Talking Point: Fake fir for Christmas?

Christmas in Las Vegas

Christmas in Las Vegas

Use your artificial tree for ten Christmases or burn your real tree on the bonfire - Paul Cawsey, Sustainability Manager in Mitie’s Landscaping business discusses the pros and cons of a real or fake Christmas tree display.

The debate around the environmental impact of artificial trees versus natural trees has been going on for a number of years and it continues to gather pace.

During the festive season, hotel guests all over the world are welcomed by brightly decorated lobbies highlighted by the focal Christmas tree. Depending on where you go, some trees are real, giving off their familiar pine scent. Others are artificial, either made to look like the real thing or metallic and colourful to make a contemporary style impact. The Christmas tree camp is definitely split. However it begs the question whether consideration of sustainable practice is part of the rationale that divides preferences.

The choice can be influenced by other factors rather than style or sustainability. In January 2015, the city of Honolulu in Hawaii proposed banning the use of real Christmas trees in public spaces because of potential fire hazards. Hotels will be compelled to adhere to the USA’s National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Code which sets out the fire safety practice in relation to ‘combustible vegetation’, including Christmas trees (and protection of artificial Christmas trees.)

Hotel managers may intentionally opt for artificial Christmas trees as this removes the stress of loading a natural tree into a vehicle, transporting it and dealing with the mess of dropping pine needles. Artificial trees can stored in-house rather than travelling to get a natural tree. They definitely last for more than one season and can be packed away at the end of the holidays rather than manually having to discard it. Artificial trees are regarded as the environmentally friendly option, preventing natural trees from being cut down, only to be used for a few weeks, then discarded at the end of Christmas.

But there is a downside. Artificial trees use up a lot of energy in the manufacturing process and they are difficult to recycle due to the PVC content and other materials used in manufacturing. Approximately one-quarter of an artificial tree’s carbon emissions originate from its point of manufacture.

In comparison, the use of natural trees responds to the consumers’ preference for the traditional approach. The piney smell that’s evocative of Christmas and complements the tailored hospitality services and ambience of the season. In England natural trees can be sustainably sourced from FSC accredited UK plantations and many local councils have schemes in place to recycle natural trees. There is also the option to buy living trees in pots that can be replanted after the holiday season is over.

Several studies have examined the life cycle of natural trees versus artificial trees. Data from The Carbon Trust indicates that you would need to reuse an artificial tree for at least ten Christmases to have an environmental impact lower than a natural tree. Whereas a study carried out by Ellipsos in Canada suggests that that this reuse period is twenty years (Couillard 2009).

In the UK, Mitie has taken a practical approach to the divided opinions by offering a service where both live and replica trees can be hired by the hospitality sector nationwide.

Trees ranging in size from 6ft for a small reception to giant 30ft exterior trees are available. The replica trees all have an extended shelf life of 20-25 years. All interior trees are supplied fully decorated and delivered to any desired destination. There is even a palette of nine colour schemes to choose from, including bespoke designs in corporate colours.

This approach to Christmas tree supply has its advantages for the work laden hotel manager. Because trees are supplied and removed by a third party, it eliminates the need for storage. Trees are professionally decorated, therefore there are no demands on hotel staff and their time resource can be used elsewhere during the busy Christmas season. Furthermore, any health and safety concerns are alleviated. Very tall trees in hotel displays require working at height and may demand complex power supply configuration;-professional tree dressers can provide both these services. When the final turkey has been eaten and the last cracker popped, the Christmas tree is then collected from the hotel premises just before Twelfth Night in January. Any real trees supplied will be sustainably disposed of by either chipping or burning which has a lower carbon footprint than sending them to landfill.

In the end, both choices work sustainably without necessarily sacrificing style preferences. Responsible disposal of a natural tree is more important than how far one travels to collect it. While you may forego the natural pleasures of a real tree at Christmas, the artificial alternatives bring their own, especially when they’re delivered to your door, decorated and responsibly removed.

For more information about Mitie’s Christmas tree hire service, consult their pdf brochure at or contact them on 0845 869 0823 or


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