Getting a greener tree

If you celebrate Christmas and you haven't bought your tree yet, perhaps there's still time for the Nature Conservancy to get in its plug about how natural trees are greener.

Yes, competing groups each have their own spiel. Fake tree producers point out, for one thing, that their trees can last year after year after year, assuming your cats or kids don't get after them. So, yeah, that's good. 

I have not yet seen a peer-reviewed scientific study that sorts out the complete life-cycle analysis.

But here's what the Conservancy, which does not sell either kind of Christmas tree, but which has a stake in preserving lands and habitats, has to say:

Fake trees are usually made from a kind of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is derived from petroleum, and is manufactured using processed that have been criticized for air and water pollution as well as energy use.

Approximately 85% of the fake trees sold in the US are shipped here from China. Most of China’s electricity comes from burning coal—the dirtiest source of electricity. Once the fake trees are made, they still have to be shipped across the ocean—usually in a diesel-fuel powered ship.

And real trees grow in the ground for several years before they are cut, absorbing greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere every year. The vast majority of real trees today come from Christmas tree farms—about 12,000 of which exist in the United States.

On these farms each tree cut is typically replaced by a new tree or two or three, which continue removing carbon from the air. In a given holiday season, about 30 million trees are cut nationwide, while hundreds of millions of farmed trees continue to grow.

A study released last year by an independent sustainable development organization found that natural Christmas trees have a smaller carbon footprint, over their life cycle, than their artificial counterparts.
“Healthy forests are one of the best strategies we have to combat climate change, and well-managed tree farms can be an important part of this effort,” said Dylan Jenkins, Director of Forest Conservation for The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

Natural, locally sourced trees also help protect the family tree farms that keep Pennsylvania’s forests economically viable. Pennsylvania’s newest forest conservation program, Working Woodlands (, works with small forest landowners, including tree farmers, to help keep the Commonwealth’s forests healthy, so that they can support our environment and our economy, Jenkins said.

What can you do?
• Choose a natural tree and buy local. The National Christmas Tree Association ( offers a zip-code searchable listing to help you find a nearby farm.
• Try to find an organic Christmas tree: Freymoyer Christmas Tree Farm in Harris, Laurel Valley Tree Farm in New Florence and Ruff’s Christmas Trees in Schuylkill Haven are among the local businesses that offer pesticide-free trees.
• Recycle your Christmas tree: Use its boughs to bank your home’s foundation, offering additional insulation or contact one of the many local businesses and municipalities that collect trees to produce mulch or burn them to produce energy.

Or.....maybe just buy a big poinsettia and put it on the piano. Which is a whole nother story.