By: Abby Crouch
The English Author Douglas Adams said it best: “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity”. In accordance with the values of Douglas Adams, it’s time for the funeral industry to open its eyes to the importance of embracing ethical and eco-conscious business practices.
Despite recent increases in cremation and demand for scattering, the funeral industry as a whole has seen little development in the last 30 years. There have been innovations, yes, but funeral homes are often wary of change, slow to adapt, and often struggle to make their business profitable. The industry often sticks to the outdated practices, beliefs, and products that it has grown comfortable with, despite the rapidly evolving customer demands.
The modern consumer is increasingly interested in options that will reduce or eliminate environmental impact. According to the 2020 NFDA Consumer Preferences and Awareness Survey, 61.7% of respondents are interested in green funeral options. It is essential and overdue that funeral homes adapt to meet these changing needs. Providing customers with sustainable and biodegradable urns, scatter tubes, and eco-friendly caskets can help meet this new demand. Not only do these products help in the fight against climate change, but they are also profitable alternatives to the all-too-often “free” or least expensive option.
Eco-friendly practices are especially important in the funeral industry, an industry that is historically eco-unfriendly. Traditional burial practices, in particular, prove incredibly harmful to the environment. Traditional burials are resource-intensive, as cemeteries often consume vast tracts of land, are maintained with heavy machinery and industrial fertilizers, and are full of rare hardwood and metal caskets, all encased forever in tons of concrete.
Additional detriment to the earth comes from the finishes, adhesives, fabric linings, and hardware that are utilized in traditional wood caskets. Products made without considering sustainability are often unappealing and impractical to the modern customer, who has these values in mind. Leaving a lighter footprint is a consideration all companies should value and strive to achieve.
Dedication to ethical practices, however, extends beyond just environmental concerns. Unethical manufacturing is prevalent in many industries, including the funeral industry. Child labor, unpaid labor, and poor working conditions are unacceptable business practices, yet practices that still occur. They are particularly prevalent outside of the US, where governments are more likely to turn a blind eye to unlawful, and more importantly, unethical manufacturing practices.
It’s crucial that a business’s profit doesn’t come at the cost of worker wellbeing. Businesses today are expected to look beyond shareholder interest, to the interests of all stakeholders. Partnering with a supplier of certified fair trade products helps to ensure that workers are being fairly treated and fairly compensated. A fair trade certification ensures that products fit an array of rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. Traidcraft, a leading fair trade organization, says that their vision is “A world freed from the scandal of poverty, where trade is just, and people and communities can flourish.”
Our company has embraced these standards. We have worked hard to provide fair trade coffins, carriers, wicker caskets and shrouds, and many of our urns are proudly certified fair trade by Traidcraft as well. These products are manufactured in rural Bangladesh, where a considerable percentage of people can’t read, write, count, or even tell the time. Many workers bike miles just to get to their place of employment. At our facility, employees are taught these skills and are provided support in their personal and professional lives in the form of education, medical health, child care, and more. Importantly, producing products in these areas brings opportunity and financial security to members of otherwise marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities.
Companies must aim for more than taking; they must aim to contribute as well. In accordance with this notion, the most successful companies produce or sell products that have true value to customers. Many traditional urns and caskets are incredibly expensive products that are seen briefly and then buried into the ground or collect dust at the back of a closet. These products rarely contribute to a family’s memorial experience, they’re more a means to an end rather than something the family wants or sees value in.
Funeral homes must realize that products are no longer the focal point of the funeral. Customers are less interested in products and more interested in an experience. Products provide and facilitate the creation of a meaningful experience that will allow mourners to truly remember and honor a deceased family member or friend. Families seek products that align with these wants and will allow them to actively participate in the celebratory event, rather than just being a spectator. This is one of the reasons that scattering is becoming increasingly popular. Scattering urns allow families to say farewell in locations that hold meaning and sentiment to them and their departed loved one. A family that spends every winter skiing in Colorado, for instance, is able to choose to scatter on the trails of the Rockies and celebrate the memories and life of their loved one. A family in Montana is able to scatter around the family ranch or by the river.
The funeral industry has been slowly adapting to these new environmental, social, and circumstantial expectations of customers. In order to appeal to the modern consumer, companies in the industry need to align with the values and expectations of families and not expect them to adapt to often “tired” or outdated products and services.
Data-driven businesses will evolve to better meet the demands of families and will be seen as industry leaders, ensuring future growth and profitability. They will stand ready to not only prosper economically, but they will have raised the bar in the industry by benefiting not only shareholders but all stakeholders as well. FBA
Abby Crouch is a Marketing Associate at Passages International. Passages has led the green sector of the funeral industry for 20 years, with the largest selection of innovative, environmentally-friendly urns. Passages’ marketing team can be reached by phone at 505-273-5149, or by email at [email protected] For more information on green funerals and their benefits visit www.aGreenerFuneral.org.