Christmas tree farmers combat popularity of artificial trees
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Tuesday, December 11
TUALATIN, Ore. (AP) — Rosa Villarreal’s three young sons jumped and ran around the field of Christmas trees like jackrabbits, their excitement palpable as they raced from evergreen to evergreen. The boys, ages 2, 4 and 6, were picking out a real tree this year — a new tradition their young parents hope will create lasting memories.
“I saw this video where the big tree, the mom decorates it, and the little tree, the kids get to decorate it,” she said, as her husband, Jason Jimenez, snapped a photo of their toddler posing with a tiny tree just his size.
Christmas tree farmers across the U.S. worry families like Villarreal’s are slowly dwindling. Artificial trees, once crude imitations of an evergreen, are now so realistic that it’s hard to tell they are fakes even though many are conveniently pre-strung with lights and can fold up for storage at the push of a button.
Between 75 and 80 percent of Americans who have a Christmas tree now have an artificial one, and the $1 billion market for fake trees is growing at about 4 percent a year — even though they can be reused again and again.
To combat this trend, Christmas tree farmers have joined forces as the Christmas Tree Promotion Board and are running a social media ad campaign this holiday season to tout the benefits of a real evergreen. The campaign, called “It’s Christmas. Keep It Real!,” is funded by a 15-cent fee that tree farmers pay for each tree they harvest.
It’s a modern-day attempt at such famous agricultural ad campaigns as “Got Milk?” and “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.”
A series of short movies on Instagram and Facebook follow real families as they hunt for the perfect tree, cut it down and decorate it. The target audience is the “millennial mom” because tree farmers are increasingly worried that young adults starting their own family traditions will opt for an artificial tree, costing farmers a generation of customers, said Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, based in Michigan.
“The target we’re talking about right now is millennials: first house, first baby. That’s kind of the decision-making time,” she said, adding that the videos show families cutting their own trees and buying pre-cut trees from lots.
“We realize they may have never done this before. And we need to help them discover it and figure out how to include it in their holiday.”
It’s impossible to know exactly how many real Christmas trees are sold each year because there is no central clearinghouse or agency collecting that information. But the National Christmas Tree Association estimates about 25 million evergreens are harvested each year — and presumably, most of those are sold.
Americans buy about 10 million artificial trees each year, said Thomas “Mac” Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill, the leading retailer of artificial Christmas trees. Harman is also the president of the American Christmas Tree Association, which does not disclose its membership but raised $70,000 in donations in 2016 for its work, which includes touting artificial trees.
Most people buying artificial trees cite convenience, allergens and fire safety, he said.
“We’re seeing a trend where consumers want to set their tree up over Thanksgiving weekend and leave it up all the way until after New Year’s.” That’s safer with an artificial tree, Harman said.
Denise Shackleton got a real tree each season before switching to an artificial one. On a recent day, she was at an artificial tree outlet store in Burlingame, California, shopping for a new tree for herself and one for her daughter.
“No one got as excited about a real tree as me, but it was just too much work to put the real tree on my car, get it into the house — all of that,” she said. “It’s totally for convenience.”
Harman says Christmas tree farmers are overestimating the threat to their industry from artificial trees.
Many families now have both a real tree and an artificial tree, and small mom-and-pop tree farms that allow families to cut their own evergreen remain extremely popular, Harman said.
“I think it’s the farms in the middle that are really seeing their business shrink because more people are either getting their tree from Home Depot — which is supporting the big farms — or they’re going out to these small farms,” he said. “I think a lot of the angst about ‘artificial trees are taking over’ is coming from these mid-sized farms.”
To fourth-generation tree farmer Casey Grogan, that angst is as real as the towering noble and Nordmann firs he grows at Silver Bells Tree Farm in Silverton, Oregon. Oregon is the nation’s No. 1 producer of Christmas trees, yet Grogan says he has watched about half the fellow tree farmers around him go out of business in the past decade.
A seedling takes eight to 10 years to grow to maturity, and it’s difficult to predict demand years out, he said. He harvested about half as many trees this year as he did a decade ago, and with every new seedling he plants this season, he knows he’s taking a gamble that the demand will still be there in 2028.
