Americans opt for a 'green' Christmas

Fifty-three percent of Americans prefer green holiday gifts. But is a real tree better than a fake one?

Kneeling in aisle 12 of a Michaels arts and crafts store, Acacia Adams loads her basket with rubber grapes, plastic pine cones, and styrofoam figurines for an artificial wreath.

"Along with ho ho ho, it's faux faux faux for us this year," says Mrs. Adams, mother of three.

A few blocks away in Aisle 9 of Costco, Jim Tremont loads a fake and frost-white Christmas tree (with hidden music speakers) into his cart. Sale price: $74.99.

"We're going lean, mean, and green this year," says the accountant from nearby Woodland Hills. "Yeah, I know it's white," he says, pointing to the picture on his box. "By 'green' I mean 'environmentally friendly."

And two miles south, Conchita Argueza sits at Starbucks Coffee, typing e-mail addresses of friends into a website specializing in environmentally friendly e-cards. She chooses a picture of an endangered animal, types a quick message, and presses "send."

"This saves time, money, and trees," says Ms. Argueza.

Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin notwithstanding, evidence is growing that more and more Americans are dreaming of a "green" Christmas this year. That usually means paying more money for LED lights, plastic Christmas trees, recycled wreaths, giving rechargeable batteries, and sending e-cards instead of real ones. A key reason: The hot topic of global warming has given people cold feet over energy-intensive gifts or ones that require fossil fuels to make.

"If you provide people with options just as delicious and just as gorgeous as the less-environmentally friendly options, they'll go with green every time," says Deborah Barrow, founder of TheDailyGreen.com, a website that caters to consumers inner-green with recipes for locally grown produce.

Locally grown food, she explains, requires less energy to haul to market and is often produced by family farms using more environmentally friendly methods.

Besides ecofriendly recipes, this year the website offered the "ultimate guide to ecofriendly holiday fun" including: How to pick the greenest Christmas trees, green and gorgeous holiday decorations, ecofriendly gift wrap, and green gifts for "ecodivas" and "gadget geeks."

"This year was a tipping point for a lot of people out there interested in making incremental changes in their lives," Ms. Barrow says. "The point is you can be green without living in a yurt and going off the grid. We're not telling you to turn off the lights – just screw in a energy-efficient light bulb instead."

Two recent studies support such anecdotal evidence of a shift in Americans' attitudes toward gifts and giving. One, a survey by Conservation International, an international environmental organization, found a majority of Americans (53 percent) – preferring to receive green gifts over the holidays, compared with a traditional gift of equal value. Two in five (43 percent) said they planned to give green gifts.

Another national survey by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche USA, found almost 1 in 5 consumers (18 percent) expected to purchase more ecofriendly products over the holidays.

"Most importantly, a significant number of people – 17 percent – are willing to pay more for 'green' gifts or supplies, which tells us that this issue is on shoppers' minds this year and is becoming more central to consumers' purchasing decisions," said Stacy Janiak, Deloitte's US Retail leader in a statement.

Setting the pace for this year's "green Christmas" shift by holiday revelers is a move away from wasteful incandescent lights for trees and buildings, toward efficient light-emitting-diode (LED) lights. The White House, Rockefeller Center, and the Statehouse in Boston touted LEDs this year. Even though they are three to four times more costly, retailers reported strong sales.

In St. Louis, Mo., the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis is decorating the church's 12-foot tree with 1,800 LED lights this year, in addition to having a drive for recycled gift wrapping.

"We're trying to deepen our holiday commitment to the environment this year with LED lights," says Donna Agah, a member and a leader of that congregation's green movement.

But for many, choosing what kind of tree to hang their lights on has proven a major point of debate this year. Some argue that real trees are the greenest because the cut kind can be recycled and those with roots can be planted, while fake trees are often made from petrochemicals.

Christmas tree associations like to note that natural trees produce oxygen, consume carbon dioxide, and are renewable. They also control erosion and provide animal habitat.

But several opponents argue that the greenest Christmas tree is faux, sparing the tree rather than spoiling the planet. In the "Going Green: A step-a-day program for lazy suburbanites" blog, "Burbanmom" told of digging her old fake Christmas tree out of the attic, shaking off spiders, and putting it up in the living room.

Even though it was a "giant fake, plastic, imported tree covered with tiny, energy-sucking light bulbs," Burbanmom wrote, "I'm pretty sure this is the most ecofriendly choice." Why? Because she already owns it.

"If it is something I already own, then the damage has already been done and the best I can do is take good care of it and use it well," she wrote.

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