Newswise — Given recent extreme weather events – the summer’s brutal heat and subsequent drought, followed by Superstorm Sandy’s disastrous path – newly green-conscious consumers may be wondering how to lessen their carbon footprint this holiday season. Plant biologist Clint Springer, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says that buying a real Christmas tree may not solve the world’s climate ills, but it is a step in the right direction.

“Choosing a real Christmas tree is one way that an average person can make a difference in terms of climate change,” Springer says. “A 2009 study (Ellipsos) concluded that a seven-foot cut tree’s impact on climate is 60 percent less than a seven-foot artificial tree used for six years. So while cut trees are not carbon-neutral, in terms of carbon-use, they are better than artificial trees.”

Springer acknowledges that many families choose artificial trees because they may not have easy access to real trees, which could be too costly, or because they have tree allergies.

“Farm-raised trees are too young to be reproductive in most cases, so pollen is not an issue,” says Springer. "It’s possible, though, that some people might be sensitive to the natural scent of the trees.” In that case, Springer recommends choosing pines over firs, which usually carry a weaker scent.

But the question remains for some: Do live Christmas trees bring mold into the house?

“From what we know about household allergens like mold spores, a home with a real tree does not usually show a higher rate of indoor air pollution than one with an artificial tree, because mold spores found on live trees do not usually become air-borne,” Springer says (Wyse and Malloch, 1970.) “Ultimately, people need to make the choice that they feel makes the most sense for their family, so if they do purchase an artificial tree, put LED lights on it and try to keep it for as long as possible.”

If buying a real tree is not an option, Springer offers other ways for consumers to green their holiday celebrations.

Consider using LED lights to decorate the house. A typical 50-light strand of C7 bulbs, often used for outdoor lighting, uses approximately 99 percent more energy than an LED strand of the same number of lights.

Buy local and sustainably farmed produce for holiday gatherings. This lessens the use of fossil fuels for transportation, cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global climate change.

Buy organic produce. Though pricey for some families, buying organic produce is an even better choice for party season. Organic food is not farmed with artificial fertilizers, which require a tremendous amount of fossil fuels to produce.

Recycle whenever possible. Consider using wrapping paper or boxes made from recycled material and be sure to recycle them once the gift giving is over.

Springer studies the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on the growth and development of plants. He can be reached for comment at 610-660-3432, at [email protected], or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.