have a fake one if they dislike clearing away fallen needles from their carpet.  The footprint of the tree from Beijing to port, shipping to Felixstowe, trunk to DC, DC to local store, car journey from supermarket home and then decomposition at land-fill is probably a moot point come next December when the colour scheme no longer harmonises with the newly decorated lounge.  As a commercial vehicle operator if you are given a scenario where you run an empty leg (complete with wasted emissions) pushing your vehicle into profit for the day; then the business decision is only going to go one way.

The important thing is that when making choices, the environmentally sensitive course of action is factored in.  The recently published IPCC report[6] found that there was a 95% chance that humans were damaging the environment irreparably.  If I was told that a horse was 95% certain to win any given race I’d be found on the app to place as much as I could spare on it.

Improved access to environmental impact information as an aid to decision making both at work and home would no doubt help.  However, the green course is likely to remain a difficult sell when an emotional, convenience or economic argument is the obstacle.


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