Greening the Funeral Home

This column originally appeared in the July, 2012 issue of Funeral Home and Cemetery News by Nomis Publications, Inc.

Greening the Funeral Home
Appealing to eco-conscious families in the developing market for green funerals

In previous installments of this column we discussed green burial in the context of cemeteries and caskets.  Green cemeteries and caskets have received most of the media attention in recent years with the growing popularity of green and natural burial in America.  Another topic worth exploring but not receiving near the media attention is greening the funeral home.  Some funeral homes, like the solar powered Prout Funeral Home in Verona, New Jersey, have embraced sustainable and eco-friendly practices to garner media attention and local community support.  There is a wealth of opportunity in "greening the funeral home" that will save money and portray a funeral home as eco-conscious.

The funeral home, like any commercial property, has opportunities to improve energy efficiency.  Two decades of research in the "green building" industry tells us that the incremental cost of new construction for a green building is less than 2% with a return-on-investment more than 10 times in savings over the life of the building.  If your firm is considering expansion or new construction, it may be well-worth seeking the expertise of an architect with experience in green building.

For existing facilities, there are countless ways "go green" that save money and appeal to families who value an environmentally conscious business.  While some means to green your business require up-front investment, there are many ways to green your business with little more than a commitment from staff to follow sustainable practices.  An important first step is to make it a priority and empower your team.  While the adoption of greener practices is made possible from the bottom-up in your organization, the commitment to do so best originates from top-down leadership.

Trees sequester carbon.

As much as half the energy used in our facilities is energy lost in heating and cooling--this means zero value realized from 50 cents of every dollar spent on energy!  An easy way to reduce energy use is at the thermostat.  Each degree you turn down the heat saves 3 percent of heating costs, while each degree you raise the temperature of your air conditioner saves 3-4 percent of cooling costs.  Adjusting the thermostat by 2 degrees year-around will save 6% on the energy bill.  As for the environment, the added savings in CO2 reduction is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by as many as 400 adult living trees in the same year.  Call your local utility company for a free energy audit of your funeral home facility.  A free energy audit will expose ways reduce both energy loss and energy use.  Your auditor can also identify opportunities for tax credits or grants to pay for weatherization and other energy-saving improvements.

When planning facilities improvement projects, consider using eco-friendly replacements for carpeting, furniture, window treatments, and paint.  There are countless green alternatives made from renewable resources including cork and bamboo flooring, all-natural and hydrocarbon-free textiles, and carpet, paint and textiles that contain zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  Milk Paint, an alternative to oil and latex paint, contains zero VOCs and is available in a variety of colors that can be mixed for a full spectrum of color options for home decor and furniture.  Milk Paint, in fact, is a popular choice in childcare facilities, hospitals, and schools because it contains zero VOCs.

Perhaps the easiest and fastest way to green a funeral home is in lighting.  In the last two years CFL light bulbs have dramatically decreased in price and have become available in a wide variety of types of light.  The CFL bulbs available today easily replace incandescent lighting without compromising the color or quality of light.  Significant improvements in CFL light bulbs have eliminated the delay in getting to full brightness, ended the flickering, and made CLF bulbs compatible with dimmer switches.  The payback period on a CFL light bulb in a fixture used 8-12 hrs per day is 3-4 weeks.  The savings on electricity alone is enough to warrant switching out all incandescent light bulbs used more than 10 minutes per day.   Add the environmental benefit and switching to CLF light bulbs is the easiest and fastest way to green a funeral home.  Additional savings can be achieved with the use of dimmer switches, timers, and motion-sensors to reduce the energy used in lighting.

Many funeral homes provide bottled water to guests.  Bottled water is one of America's most criticized industries for its impact on the environment.  Consider switching to filtered tap water or a water cooler.  Replace disposable plastic cups with biodegradable cups made from paper or corn starch.  If your funeral home provides refreshments or food services, use biodegradable plates and tableware.  James Olson of Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan Wisconsin provides all products for their receptions sot that all waste including food, plates, napkins, forks/spoons, and cups are biodegradable.  All waste is deposited into the backyard compost bin without sorting.  The compost, in turn, is used in flower beds and window flower boxes around the funeral home.

Further savings can be achieved in the restroom.  Automated "touchless" faucets, flow reducers, and low-volume flush toilet fixtures reduce water consumption again saving money and reducing impact on the environment.  A programmable touchless paper towel dispenser will reduce paper waste (which can also be composted).  All of these updates have a paypack period of less than one year from savings in water and paper consumption.

Additional savings can be achieved in the funeral home office.  Switch to paperless billing for all utility and bank accounts.  Opt out of pre-screened credit card mailing lists (and compost the junk mail you do receive).  Setup your office printer for two-sided printing, use printer paper made from post-consumer recycled paper, and be sure to recycle those old toner cartridges.  Recycle (or compost) your scratch paper.  Turn off all computers at night--preferably with a power-saving power strip.

There's no end to the little things we can do to "green" a funeral home facility.  Whatever you do, take credit for your effort.  Talk to your families about the ways you are caring for the environment and greening your facility.  Put up small informative signs by that new water cooler with compostable cups, above the paper towel dispenser, or in your new waiting room decorated with bamboo flooring and walls colored with milk paint.  Most people will be interested to learn about your efforts to green your facility and will appreciate and support such measures for a healthier environment.