A green fir tree… but how green is our Christmas actually?

It almost comes as a surprise for some, but every year, Christmas knocks on our doors and we suddenly find ourselves in the spell of consumption. Whether it’s a new smartphone, a game console, new clothes, or some kind of bargain product… You don’t want to show up at home empty-handed. But this is exactly when you shouldn’t forget our – probably for all of us – most important mother: Mother Earth. She should also benefit from Christmas. That is why we assembled 10 tips to celebrate Christmas in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way:

1. Christmas Trees: real or fake, that’s the question!

Every year in December, a real Christmas tree, usually a fir tree, decorates the living rooms of almost all households in Germany. Considering the number of households, it should come as no surprise that around 30 million Christmas trees are sold throughout Germany every year. Some people wonder whether it is really necessary to cut down this massive number of Christmas trees? On this subject, however, the spirits differ.

Excellent and above all creative alternatives exist to the real Christmas tree, and they can be reused every year: wire structures fitted with LEDs or handcrafted products made from old sawn timber in the form of a Christmas tree for example.

What we should not lose sight of, however, is the function of a tree. As we know, a tree binds carbon dioxide (CO₂). Germany has the largest cultivation area in Europe with 25% (approx. 30,000 hectares). If one assumes that one hectare Christmas tree culture (approx. 5,000 Christmas trees) binds about 145 tons CO₂ as well as 300 tons dust particles and provides 100 tons oxygen in ten years (average Christmas tree ripening period), we can understand this argumentation for a genuine Christmas tree. The supply and demand effect ensures that Christmas trees are regularly replanted.

In case you decide to get a real Christmas tree, then you should not forget that a regional and ecologically sourced Christmas tree is the best choice. A list of sales outlets for organic trees is kept up to date by the “Robin Wood” action group (www.robinwood.de).

Another point is the disposal of the tree, which is very simple in Berlin. The BSR (local waste collection company) collects Christmas trees free of charge at the beginning of the new year. On average, about 350,000 Christmas trees are shredded and land in local biomass power plants. The energy from these trees is sufficient to supply 500 households with heat and electricity for one year.


2. Sustainable Travel

Visiting family over Christmas?

If you don’t want to get stuck in noisy and pollutant traffic jams, you can travel sustainably by train. Deutsche Bahn (German Railway), for example, is well on the way to creating an exemplary sustainable transport network. By 2020, 45% of all electrified trains will be powered by green electricity. By 2050 it should even be 100%.

If you are a little more adventurous, you can also try out car-sharing or carpool with friends and families, because every car that is not moving and every fully occupied vehicle contributes to improving the CO₂ and energy balance.

And while you’re gone: don’t forget to turn down the heating in your home and to unplug any electronic device you don’t need.

3. Gifts and Wrapping

Wrapping gifts can be amusing, but unwrapping them is much more fun. Here are a few sustainable gift tips:

Choose high-quality, long-lasting products instead of many small pieces of bric-a-brac. Pay attention to certifications and eco-labels. The morning coffee or tea tastes almost even better in your favourite cup. How about a chic bamboo to-go cup?

What you should also consider is supporting regional traders instead of global chains in order to avoid unnecessary transport routes.

Gift wrapping does not necessarily have to be red and glittering. Everyday things are also excellent for wrapping gifts. Try newspaper, baking or packing paper, decorated with leaves, small branches or fir twigs and fir cones.

4. Christmas without mail-order companies

Do environmentally friendly mail order companies exist? The mail order business rarely has a good life cycle assessment, especially not if several delivery attempts are necessary.

Anyone who has to or wants to order items should ensure that the parcel can be accepted – if necessary by the neighbour. Packing stations are not an ecological alternative as they have to be supplied with electricity around the clock. So why not browse through the stands next time you visit the Christmas market and look for homemade and individual gifts? Alternatives are gift hunting in the shopping centre or in the pedestrian zones.

5. Christmas Lighting

Candles and colourfully glowing lamps are simply part of the tradition.

Beeswax, sunflower, palm or rapeseed oil; candles are indispensable in winter and Advent. Unfortunately, they often have unattractive properties: Either they consist of paraffin, i.e. environmentally problematic crude oil, or they are based on palm oil, which comes from monoculture plantations located where climate-friendly rainforests should grow wild. Therefore, rather choose LED light chains and lamps including timers, for example, so that these energy-saving lamps are not on all night long and thus save additional energy.

6. Natural Christmas Decorations

“The more, the better”, as we all know. This also applies to some Christmas decorations. There’s nothing wrong about that, as long as you stick to the following tip: use natural materials that last more than a few Christmas evenings, such as fir cones, straw stars, wooden decorations, or make your own out of these materials with your children. It also gets the Christmas cheer going.

7. Christmas Treats

Who doesn’t put on a kilo or two during the Christmas season?

A vegetarian or even vegan menu is a good alternative. There are countless suggestions in the relevant forums as well as special information and cookbooks for sustainable cooking.

A brief digression: while meat produces an average of around 5 kg CO₂e  per kg, fruit and vegetables as well as bread and pasta are much lower in emissions with an average of 0.6 kg CO₂e .

8. Environmentally-Friendly Giving

Electronics are always popular when it comes to gifts. Keep the following tips in mind, and you can save even more than on Black Friday.

Those who “give themselves” a television “as a present” should pay attention to the energy efficiency class and the annual power consumption.

You plan to buy an internet radio for Christmas? That is not a good idea: They use a lot of electricity because they are in standby mode all the time – as well as connected to the Wi-Fi, which is not energy-efficient. Better a DAB radio with real off switch.

Always look at the big picture with Smart Home products: Will the smart control really lead to savings – or is it just technical frippery with eco-painting that entails the purchase of further Smart Home systems?

9. Sustainable Fashion

Fashion nowadays has a relatively short lifespan and many among us have a full wardrobe at home.

Christmas offers a good opportunity to give away some clothes you no longer wear. Be it in the clothes collection container, in the nearest second hand shop or possibly at clothing swap parties. And why not process the old jeans into a nice bag? Upcycling is the keyword here. Even though upcycling is not suitable for all products and only slightly touches the global waste problem, the basic idea of producing something valuable from waste is still being transported.

Even in new fashion, you can make sure that the fashion label offers sustainable products, produced using renewable energies, for example, and with processed materials from local sources, while maintaining fair labour standards.

10. Sustainable Commitment

Let’s be honest with ourselves – sometimes the gift you want is simply not available locally and you have no other choice than to order online. You are stuck. Think! Some mail order companies offer the possibility to donate a small part of the purchase price to an organisation. In principle, the so-called Charity Shopping is to be regarded only as an addition to normal donations. We think that going from donating to a lasting or social commitment is to be endorsed. This year, EnviroSustain again supported a social institution with donations instead of sending Christmas cards.

Bearing this in mind, we wish you an environmentally-friendly, sustainable and meditative Christmas. We hope that one or two tips will also appeal to you and that you will support Mother Earth with us in the future.


Merry Christmas!