By Laure Hänggi / Translated By Kerstin Trimble
To consider Christmas trees more than simple consumables, but rather living beings in their own right – that is the thought behind the concept of Treezmas, which was founded by four young entrepreneurs in 2012 to offer an “alternative consumer solution” for Christmas. The idea is spelled out in large letters on the homepage of the French start-up: “Adopt a tree: you choose, we deliver, you enjoy, we take care of your tree’s second life.”
The company, which sells potted trees only – so the roots are preserved – picks up the trees after the holidays. This ensures that their stint in the living rooms won’t be the trees’ untimely end. While more and more towns in France offer collection points to recycle Christmas trees – 141 of them in Paris alone – the Treezmas concept goes even further. Depending on the state of the trees, they will either recycle them (into green compost or mulch) or replant them at their partner tree nurseries. After a three-year recovery period, the trees can be sold again. The goal is “to combine the practical and the digital aspect with acting responsibly towards living things,” says Stéphane D’Halluin, who is in charge of sustainable development services at Botanic. France’s fourth-largest gardening chain offers natural and organic gardening solutions and acquired Treezmas this past October.
Last year, more than 1,000 trees were ordered via the Treezmas website. It is a mere drop in the ocean of 6 million Christmas trees that are sold on average in France each year – 5 million of which are real trees. Yet the concept is taking flight. “We are overwhelmed by our own success, and we have repeatedly run out of stock,” Hanen Jamaï reports enthusiastically. He is in charge of digital marketing at Botanic and still amazed at the hype that the concept has caused. “Between 2012 and 2015, sales have quadrupled!”
Grow for Years to End Up Dead on the Pavement?
And yet of the millions of trees sold in France each year, only ten percent are sold in pots. Most of them are cut, stuck into a halved chunk of log for sale and cannot be replanted afterward. “I used to buy cut trees all the time and never thought about what happens afterward. But when I did reflect on it, I felt that it’s actually dramatic to see a tree that has been growing for years lying dead on the pavement,” Louise admits, a woman in her thirties from Paris’s district XVII who was persuaded by the “smart, generous and responsible” concept of the tree adoption service.
“What I like about it,” she continues, “is the fact that I’m adopting a living tree that will continue to live afterward. We have to reflect on things that seem mundane. We watch what we eat, and that’s great, but we also have to be more aware of our general consumption patterns.” The practical aspect of home delivery also played a role, albeit “secondary”, for Louise: “I don’t have a car, I live on the fifth floor, and I had my tree delivered at 9pm.”
For a few days now, seven-year-old Léon has been reigning over Louise’s living room, one of the Treezmas trees alongside others like Arthur, Camille or Victor. “We name the trees and indicate their ages as a cute way to create a sense of responsibility in the users,” Stéphane D’Halluin explains. In the same vein, the adopted tree comes with a care manual, for in order to be replanted, the tree needs to be “well taken care of,” as Hanen Jamaï explains. “If the tree is positioned too close to a heat source, it is irrecoverably lost. That is why we try to educate the customers well to get the trees back in the best possible condition and be able to replant them.”
Playing the ‘Made in France’ Card
The trees are mainly Nordmann and Omorica firs and deliverable all across France for a certain fee. “Delivery and pick-up for our smallest fir Arthur, which is 59 euros, costs about 30 euros. Ultimately, we make about the same amount of profit from the online sale of an Arthur than a brick-and-mortar retailer would make off a potted tree at the store. We calculated our pricing deliberately to make the service profitable,” explains Stéphane d’Halluin at Botanic. This is why on average, the trees offered online at Treezmas cost more than their potted cousins sold in stores. “Our clientele definitely is urban shoppers of affluent socio-economic backgrounds,” Botanic associate Hanen Jamaï admits.
The company also plays the “Made in France” card, guaranteeing that the trees are domestic, from regions such as Rhône-Alpes, Brittany or Morvan. This, the Treezmas firs share with 80 percent of all Christmas trees sold in France. French origin is an important purchase criterion for 3 out of 5 Frenchmen, who are also willing to pay a little more for a domestic tree, according to a 2013 study by AFSNN (French Association for Natural Christmas Trees).
The notion that natural trees lead to deforestation is widely held, but wrong. In fact, the trees are specifically grown for the holidays. Buying a real tree is more ecological than buying an artificial tree, which is made from petrol-based products and difficult to recycle. You would have to keep an artificial tree for more than 20 years to have a lesser ecological impact than with a natural tree. Yet most consumers keep their artificial tree for an average of six years.
Meanwhile, Treezmas champions more responsible and reasonable consumer behavior. Currently, a third of the trees sold as part of the young project are replanted. “I hope we can get this percentage up very soon,” Stéphane D’Halluin affirms. Meanwhile, the Botanic manager will not be twiddling his thumbs: “Our goal today is to raise awareness, to communicate how ludicrous and sad it is to use Christmas trees as mere consumables. We have to respect living nature.”
This article originally appeared on FUTURE PERFECT.