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Scotty Claus Aims for 'Living Christmas'

Scott Martin—better known as "Scotty Claus" during the holiday season—brings eco-friendly cheer with his live, potted Christmas trees.

Scotty Claus, aka Scott Martin. Photo credit Nicole Mooradian.
Scotty Claus, aka Scott Martin. Photo credit Nicole Mooradian.

Editor's note: This article was originally published Dec. 20, 2011.

For most of the year, Scott Martin is a landscape architect with SEED Group.

Come November, however, he becomes "Scotty Claus," the owner of the Living Christmas Co., which rents live, potted Christmas trees to customers for the holidays.

Martin's interest in Christmas trees stems from a job he had as a teenager at a nursery, where he delivered the iconic symbols to people's houses. After the holiday, he would see the dead trees kicked to the curb. The disconnect between the religious meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—and the dried-up trees intrigued him him.

In 2008, he founded the Redondo Beach-based Living Christmas Co., using a logo he scribbled on a napkin.

"I've always been 'entrepreneurial-ish,'" he said.

The Living Christmas Co. is part of the live-tree industry, like most Christmas tree lots. The only difference is that Martin's trees won't be discarded once the holiday is over.

"Our message is put [the trees] in pots … and we could rent them for more money" than a cut Christmas tree, Martin said. "[We're] trying to use capitalism to our advantage."

The Living Christmas Co. not only seeks to reduce its carbon footprint in every way possible, it wants to make a positive impact on the local environment.

"We're not a sustainable company," said Martin, who got his degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona. "We're a regenerative company."

The trees are grown in brownfield lands that are otherwise unused, and Martin said he's looking into using gray, or recycled, water to hydrate the trees.

"In these urban areas, we've got a forest growing," he said.

Trees that aren't suitable for delivery are planted as part of the urban reforestation program.

Unlike most Christmas-tree lots, Martin's trees are kept in undisclosed locations to prevent customers from driving over and selecting their tree. Instead, the entire ordering system is online—customers choose the height and variety of the tree and a delivery date. Martin picks out the tree the day before.

"Every tree that comes out of here has to be pretty darn near perfect," he said, emphasizing that the company has strict quality control standards. In fact, he said that about 90 percent of his customers are "overjoyed" with the tree he's picked.

The exceptions to his hidden tree lots are the Santa Monica and Playa Vista farmers markets; he occasionally brings trees to the markets. Because the families have already driven to the farmers market, they aren't making a separate trip to the tree lot, Martin explained.

For the people who order online, the trees are delivered in batches of about two dozen to reduce the carbon footprint, and many of the trucks delivering them run on biodiesel. The company delivers to cities all over the Los Angeles area.

The people delivering trees also pick up bags of donated clothing for the Goodwill. When the trees are picked up, company employees will also collect used wrapping paper to use in packaging.

Last year, the company and its customers donated about 1,500 pounds of items to Goodwill. This year, they're aiming for 2,000 pounds.

The Living Christmas Co. also sells recycled ornaments and wrapping paper.

"What we try to do is close the loop," Martin explained.

If a family falls in love with its Christmas tree, it can adopt the tree through the company's program. Each year, Martin is able to get about 50 percent of the trees back to the people who originally adopted them.

Though most of the trees do survive the holiday season, Martin said he ends up with a lot of pine trees, rather than the perfectly conical Christmas trees.

Despite Martin's commitment to "being green," some might think that an artificial tree is still better for the environment.

Not true, said Martin. Though artificial trees can be used year-after-year, they will eventually end up in a landfill, where unlike a cut tree, they won't degrade.

Plus, some artificial trees contain carcinogens, he added.

Martin's trees, on the other hand, have received an "indoor plant" designation from the Santa Monica fire marshal, meaning that the trees are "far less flammable."

The three-year-old company isn't just aiming to take care of the environment—it takes care of its employees, too.

Martin hires his workers through the Veterans Administration and other social services, and they become a family of sorts.

Along with adopting a Christmas-themed nickname for himself, Martin gives nicknames to employees. This year, there's Tiny Tim, Gregnog and Justin Season, among others.

"We give hugs and say, 'Merry Christmas'" to remind each other of the Christmas spirit," Martin explained, adding, "It's easy to forget what we're doing."

The company is also involved in charitable efforts. Recently, it provided trees for a Goodyear Toys for Tots event, where they made "the place look like Narnia" by filling it with trees.

The Living Christmas Foundation, the company's charitable arm, also provided small live trees to families who had kids hospitalized at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. Larger trees were given to families who had lost a child.

Whether the company is aiming to help the environment or the community, the Living Christmas Co. is a pioneer in its field.

"We're the ones writing the handbook for [potted Christmas tree rental]," he said. "So each year we learn and each year we get a little better."

Sherri Akers December 20, 2011 at 02:19 PM
This is the third year that we have gotten a living Christmas tree from Scotty. It's like a holiday visitor to our house. We wouldn't consider anything else. Their service is great and we can highly recommend them!
Head Elf December 21, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Adopt A Christmas Tree is the San Diego-based sister company of The Living Christmas Tree Co. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about adoptig trees in San Diego, visit adoptachristmastree.com.
Mark November 24, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Love this idea.
Janet November 24, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Love everything about this company!
Karen Fairbank November 24, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Scotty Claus and his elves are my favorite part of the holidays!! We have had his trees for many years. Awesome!!!
Mary November 25, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Great idea dude, great idea. The mass slaughter of gorgious trees annually is so counter-productive. What are people thinking??? Scotty you get an "atta boy." :-)
Diana Schwab November 25, 2012 at 12:30 AM
What a great story and what a great man! Scotty Claus gives me hope.
Rhonda Pella November 25, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I LOVE IT!! Thank you Patch for finding this fantastic story. :) In my attempt to do something similar, I've been purchasing large rosemary bushes (shaped just right) at the grocery store as a xmas tree substitute for the last few years. After the holidays I then donate it to a local community garden (where hopefully it flourishes). They just don't come big enough, but the smell in the house is wonderful - and a great option for apartments with less room. But boy do I miss the scent of pine! Living Christmas Co. here I come!! Happy Holidays Redondo, Rhonda www.PellaPO.com

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