The greenest choice of tree is a potted Douglas fir from a local nursery that you can plant outdoors once the warm weather arrives. This little fir tree will clean your indoor air during the holidays and clean carbon from the atmosphere year-round after it is transplanted. If you bought a live tree then planted it in spring every year, you could offset your family's carbon footprint in twenty years while creating a green holiday tradition.
Next in line for the greenest tree award goes to the locally grown and cut tree. Locally grown trees and greens are agricultural products adding to the economic and environmental health of your region. These trees are grown specifically for the holidays on marginal lands that wouldn't support other crops. Buying one of these trees stimulates your local economy and improves the life of a local farm family.
"Go without a twinge of environmental guilt," suggests Deborah Brown a horticulturist from University of Minnesota Extension Service. "During the seven to ten years that a Christmas tree grows, the tree provides wildlife habitat and helps hold the soil and prevent erosion," says Brown. "Commercial tree operations plant and harvest trees every year. Each year's harvest is quickly renewed, and tree farms never strip large portions of land for a single year's holiday greenery."
If you live in a place where a live tree won't work, consider a second-hand artificial tree. Plastic trees manufacturing requires major amounts of petroleum, generating tons of greenhouse gasses in the process. Plus, they are generally not recyclable and wind up in landfills. Using that second-hand tree for several years helps to lessen its environmental impact. It is usually more economical than a cut tree. If you have an artificial-tree producer in your community, buy it from them instead of a big-box store.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at Shawn@ShawnDellJoyce.com.