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Friday, September 26, 2008

Funeral Directors Serving Both Green and Non-Green Families

In a previous blog about eco-friendly funeral directors, "T" posts a question I suspect a number of funeral directors have been asking themselves as they look to cater to the growing green burial market: "Is it possible to offer both traditional embalming techniques for our traditional customers alongside green techniques for our 'green' customers?"

As far as I'm concerned, the answer to that is yes.

Since the publication of Grave Matters, I've welcomed funeral directors into the natural burial movement and encouraged them to add green goods and services to their General Price Lists. The arrangement, I've argued, benefits not just families and the environment, but funeral directors themselves.

Refrigerating remains, for one, reduces morticians' exposure to the toxic formaldehyde they'd otherwise be exposed to in the embalming room. Offering a wide array of handsome and affordable caskets made from cardboard, pine, willow and other readily biodegradable materials attracts the increasing number of families who say they are interested in a natural return to the elements (as is true of 43% of all Americans, according to once survey). Green is good for their bottom lines.

That said, I recognize that we're at the beginning of the green burial revolution. Converts are increasing in number but, at this point, perhaps not in large enough sizes to wholly support a funeral home that's green only. As a pure business matter, offering both green and modern funeral/burial services makes good financial sense. And that's just what many funeral homes have done.

What happens then? Well, I'm reminded of the comment that New Jersey funeral director Bob Prout made when talking about families' reactions to seeing the seagrass/willow/bamboo coffins sitting out in his casket display room. The families buy the metal caskets their loved ones requested but tell Bob they want the eco caskets for themselves, when their time comes.

After walking out of Ramsey Creek Preserve for the first time in the summer of 2003, I was convinced most people would ask to be laid to rest in that lush, living pine forest if they could only see it. I think the same can be said for most green burial strategies. If families come into T's funeral home to make arrangements for the typical, modern funeral but then see a willow casket or cloth shroud or learn that T will help them hold a funeral in their own home -- and at a lower cost -- I know what choice most of them will make.

Note on the photo above, which was taken by Penny Rhodes during the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival, in Kempton last week. This is the table where Penny, Greta Brown and Jenny Bingham set out information on home funerals and talked to countless people who stopped by. Penny, Greta and Jenny are home funeral practitioners who service families in southeastern Pennsylvania. Web:

Mark Harris
Author, Grave Matters (

1 comment:

Mike Testa said...

Good post. I think funeral homes need to embrace green a another customer service offering.


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Facebook page for the book on green burial, Grave Matters, with updates on the growing movement.