“Having a greener Christmas isn’t about making big sacrifices. If we each take small steps, collectively we can make a big difference” – Catherine Loveless, London Christmas Tree Rental
At a time when deforestation is estimated to contribute some 10% to global warming, each year in the U.K. some 7 million pine trees end up in landfill at the end of the Christmas season. Having given families up to three weeks of pleasure, they end up in the Christmas tree graveyard, littering streets before being collected as refuse. Each year Christmas trees account for about 160,000 tonnes of waste and each 2 metre tree that ends up in landfill has a carbon footprint of 16kg CO2e.
In 2018 two British entrepreneurs, Jonathan Mearns and Catherine Loveless decided to do something about it. Jonathan is a counter terrorism veteran who has set up his own consultancy and coaching business while Catherine is a former ballet dancer who owns her own ballet school. Together they researched the market to find a more eco friendly way to deal with the trees. In so doing they discovered that south of London, in Surrey, there were farmers who grew Christmas trees in pots so they launched London Christmas Tree Rental.
The idea is very simple. Initially they rented out 50 trees from one of the Surrey farmers and then, after Christmas, returned the trees to the farmer who replanted and cared for them. The idea proved to be extremely popular As Catherine says, “it was instantly clear to realise – okay people really like the concept of renting their own tree”. Indeed, clients returned the following year often requesting the same tree as they had had, and named, the previous year. So the trees are named and tagged and hired out each year until they have grown to 7 feet high, when they are retired and planted in the forest.
Basically the customer orders a tree based on height – 3,4,5,6 or 7 feet the cost being determined by the tree’s height. A deposit is paid, the tree is delivered by zero emission Citroen e-dispatch vans to the customer’s doorstep and once the season is over it is collected and the deposit is returned, providing the tree has been watered daily and cared for. This saves nearly half a tonne of CO2 emissions. Talking about their partnership with Citroen, Jonathon said “It’s all about sustainability after all, so we’re really up for this exciting collaboration”.
Apart from being part of the festive celebrations, the tree can be used to teach children about plant care and sustainability. So, Jonathon and Catherine have also opened Holly Berry Trees which sells pot grown trees complete with lights and decorations that are suitable for all ages. However, they are intended primarily for children and are linked to a book entitled “A year in the Life of Holly Berry”. This tells how Holly, who lives next door to Father Christmas, cares for her trees throughout the year, charting what happens month by month. So, the book “is a magical but also educational offering and a perfect gift for little people”.
Since they launched in 2018 there has been a national 30% year on year growth and according to Friends of the Earth “More and more places, such as garden centres and plant nurseries now offer a Christmas tree hire service over the festive season”. The benefits are clear – reduced waste, less pollution, reduced CO2 emissions, support for farmers and local businesses, less hassle, etc. Plus contribution to a more circular economy. Catherine and Jonathon most certainly want the business to be profitable, but they are also concerned that it should benefit not harm the environment, whilst at the same time they want it to be educational changing both mindsets and behaviour.
The venture addresses SDGs 13 (Climate Action), 15 (Life on Land), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 4 (Quality Education) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
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Interesting case study and obviously meeting a market opportunity however this concept is not new and even on a smaller scale, it has been going on in South Wales for several years. Apart from the obvious environmental advantages, it also addresses the problem of disposing of spent Christmas trees, especially in an urban conurbation. Congratulations to London Christmas Tree Rental, may their business grow like their products.