The Greening of Christmas

The official White House Christmas Tree arrives by horse-drawn wagon Monday. After the holiday, it will be shredded into mulch.
The official White House Christmas Tree arrives by horse-drawn wagon Monday. After the holiday, it will be shredded into mulch. (Mark Wilson - Getty Images)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

This holiday season, green is hotter than red.

For the first time, two of the nation's most famous Christmas trees -- Washington's National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse and the tree in New York's Rockefeller Center -- will be illuminated with LED energy-saving lights.

At the White House, all Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands will be shredded after the holidays and recycled as mulch. In the evenings after official events are over, all holiday lights except the Official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room will be switched off.

"President and Mrs. Bush are quietly doing a lot to make the White House more green," says Emily A. Lawrimore, White House spokeswoman, producing a two-page list of eco-friendly improvements including compact fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow toilets and green cleaning products. "They have done many things to make the White House as energy efficient as possible."

All this provides a shining example at a time when more and more Americans are taking seriously the environmental implications of their lifestyle and looking to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa in an Earth-friendly way.

"I don't think anyone profits when people go insane with spending on Christmas," says Jim Motavalli, editor of E, the Environmental Magazine. Every December, his family brings out an artificial tree inherited from grandparents and decorates it with vintage 60-year-old Shiny Brite ornaments stored in original boxes. "Reusing and recycling is a good thing," he adds.

That can be hard to keep in mind with all the decorating, card mailing and partying ahead. And all those gifts. If Mother Earth could talk, she'd probably ask that we all just stop shopping so much. Or give copies of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" DVD wrapped in banana fiber.

It is a commitment. Although easier on the environment, green products -- just like organic food -- are not necessarily easier on the pocketbook, says Pam Danziger, president of the consumer research firm Unity Marketing. Current economic uncertainty, she says, means many consumers will not spend more on a gift merely for the sake of going green. "People cling to their traditions. It's going to take a lot for someone to say, 'Oh, because of global warming, maybe I should not wrap my presents in wrapping paper this year. Maybe I should use newspaper.' "

The first step in reducing Santa's carbon footprint is to get educated, so we've put together advice about alternatives. Another good idea: Check the Web site of your favorite environmental nonprofit group. Many have compiled their own green checklists and will be happy to sell you a gift membership to use as a stocking stuffer. In a stocking made of hemp, of course.


A tree is a cherished hallmark of Christmas, but what's the greener choice: fake, real or a living tree with a root ball? Like so many environmental decisions, it's a trade-off.

With artificial trees, no living tree is destroyed for the sake of a few twinkling weeks, and the tree can be used year after year without replacement. Yet according to the National Christmas Tree Association, 85 percent of artificial trees are made in China of plastics and metals that are not biodegradable. They also have to be shipped long distances.

Keith Ware is a co-owner of Washington's Eco-Green Living store, which sells such products as reusable grocery bags and recycled rubber-tire floors. He says he has had the same fake tree for six years. "I didn't like paying a lot of money for a real tree and then having to throw it away," says Ware. He says he would replace it if he found an artificial tree made of entirely recycled materials.

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