Christmas trees

We were all asked yesterday at work to name a service innovation that stuck out for us in 2009. My favorite one is the Christmas Tree for Rent service run by Scott Martin, in Los Angeles. I noticed it in the NY Times at the beginning of December 2009, and particularly liked the idea that people could have a tree but in a sustainable way – they can return it, alive, to the nursery after the season.

It sprang to mind again today as I walked to work past at least ten Christmas trees lying abandoned on the sidewalk, looking desolate with the hacked off bit at the bottom and shreds of tinselly stuff on the branches. How long they'll be there is anyone's guess.

I've never liked the idea of having a Christmas tree, and since leaving home when I was 18 I haven't had one. I don't mind seeing them outside in public spaces but having thousands of them in houses, covering them in expensive stuff and then throwing them onto the sidewalk (or preferably disposing of them correctly) after a week or so seems the ultimate in throwaway consumerism.

But given that most of the householders in the consumerized western world – or at least the UK and US – seem to think a temporary decorated tree in their living room is a lovely idea the rent a living one seems a reasonable option.

Not only is the idea of sustainable Christmas trees great, the service innovation bit is that he delivers and collects them (in trucks run on bio-diesel). Additionally, the trees are cared for by adults with disabilities; the drivers will pick up donations for Goodwill and used wrapping paper for recycling; and the Web site also sells eco-friendly, fair-trade ornaments.

At the end of the three weeks (that the tree can safely sit in houses watching people do Christmassy things). "The tree is … picked up to join its evergreen cousins; they will summer together on industrial properties where Mr. Martin rents space for pennies on the dollar to house his inventory. People who want the same tree next year ask for it to be tagged with their name, so it might return next December, taller".

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