Little Trees Car Fresheners

overall rating:



Jose Padilla Diaz
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Little Trees are disposable car fresheners designed like an evergreen tree and frequently seen - since 1952 - hanging from rear-view mirrors. Globally, there are about 60 different scents, and over 1 billion Little Trees have been sold; parts of Europe market them under the names Wunder-Baum and Arbre-Magique. One tree-shaped car freshener can be bought for $1-3, making them worth the purchase for the few weeks it lasts. Although they are cheap, Little Trees’ overall lack of transparency means they have a larger environmental impact than they’d like to be held accountable for. It is difficult to determine the ethics and sustainability of a business when no available information regarding their supply/production chain is present, along with no supporting reports on working conditions and the well-being of employees. This international company creates an abundance of products that pour into our waste stream, yet they have zero efforts, or missions regarding any sustainability goals or plans for sustainable development. Our current climate crisis is only going to get worse, but corporate industries -like Little Trees- transitioning to regenerative methods can combat potential impacts. Many current methods are extractive and environmentally harmful, so furthering sustainable development provides us with a better chance at minimizing the severity of anthropogenic impacts.

What it's made of:


Julius Sämann was a German-Jewish chemist and businessman who fled from Nazi Germany to Canada where he eventually studied alpine tree aromas in the forest. He combined exceptional fragrances with specialized blotter material to address the smell of spilled milk. Today’s air fresheners solely use fragrances approved by the Switzerland-based International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the global representative body of the fragrance industry that ensures ingredients are safe for consumers and the environment. Though the IFRA also has 100+ signatories committed to their Sustainability Charter through a life-cycle approach to sustainability, Little Trees has not taken this initiative. Although Little Trees complies with IFRA standards, they have no transparency on the dyes used to produce the variety of colors on their specially formulated absorbent material. I believe they don’t make sustainable initiatives because their car fresheners use single-use plastic packaging and are dependent on fossil fuel-based resources (natural gas & petroleum). A recyclable piece of cardboard is the only sustainable part of the product, but the company should also be investing in bioplastic packaging. Bioplastics are biodegradable and renewable since they obtain natural polymers from agriculture, cellulose or potato, and corn starch waste. Every single environmental impact is impossible to address, however, I believe it’s crucial for steps to be made in areas that are achievable and that benefit our planet.

How it's made:


Moving forward, improving waste management practices can incrementally reduce our carbon footprint, but large impacts can be made from shifts in production/supply chains. Little Trees uses many essential oils, but provides no information regarding their agricultural practices to extract these ingredients; this creates a problem because there is no clarity on the types of fertilizers used or if pesticides are used, both of which cause harm to nearby ecosystems. Internationally, Little Trees has plenty of production and distribution facilities, yet no claims regarding the use of renewable energy; we can only infer the energy source is fossil fuel-based. The company relies on fossil fuels for single-use packaging and as an energy source, but the bulk of their dependence results from daily, emission-producing, transportation of products to businesses (primarily gas stations). Undoubtedly, our reliance on fossil fuels has negative climatic implications and adequate risk-reduction strategies must lead us away from this dependence and minimize its use. Automobiles are improving, but will take time - an easier step for these corporations is to decrease annual emissions by increasing the use of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources can lower costs for Little Trees, creating extra capital for investing in sustainable practices and regenerative development, like bioplastic packaging that reduces plastic pollution.

Who makes it:


CAR-FRESHNER, Sämann’s corporation, insists on rigorous testing and quality control procedures because they have high standards for the fragrance, strength, and longevity of this product. Their emphasis on product quality does not make up for their lack of commitments towards sustainability, especially when some commitments are currently feasible but are hindered by a lack of simple voluntary initiative from companies (i.e. transitions to renewable energy and biodegradable packaging). Little Trees’ California Transparency in Supply Chains Act Disclosure Statement says they support fair labor practices and freedom from slavery and human trafficking. Though the company says programs are in place to manage compliance for these risks throughout their supply chain, there is no clear information on said programs. Furthermore, their statements seem performative because programs for “fair labor practices” are left undefined, making it possible for the bare minimum to be done while they embrace the title. Another issue I had with Little Trees is how they highlight the use of IFRA-approved fragrances even though they are not signatories for a life-cycle approach towards sustainability or environmental justice. Currently, they have zero initiatives, but the IFRA is designed to guide them with responsible sourcing, their environmental footprint, the well-being of employees, product safety, and full transparency and partnerships. Meaningful progress will require time and effort, but zero effort only supports our current extractive economy that will contribute to continuous greenhouse gas emissions that only heighten extreme weather events.