A child and their parent buying a Christmas tree at Migros.

Potted, cut, artificial

How green is your Christmas tree?

Almost every Swiss lounge is adorned with an evergreen fir tree during the Christmas season. Yet are the trees environmentally green too? The answer is surprisingly positive.

Marcel Zulauf, Ringier Brand Studio

Fir trees cultivated in domestic forests, imported Christmas trees, artificial trees, and potted trees are all green. Because the whole point of a Christmas tree is that it is green. Greenery represented vitality and vigour for the Romans, since coniferous trees keep their leaves even during the winter. However, firs only began appearing in lounges as Christmas trees in the Middle Ages.

It is almost that time of the year again to go in search of the perfect tree. Nordmann firs are often a popular choice. They are increasingly being kept in pots and returned to the nursery once the festive season is over. Alternatively, people are now putting up plastic trees. In fact, in French and Italian-speaking Switzerland, they are more popular than cut trees. Your local Do it + Garden branch will also have a wide range available.

Greener than you might think

The fact that a grown natural product is used to create a celebratory mood and continue a long-standing tradition, and then must be disposed of just a few days later, gives many customers pause for thought when buying a Christmas tree. They worry about sustainability.

It is definitely worth examining the environmental footprint of different Christmas trees. But rest assured: these trees are greener than you might think. Trees from Swiss Christmas tree farms absorb around 145 tonnes of CO₂ per hectare during a ten-year growth period whilst also producing around 105 tonnes of oxygen. Tree farms also provide a vital habitat for animals.

It all comes down to origins

Transport routes also have an impact on carbon footprint. This makes Swiss Christmas trees a better option than imported trees. Migros, which sells both Swiss trees and imported trees from Denmark, applies cultivation guidelines covering a considerate approach to the environment, as explained by Mirjam Sacchelli, sustainability specialist for Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund.

Forest, farm, potted or artificial?

Naturally grown fir trees from forests have the best environmental footprint, as demonstrated by a 2019 survey conducted by the environmental consulting firm ESU-Services. This is because statutory requirements forbid the use of fertilisers and crop protection products.

Christmas trees from Swiss tree farms are cultivated in accordance with IG Suisse Christbaum’s strict environmental criteria. These seek to preserve ground, water, air and biodiversity resources.

For rented trees in pots, transport and acclimatisation play a role, but over a five-year period (approximately how long the potted tree will be available for rent), the overall environmental footprint is comparable to a cut Swiss tree.

Imported trees often come from Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands. The environmental footprint of these is somewhat worse due to intensive cultivation methods, less strict environmental requirements and longer transport routes. The Danish Christmas trees on sale at Migros hold GlobalGAP certification. The specifications also require responsible use of fertilisers and crop protection products.

The environmental footprint of plastic trees is surprising: if the artificial Christmas tree is no heavier than two kilograms and is on show in the lounge every year for at least five years, it has a comparable carbon footprint to cultivated trees. This only covers the direct environmental footprint of the plastic tree, and does not take other aspects into account, such as working conditions.

Furthermore, a tree's life cycle continues beyond Christmas. Unsold trees are often fed to animals. Christmas trees from domestic households are often turned into biogas or end up in solid waste incineration as there may be candle or decoration residue on them.

Giraffes at Zoo Zurich nibble on Christmas tree needles.
A feast for the giraffes at Zoo Zurich. Migros also donates unsold trees to the animals.© Keystone