Photo: Which Christmas tree is the greenest?

(Credit: Winne Bagord.)

It's that time of year when I'm asked over and over again to settle the debate about real versus plastic Christmas trees. Which choice is the greener one?

Well Ellipsos, a company focusing on sustainable development, did that very analysis. And the winner of this annual holiday dilemma is a natural tree! Their comparative life cycle assessment chose natural as the better option with respect to the impacts on climate change and resource depletion. You may also want to ask that your tree is grown pesticide-free. Just a thought.

That said, if you already have an artificial tree, take good care of it and it should last about 20 years.

Should neither of the above options appeal to you, I have a third suggestion. Many of our supporters are looking for creative ways to start a new Christmas tree tradition.

What are you doing this year to green the holidays? What creative solutions have your friends and family come up with?

Let me know,
Lindsay Coulter
Queen of Green

December 2, 2009

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Dec 11, 2013
9:29 AM

How about renting a live tree like those guys are doing?

Jul 10, 2013
1:12 PM

I have always had a fresh tree that my family and I cut down ourselves. The only hassle is finding a tree service in Calgary that will remove it at the end of the year.

Dec 09, 2011
6:23 AM

I took over the family artificial Christmas tree two years ago. It's almost 30 years old now… Almost.

So for me the debate is over! It was going to thrash even though it looks as new. I'll post again in 5-10 years to let you know how it looks then. LOL

I have a concern with all those artificial trees that are replaced because people are bored of them. I can say that I am bored of mine sometimes. I've seen it for years now. But I'll keep it! For the sake of nature?

Dec 02, 2010
11:34 AM

Hello, I have a small business called Carbonsync which is dedicated to answering the question as to which is the greenest Christmas Tree.

Here are some numbers that should help.

A locally farmed 7ft Christmas tree weighs on average 30lbs. 1/2 of that weight is water (which is an overestimation to make the numbers easy). So that gives us 15lbs of wood. That 15 lbs of wood consists of just over 7lbs of carbon that the tree has removed from the atmosphere over its life. As the tree grows, it absorbs more CO2 to build its woody mass. What happens to the tree after Christmas makes the difference. If the tree is chipped and burned or composted, the CO2 that the tree has absorbed is emitted back into the atmosphere. At Carbonsync we recycle the Christmas Tree wood into Biochar. This is charcoal (pure carbon) which is added to soil. This method keeps the carbon out of the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years longer than any other process that deals with Christmas tree waste.

So what about live trees? Well we sell those too, but we need to be realistic, about the product. Live trees need to be relatively small to insure that the root ball is large enough to not kill the tree. An average 4ft live potted tree weighs 100lbs. Having a live tree is a satisfying option, but there is no guarantees that it will live. These trees need to be kept cool, and inside your home for a short period of time (less than 2 weeks).

This is our third year selling live potted trees. We have had mixed results. Our first year showed a 5% mortality for pot grown Douglas Fir. Our second year showed 95% mortality for 6ft Douglas Fir. (yikes-way to much work for such a poor result :( On a positive note, this is how we discovered biochar, and now we only offer smaller live potted trees:)

On another note the carbon accounting of Christmas trees is two fold. There is the carbon in the tree itself as well as the carbon footprint that it takes to grow the tree, as well as the delivery and pick up. At Carbonsync we track this using the ClimateSmart Business program. Last year (2009) we calculated that it took and average of 7kg’s of CO2 to deliver and pick each tree. This year we are working on consolidated delivery and pick up routes, no idling policies and a general philosophy that efficiency is better. After the season we will see if we can lower our carbon footprint per tree. So that’s what we have learned. We hope to provide an improving service. If anybody has any suggestions we will be happy to hear them. And remember, REAL trees smell great, and in our opinion are the best way to celebrate the Holiday Season! Cheers, Carbonsync

Nov 23, 2010
3:51 PM

You can also get a live Norfolk pine which makes a nice xmas tree and a great indoor plant year round.

Or, try a live Christmas tree service, where you get a live potted tree delivered to your house and then picked up after Christmas.

Dec 03, 2009
5:41 PM

*ideas for eco friendly gift wrap. typo, sorry.

Dec 03, 2009
5:40 PM

A great way to save trees, avoid generating garbage, and raise awareness is to challenge yourself and your friends to avoid using disposable things to wrap your gifts. Check out for getting this organized — there’s an email you can pass on and a list of ideas for gifts.

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