Sustainability in Funeral Service: Six Ways to Make a Real Difference Without Spending a Dime

When it comes to running our businesses, many of us are hesitant to take real steps for positive change to conserve and protect our planet.  Excuses include not knowing where to start and lacking funds to invest in expensive alternatives.  The last few years of Greenwashing in every industry from Tobacco to Tylenol have proven a few things in both marketing strategies and consumer awareness.  First, consumers are genuinely interested in doing the right thing.  People don’t just care about the environment in general, people want to know specifically how their choices in products and services affect the planet in clear and concise measurable terms including biodegradability, carbon footprint, local-sourcing, sustainability, and toxic pollutants. Second, businesses are learning that sustainability has a positive impact on profits. Conservation strategies will not only reduce costs; real and positive changes can generate goodwill in the community and build loyalty with customers. Here are six ways the funeral home can make a measurable impact without spending a dime.  [Spoiler: Offering sustainable alternatives to your families with clever merchandising will add to your bottom line by saving families money on low margin products so they can spend more on higher margin services.]

1.  Stop mowing the lawn.  Seriously.  If you own or work in a funeral home, lawn maintenance and landscaping is a priority with an annual budget to afford contracted services and/or staff to keep your place of business looking well kept and beautiful.  Talk to your landscaper about shifting those same budget dollars to zero-scape your entire outdoors with trees, mulch, and perennials.  Stop using nitrogen-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that cause great harm to your local waterways and the environment.  You can avoid a large investment by changing green lawn to mulch and perennials in small projects.  There’s no need to do it all at once—create a five-year plan and you’ll spend the same dollars you’re already spending.  You’ll know you’re done when you no longer need that lawnmower, and there are no more gas cans, pesticides, or herbicides stored in the garage.  Best part, your neighbors and families will pay you compliments daily on how great your place looks!

2.  Don’t be Greenwashed, yourself.  You’re a customer too.  Whenever you make purchase decisions be mindful of Greenwashing.  The FTC Green Guides say that marketers' claims must be accompanied with qualifications and disclosures that are clear and prominent.  If you cannot immediately understand how or why a product or service is “better for the planet” then ask questions.  Don’t be mislead by qualitative words including Natural, Organic, Biodegradable, and Eco-friendly that are not accompanied by further qualifications that substantiate the marketer’s claims.

3.  Know your caskets & cemeteries.  For families interested in alternatives to a conventional casketed cemetery burial, have information in-hand so that your families can make informed choices consistent with their values.  Know the locations of 2-3 cemeteries that do not require concrete burial vaults or that have designated areas for natural burials.  Have literature in-hand for manufacturers of natural burial caskets and burial shrouds.  (Don’t be Greenwashed—see #2.)

4.  Memorize three cremation talking points.  Land use, carbon footprint, and toxic pollution. Most people who choose cremation as an alternative to a burial have no idea that the land required to extract, refine, transport, and store the few pounds of fossil fuel for a single cremation is far greater than a single cemetery plot.  It is a matter of fact that the carbon footprint of a single cremation ranges between 350 and 600 lbs. of CO2e—that’s the same footprint as burning 17 to 30 gallons of gasoline!  The US EPA reports that cremation is the third-leading contributor of airborne mercury contamination in the US as well as a cocktail of additional harmful pollutants.

5.  Take your cleaners to the cleaners.  Whether you have a cleaning service or perform cleaning duties with your own team, the cleaners in your funeral home almost certainly contain harmful chemicals.  There are effective alternatives that will make your funeral home both safer and cleaner.  Again, don’t be Greenwashed.  Look for commercial cleaning products that are biodegradable and free of phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, and petroleum distillates.  For the ambitious, there is a wealth of resources online for mixing your own cleaners with inexpensive, easy-to-use, natural cleaners such as baking soda, lemon, borax, vinegar, and citrus solvent.

6.  Start your own tree-planting initiative.  Nobody can argue that planting a tree is a good thing. For as little as $1, the Arbor Day Foundation will plant a tree in memory in a National Forest. Talk to your city forester or parks & recreation department about an making annual contribution to plant a few trees in your community.  Plant a few trees every year on your own properties and maintain them well.  Trees add value to your property.  Businesses like UPS are making real investments in tree-planting and are reaping the benefits in goodwill and customer loyalty.  The UPS Foundation planted 1.3 million trees in 2013 and will plant a million more in 2014.