According to consumer research undertaken by the agency GWI, 60% of internet users have said that they would happily spend more money on eco-friendly product alternatives. Furthermore, the data also revealed how important it is for consumers to see that brands are supporting them in these efforts.
Since GWI’s research began in 2018, knowing that a brand is eco-conscious has consistently been one of the top 10 factors driving purchases. This year, the most popular desired brand action (as stated by consumers) was that the brand is eco-friendly.
So, it will be no surprise to anyone to learn that green initiatives are receiving more interest than ever before in the bereavement sector.
How are businesses within the funeral sector rethinking their practices and what new eco-conscious practices are being devised and introduced?
Introducing green initiatives to the funeral sector
As far as sectors go, the funeral sector generally holds true to its stereotype of being resistant to change.
For better or for worse, the funeral industry can be very traditional. Many (but not all) businesses tend to stick to the tried and tested, old-fashioned way of doing things.
The result can be that technology and tradition can be at loggerheads, but gradually, we are seeing tradition ease its grip, to pave the way for green innovation. Creating an efficient, modern approach, which improves practicality without compromising the respectfulness of the service delivered.
The importance of environmentally focused changes to the funeral industry
The two most popular funeral options, by a long way, are burials and cremation, however, neither of these can boast the claim of being environmentally friendly.
According to America’s The Environmental Blog, every year in the US 2.4 million people pass away and currently, just over half (51.4%) choose to be buried. This means cutting down 4 million square acres of forest for coffins, and finding 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete for the construction of burial vaults.
Current estimates put a figure of approximately 178 tons of carbon dioxide on the annual emissions of the American funeral sector.
Additionally, although we perceive the process of burial as a natural process, it requires a lot of energy and has a high carbon footprint.
There’s the collection and preparation of the materials, the construction of the coffin, and then its transportation, all of which contribute to carbon dioxide emissions.
On top of this, most modern coffins are veneered. This produces pollutants in its production and allows chemicals to seep into the ground when buried. Many coffins also feature plastic embellishments and handles. Not the most biodegradable option…
Similarly, cremation carries an environmental impact. The process of burning a body requires enormous amounts of energy, which is why cremations rarely take place after a service. In fact, bodies are burnt in batches at a later date because of the time it takes to heat and use the cremator. Furthermore, when the body is burnt, the ashes that remain do not give anything back to the planet.
Green changes being introduced
As consumers continue to push for greener alternatives, the funeral sector is making changes to meet demand. Here are some environmentally focused innovations, initiatives, processes, and business that are worth exploring.
Natural burials use biodegradable coffins, natural materials and do not include any embalming processes. Natural burial sites are commonly located in a peaceful natural space, with minimised human disturbance. Woods and wildflower meadows are popular places for natural burials. Since 1993, when the UK’s first natural burial ground was established, more than 270 natural burial grounds have been established. The Natural Death Centre has a list and other useful information.
At Recompose, the body of the deceased is composted and used to give nutrients to the soil, which is then used to nurture forests. Only operating in the US at present the Recompose website explains that:
“Recompose was born from research on the soil cycle. Soil created by Recompose will nurture growth on the same forest floor that inspired its creation, allowing us to give back to the earth that nourishes us all our lives.”
Traditionally, coffins are made with stained wood and mdf, which is veneered and decorated with plastic features. With the adoption of biodegradable coffins, even a conventional burial can be made far greener.
Biodegradable coffins are designed to have minimal impact on the earth when buried. They are made from sustainably grown and low-impact materials, such as pine, willow and bamboo. A brilliant example is Woven Farewell, which creates biodegradable coffins using woven willow coppices. Other companies, such as Ecological Coffins, use reclaimed timber and hemp rope in the construction of their coffins.
Although a common sight in many cultures and countries, being buried in a shroud isn’t the norm in the UK, but avoiding a coffin altogether is another option rising in popularity. Cotton, linen, and bamboo are all used to create eco-friendly fully biodegradable shrouds, with companies like Ecoffins offering a range of options.
Alkaline hydrolysis (also known as natural water cremation) is an interesting alternative to cremation, which does not require the same levels of energy or burning of fossil fuels. However, although it has had some promising results in some areas of America to date, there is a long way to go before this option becomes mainstream.
This is another fantastic green initiative that, thanks to its simplicity and respectfulness, has been adopted by many UK funeral providers.
For example, Woven Farewell donates 5% of its profits to The Woodland Trust – a conservation charity that protects the UK’s woodland.
There is a popular trend of laying wildflowers at burial sites and The Willows actively encourages mourners to plant native British bulbs and wildflowers across the site.