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SG-Ho-Ho-Ho: The Making of the Sustainability Christmas Tree.

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SG-Ho-Ho-Ho: The Making of the Sustainability Christmas Tree.

If you’re walking about campus and pass the front of The Chapel, you might have glimpsed our sustainable Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree might not look as polished or elegant as many people would typically envisage them to be. Despite this, our tree, created as the SGO and Academy for Sustainable Future’s entry for the Chaplaincy’s Christmas Tree Competition, is a culmination of many elements of sustainability and the heritage of Canterbury Christ Church University.

Our Christmas tree has had a bit of a journey getting to The Chapel.

Image description: the sustainable tree completed and stood in the Chapel

This arduous journey started in our store under Old Sessions House, its birthplace, where members of the Student Green Office (SGO) built the tree’s core only to realise… no one could see it. To fix this lapse in judgement, we decided to lug the tree across campus – with many bits falling off – to our office in Fleming, the home of the Academy for Sustainable Futures. Once there, we started evaluating the options for displaying our creation. After this time of mental location hunting, we collectively decided to pitch the tree within The Chapel, decidedly without permission. A surprise Christmas tree, if you will.

So, once again, the tree went on a journey around campus. Travelling far and wide… across a single corridor to its destination. Once in The Chapel, much-needed TLC was applied to the tree, re-uniting it with its missing components lost on the voyage and adding more decorations, giving it a more Christmassy vibe.

The tree is made up of various components, the most chaotic of which is the topper. Maximus Grinch, a loving (if you can go that far) combination of the SGO officer, Max, and the Grinch. The artist who created the topper shared the finished piece with the team, stating “this is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever made.” A remark that would warm the Grinch’s heart, signaling that the artwork has passed the chaotic vibe check. This artwork would be displayed with honour and horror by the SGO after it has served its time as the star of the tree.

Image description: Maximus Grinch

The most central part of this project is using the eco-bricks that make up the bulk of the tree. Eco-bricks are plastic drinks bottles filled with non-biodegradable plastics used for building projects to reduce the net impact of harmful plastics within the biosphere. These projects can be for short- or long-term applications. For short-term uses, eco-bricks are arranged and connected into shapes or blocks like a Lego brick, which are used to create seats, tables, and temporary structures. Longer, more permanent projects use earth-building materials like cob (clay mixed with straw) with eco-bricks. They have been used to create walls and planters to help further local communities, and are famously used in the Philippines to build houses and schools. Along with being a valuable way of upcycling plastics, eco-bricks take on another use that can be applied to projects like our tree. This use is to start conversations through a visual showing of how much plastic waste goes beyond what can be seen.

Throughout the tree, you will see green sustainability-branded drink pouches clipped onto the main structure. These water bottles bear the sustainability department’s old logo and have lived in a recently discovered box of event freebies, now repurposed in the sustainable ‘leaves’ and bringing an eye-catching splash of colour to the tree. Just like leaves, when the time comes for the bottles to be removed, they will be reused as well, returning to their box to become event freebies once more. Additionally, in-fitting with the chaotic nature of the decorations, during our travels we found bees, clearly the most festive of insects to add to our tree.

Image description: a bee from this years Bee Bomb event sat atop an ale bottle, strung up with lights

Many folk put tinsel on their Christmas tree, and we decided to make our own using our office’s abundance of beer mats. There are three lengths of the ‘beer mat bunting’. The first is the latest brew, Pilgrims’ Ale, made from heritage variety hops grown on campus that’s available to buy right now at Touchdown and the Food Court. The second is The Three Choughs, last year’s beer, and the final one is a timeline of the university beers from across the years. The tinsels will be repurposed as decorations or returned to their primary jobs as beer mats when the tree comes down. The bottles themselves are also present; filled with fairy lights and decorating the bottom of the tree.

The base of the tree is made from recycled material. The poles have been plundered from the broken elements of our Yurt, which sustained injuries from when the Storm Claudio took it on an unwanted trip across Anselm Lawn. Along with the poles, everything on the tree is attached with string. The string will be re-used when the tree is deconstructed after the festive season, continuing the underpinning theme of sustainability within the project.

While all these components that make up our Christmas tree are sustainable, even we admit we have gone pretty overboard in the name of creativity. The average person does not have a broken yurt and eco-bricks to hand to make a Christmas tree. But many sustainable decorations and actions can be started during the festive season that can make a difference for the future.  

By Maximus Clinch (or Maximus Grinch, depending on who you ask), SGO Project Officer #learningforthefuture

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