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Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lives on after the holidays

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Everybody loves the sight of a beautiful Christmas tree, especially the gigantic ones in prominent places like Rockefeller Center in New York City. It is the backdrop for skaters, shoppers, wondering minds of kids, site of proposals, and holiday cheer. But when the holiday season comes to an end, what happens to the tree?

Beginning in 2007, a unique partnership with Habitat for Humanity has allowed the Rockefeller tree to live on as wood used in building decent and affordable homes for needy families. The idea started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Chris Clarke, senior vice president of marketing and communications for habitat said the program has been going on since 2007. The first donated tree was milled into materials to build a new home for a Hurricane Katrina survivor living in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The tree is usually taken down around New Year’s Day. Once on the ground, crews set to work transforming it into materials that will be recycled into various products to support Habitat’s work. Right there in the plaza, branches are removed and the huge trunk and larger branches are cut into boards. This process takes about twelve hours. The boards are then loaded up and sent off to their new location to become part of a home.

Smaller branches are chipped and recycled into paper. One year the paper was used for a book whose profit from sales went to Habitat. See the video with this article for more information.

In 2007, NBC, Warner Music, and Tishman Speyer (the company that owns and operates Rockefeller Center) partnered together to transform Rockefeller Plaza into the Humanity Plaza. “Over one week, employees from all three companies helped frame more than 60 houses to help families affected by the hurricane,” Clarke explained.
After volunteers from around the city and beyond constructed these home frames, they were put onto trucks and shipped Mississippi and Louisiana to house Katrina victims.

“Inspired by that effort, Tishman Speyer decided to continue their support of Habitat’s mission by donating the annual Christmas tree,” Clarke continued. “Each year, lumber milled from the tree is used by a designated Habitat affiliate.
Since the program’s inception, lumber milled from Rockefeller Center Christmas trees have helped build homes in New York City; Stamford, Connecticut; Newburgh, New York ; and Philadelphia. Clarke said this year’s tree, a 76-foot Norway Spruce hailing from Shelton, Connecticut, will be used to construct a home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In 2007, the Christmas tree also went green with the use of LED lights. They draw a fraction of the energy formerly required to power the tree’s 30,000 lights. By switching to eco-friendly lighting, Rockefeller Center has managed to decrease the tree’s daily energy consumption from a massive 3,510 kwH per day to a significantly-less massive 1,297 kwH per day. Hundreds of solar panels atop one of the Rockefeller buildings help power the new LEDs, making daily operation of the tree more energy efficient than ever.

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