“We’re an industry that would like to remain here and be around — and if everybody buys an artificial tree, we’re not going to be here,” said Grogan, who is also president of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.
“It may be a little difficult, but not everything is easy,” he added of buying a real tree. “It’s worth the extra effort.”
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus
Don’t stress about what kind of Christmas tree to buy, but reuse artificial trees and compost natural ones
December 11, 2018
Professor of Horticulture and Forestry, Michigan State University
Bert Cregg receives funding from the Michigan Christmas Tree Association and the National Christmas Tree Promotion Board.
Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Environmentally conscious consumers often ask me whether a real Christmas tree or an artificial one is the more sustainable choice. As a horticulture and forestry researcher, I know this question is also a concern for the Christmas tree industry, which is wary of losing market share to artificial trees.
And they have good reason: Of the 48.5 million Christmas trees Americans purchased in 2017, 45 percent were artificial, and that share is growing. Many factors can influence this choice, but the bottom line is that both real and artificial Christmas trees have negligible environmental impacts. Which option “wins” in terms of carbon footprint depends entirely on assumptions about how long consumers would keep an artificial tree versus how far they would drive each year to purchase a real tree.
From seedling to wood chipper
Many consumers believe real Christmas trees are harvested from wild forest stands and that this process contributes to deforestation. In fact, the vast majority of Christmas trees are grown on farms for that express purpose.
To estimate the total impact of something like a Christmas tree, researchers use a method called life cycle assessment to develop a “cradle to grave” accounting of inputs and outputs required to produce, use and dispose of it. For natural Christmas trees, this covers everything from planting seedlings to harvesting the trees and disposing of them, including equipment use, fertilizer and pesticide applications, and water consumption for irrigation.
Life cycle assessments often will also estimate a system’s carbon footprint. Fuel use is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Christmas tree production. Using 1 gallon of gas or diesel to power a tractor or delivery truck releases 20 to 22 pounds (9 to 10 kilograms) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
On the positive side, Christmas trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, which helps to offset emissions from operations. Carbon represents about 50 percent of the dry weight of the wood in a tree at harvest. According to recent estimates, Christmas tree-sized conifers store roughly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide in their above-ground tissue and likely store similar amounts below ground in their roots.
Christmas tree farming requires careful planning to manage a crop that takes six to seven years to mature.
However, using 1 gallon of gasoline produces about the same amount of carbon dioxide, so if a family drives 10 miles each way to get their real tree, they likely have already offset the carbon sequestered by the tree. Buying a tree closer to home or at a tree lot along your daily commute can reduce or eliminate this impact.
And natural trees have other impacts. In 2009, Scientific American specifically called out the Christmas tree industry for greenwashing, because growers’ press releases touted carbon uptake from Christmas tree plantations while ignoring pesticide use and carbon dioxide emissions from plantation management, harvesting and shipping.
Is synthetic better?
Artificial trees have a different set of impacts. Although many people think shipping trees from factories in China takes a lot of energy, ocean shipping is actually very efficient. The largest energy use in artificial trees is in manufacturing.
Producing the polyvinyl chloride and metals that are used to make artificial trees generates greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. China is working to reduce pollution from its chemical industry, but this may drive up the prices of those materials and the goods made from them.
Moreover, to consider sustainability from a broader perspective, production of real Christmas trees supports local communities and economies in the United States, whereas purchasing artificial trees principally supports manufacturers in China.
Going head to head
Recently the American Christmas Tree Association, which represents artificial tree manufacturers, commissioned a life cycle assessment comparing real and artificial Christmas trees. The analysis considered environmental aspects of sustainability, but did not examine social or economic impacts.
The report concluded that the environmental ‘break-even’ point between a real Christmas tree and an artificial tree was 4.7 years. In other words, consumers would need to keep artificial trees for five years to offset the environmental impact of purchasing a real tree each year.
One major shortcoming of this analysis was that it ignored the contribution of tree roots – which farmers typically leave in the ground after harvest – to soil carbon storage. This omission could have a significant impact on the break-even analysis, given that increasing soil organic matter by just one percent can sequester 11,600 pounds of carbon per acre.
