Trees are for life, not just for Christmas!

Posted on by Kirsty Shaw
It’s Christmas time! Which means Christmas trees, and this year there are a variety of options for an eco-friendly Christmas tree from organic trees to rent-a-tree.

Across much of the world, trees are an important part of the festive Christmas season from the conifers decorated with baubles and tinsel to the halls decked with holly! Most environmentally conscious merrymakers will be thinking about the best way to have a green Christmas. Luckily there are a multitude of options available to make sure your Christmas tree is sustainable. Most people will know that traditional Christmas trees are conifers, but did you know that over 34% of conifer species are threatened with extinction in the wild? This includes the Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri), a popular Christmas tree species whose wild population is threatened by a tree pathogen called Balsam Woolly Adelgid (Adelges piceae). Read the Fraser fir tree profile to find out more about this threatened species!

Fake or Real?

The biggest debate when it comes to eco-friendly Christmas trees is between artificial and real trees. Although some believe that artificial trees are the greenest option, it is actually the real tree that comes out on top. Artificial trees often, contain harmful chemicals such as poly vinyl chloride and even lead, are manufactured far from where they are sold so have to be shipped long distances; and biodegrade extremely slowly when disposed of, remaining in landfills for 100s of years. According to the Carbon Trust, artificial trees have an average carbon footprint 10 times larger than a real Christmas tree: that means an artificial tree would have to be re-used for 10 Christmases to keep environmental impacts lower than that of a real tree! The environmental impact of each option is affected by how far you drive to purchase your tree and the levels of harmful chemicals contained in an artificial tree or used to grow a real tree. Think carefully and take these factors into consideration to make an informed and tree friendly decision this Christmas!

Read on for more sustainable options….


Organic Christmas tree farms are perfect for those wishing for an eco-friendly Christmas; they are pesticide free and locally grown keeping environmental impacts to a minimum. Christmas tree farms are very sustainable, every tree felled is replaced with another and they can be grown on brownfield sites, as they are not an edible crop. Christmas trees are also slow growing crops with a nine year harvest cycle, meaning they create a stable habitat for other species such as insects and birds to live in.


Did you know, in the UK alone, over 8 million Christmas trees are disposed of after the Christmas season? Following ‘a tree is for life, not just for Christmas’ approach, many companies are now giving customers the option to rent living trees. These trees are grown in pots which allow them to be rented for the Christmas season and for the rest of the year they are grown outside in special pots in the ground. When a tree reaches the end of its service it is retired and planted outdoors.

Renting a live tree has numerous benefits, it is eco-friendly as no trees are cut down and retired trees are planted outdoors where they can contribute to the absorption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen as well as improving soil, air and water quality. Live trees keep their needles so there is no mess, there is also no hassle with disposing of the tree after Christmas as most companies offer delivery and pickup, some rentals even come pre-decorated!


Recycling is an important part of being sustainable, if you do go for the fresh cut tree this Christmas make sure you recycle it at the end of the season. Sending a tree off to landfill is not the only option; a much easier way to recycle a tree is to use it for fuel or chip it. Most local authorities now offer collection and recycling services for free, just remember to remove the decorations first! Check your local authority website to see if they offer this service.


During Christmas we enjoy bringing trees into our homes, however we should not forget that over 8,000 tree species are threatened with extinction, including 34% of conifers.

The Global Trees Campaign supports numerous conservation projects across the globe, focussing on saving some of the world’s most threatened tree species as well as working with local communities and partners to develop the knowledge and skills needed for conservation.

A donation to Global Trees Campaign this Christmas would be a great present for any environment lover! Here is what your donation to GTC could accomplish:

£25 would plant and care for 5 threatened Paraná pine trees in the forest in Brazil

£75 would pay for a tree conservation workshop in Madagascar

£300 would provide training in tree propagation for six community members living next to Mount Cameroon National Park

Written by Kirsty Shaw

Kirsty is a Head of Ecological Restoration and Tree Conservation at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), working on the Global Trees Campaign and botanic garden led forest restoration initiatives in Africa.

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