Reuse or recycle your tree
Consumers can’t affect how farmers grow their live trees or how manufacturers produce artificial versions, but they can control what happens after Christmas to the trees they purchase. For artificial trees, that means reusing them as many times as possible. For natural trees, it means recycling them.
This is essential to optimize the carbon footprint of a real tree. Grinding used Christmas trees and using them for mulch returns organic matter to the soil, and can contribute to building soil carbon. Many public works departments across the United States routinely collect and chip used Christmas trees after the holidays. If local tree recycling is not available, trees can be chipped and added to compost piles. They also can be placed in backyards or ponds to provide bird or fish habitat.
In contrast, if a used tree is tossed into a bonfire, all of its carbon content is immediately returned to the air as carbon dioxide. This also applies to culled trees on tree farms. And if used trees are placed in landfills, their carbon content will ultimately return to atmosphere as methane because of the way materials buried in landfills break down. Methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a century, so this is the most environmentally harmful way to dispose of a used tree.
All kinds of factors influence choices about Christmas trees, from fresh trees’ scent to family traditions, travel plans and the desire to support farmers or buy locally. Regardless of your choice, the key to relieving environmental angst is planning to reuse or recycle your tree. Then you can focus on gifts to put under it.
T. Bettina Cornwell, logged in via Twitter: We have a 20 year tradition of buying a live Christmas tree with a root ball. Yes, it is more expensive and yes, it is heavy – so not for everyone. We plant our tree after Christmas each year and have left trees in yards in homes where we have lived. We currently have two Christmas trees in our yard from previous holidays. It is year round holiday reminder and a truly good feeling and we now decorate our outside trees each year.
Tips from negotiation experts for truly happy holidays
Updated December 11, 2018
Author: Rachel Croson, Dean, College of Social Science; MSU Foundation Professor of Economics, Michigan State University
Disclosure statement: Rachel Croson has previously received funding from the National Science Foundation.
Partners: Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
I’m having an amazing holiday season.
Each year it seems our travel gets more and more out of control. Between the multiple holidays, family we need to visit distributed all around the country and the rounds of parties for work and with friends, it’s difficult to find time for anything beyond social obligations. This year my husband and I took a different approach, consciously deciding and negotiating what we would do and what we would not do. In the end, we stayed home for Thanksgiving and had a lovely dinner with just the four of us (him, me, and our two boys, ages 9 and 11). We are planning one trip to visit his family over Christmas, but will combine it with some dedicated family time. We decided to forego hosting a party of our own and have strictly limited the other parties we will attend.
How did this happen? I applied the lessons from my academic study of bargaining and negotiation to my personal life. So, with another holiday season upon us, here’s some guidance on how to negotiate with your partner while strengthening this critical relationship.
From theory to practice
I became interested in negotiation as a graduate student, and part of my dissertation investigated bargaining behavior.
I have taught negotiation to students and executives, published many scholarly articles on bargaining and negotiation and given numerous public lectures on the topic. But, like many academics, I hadn’t thought to apply my academic expertise to my personal life.
Once I started to do so, however, I quickly realized that the concepts and skills learned from negotiation can be used not only to get what you need or want out of your family life but also to make your family life happier overall.
The most important insight is that negotiation does not have to be win-lose. It can be win-win.
Win-lose versus win-win
The popular conception of negotiation is all about getting the best deal for yourself or your side. It was a set of Harvard professors in their groundbreaking 1981 book, “Getting to Yes,” who first popularly introduced the idea that negotiation could be “integrative,” or result in both parties being better off.
In practice, many negotiators see only “distributive” or win-lose possibilities. In their minds, there is a fixed pie over which the parties are fighting: If you win, then I lose. As a result, most of the early academic literature and practical guidance have focused on power. As you might imagine, this can be quite problematic for negotiating within the family.
In contrast, the idea of integrative or win-win negotiations involves identifying outcomes that are good for both sides.
There are a number of ways one can achieve integrative negotiations, but here I will discuss three of the major ones described in “Getting to Yes” and subsequent articles.
Trade-offs. For example, consider a couple sharing a chicken for dinner. One way to share would be to cut the chicken in half and to each get an equal portion. This would be a distributive solution, since we are distributing the chicken between the couple, and if one were to get more (win), the other would get less (lose). An integrative agreement can be found by identifying trade-offs between the two parties. For example, it turns out that I like the dark meat and my husband likes the white meat. So I can give him my breast and wing and he can give me his leg and thigh, and we can both win.
Adding issues. A second way to achieve win-win solutions is to change the scope of the negotiation. For example, each year my husband and I negotiate about where to take our summer vacation. I want to go to the forests of Lake Tahoe and he wants to go to the casinos of Atlantic City. As long as the scope of the negotiation remains focused on this one trip, it will be difficult to satisfy us both. However, imagine we expanded the negotiation to include multiple dimensions. For example, we could make a multi-year deal where we alternated our destinations. Or I could commit to spending our winter vacation in Atlantic City in exchange for a summer vacation in Lake Tahoe. Or he could agree to let me pick the vacation destination if I allow him to host a monthly poker game at our house.
Beyond positions to interests. A third way to achieve win-win solutions is to move beyond each individual’s position and focus on his or her interests. For example, when my husband and I were getting married, we had our strongest disagreement about the wedding cake. I wanted chocolate and he wanted white (vanilla). After many rounds of arguing, I finally asked why he wanted white cake. He replied that white was traditional and he wanted the cake to be white in the pictures. I told him that my whole family liked chocolate, and we wanted to eat chocolate cake. Once you move beyond positions (white cake versus chocolate cake) to underlying interests (picture cake versus eating cake), many integrative solutions become possible: white chocolate, bride’s cake/groom’s cake, Photoshop and so on.
In the end, we had a three-tier cake, with two large chocolate tiers and one small white tier which we fed each other for the photos.
Negotiation tactics for the family
So, how should you negotiate with your partner, parents or children to get what everyone wants during the holidays?
Here are some suggested tactics to help you achieve these win-win outcomes.
Be honest, not mean. To achieve win-win negotiations, all parties involved must be honest about what they want.
One study found that married couples come to fewer win-win solutions than friends in part because they are unwilling to ask for what they want, thinking that the other person will be angry with them.
Simply giving in to the other person’s demands is not the pathway to win-win solutions. Instead, each party needs to express what is important to him or her and why, and listen carefully to his or her partner’s priorities and reasoning.
Explaining that I wanted to eat chocolate cake and understanding that my husband wanted white cake for the pictures was pivotal to our coming to a win-win agreement.
Make concessions. One of the hallmarks of negotiations is that no one gets everything he or she wants. You need to be willing to make concessions, to give up the aspects that are less important to you in order to get what is most important to you.
While cleaning up after poker games at our house is not my idea of a great time, it’s worth it to get the summer vacation I want.
Be creative. Once you understand and accept each other’s needs, you need to be creative about finding ways to meet them. This can involve brainstorming and being tolerant of your partner’s crazy, off-the-wall ideas in the process.
Should we go to Monaco? What about an online poker account? How about a long weekend in Reno during our Tahoe trip?
Make promises, not threats. Finally, a word about language. One of the realities of negotiation is that either party can walk away. One way to keep the conversation constructive is to make promises (if we both order the chicken, I’ll trade your white meat for my dark meat) and avoid threats (if you won’t trade, I’ll have to order the surf-and-turf).
The past and the future
Each family has a long history together, with real and perceived slights. Families also expect to have long futures together.
As a result, it is extremely important that these negotiations be handled with respect for the other party, and with a view to the long-term costs and benefits. Pick your battles, and concede on the other issues. You don’t need to win them all, just the important ones.
For this holiday season, we negotiated for a slower-paced experience with more quality time with our nuclear family. As the winter holidays approach, remember to consider your interests, listen to the goals of your partner and search for win-win solutions. May your holidays be joyous and your negotiations be integrative.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published Dec. 19, 2017.