In the last couple of days I have read articles from different areas of the United States pertaining to the establishment of “Green Cemeteries” in those locales. The first you can read here and comes from the southern portion of Illinois and concerns the City of Carbondale turning a city cemetery over to the option of green burials. The proposal includes potential wording where the containment of the body must be done in a nontoxic, biodegradable container. This would exclude metal caskets and the proposal says the container should be made of responsibly sourced materials, such as local woods and fabrics harvested in sustainable ways.
The second article comes from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald and describes the non-profit Kannebec Land Trust planning to create a new cemetery for conservation burials. They plan to secure 60 acres for green burials as another way to conserve land by managing it responsibly. You can read that article here.
So, when I see these two articles in two days my first thought is that green burials are going to be popular. But is that the case? And how much effort and financial resources should you as a funeral business owner dedicate to these services?
I think trend watching is important in any business. Certainly, there is a trend towards green burial. However, the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) has pretty good statistics that there is a trend toward more cremation and direct cremation. Can there be a trend in both directions? The answer is yes – because a trend does not happen by itself in a vacuum.
The secret is capturing the economic reality of each trend and then knowing what resources to throw behind capturing that trend in your business. Yes — “Green Burial” is a growing trend, but burial, in general, is a disappearing act. Do you want to throw resources at a disappearing act.
CANA tells us that as of 2016 there were nine states with a cremation percentage of over 70%. Just using my home state of Minnesota – which is at about 60% cremation rate today – and CANA tells us will be about 90% by 2035 – there is a great trend towards cremation and a decline in burials of the whole body. My guess, if I was still in charge of operating a funeral home, I would be putting my financial resources on how do I capture that ever growing segment which is the cremation population. I am happy to serve the burial population, but it does not look like that is where the business will be in 15 years.
I’m virtually certain that “Green Burial” is an environmental movement and not a burial movement. Looking realistically at the cremation trend and the green burial trend, I would be pretty comfortable saying that the extrapolation of that combination is an “environmental trend” in death care services.
From my point of view, “Green Burial” is not an investable business if I am looking for a good return. However, I would think that an investment in “Environmental Death Care” going forward would eventually pay good returns. My venture and planning would be making sure that I capture the “cremation client that is looking for environmental alternatives” as compared to capturing the “Green Burial” client. Many times it is the nomenclature that you use that can help you define where you are going and if you will be successful in the future.
I’m of the opinion that those putting their bets in the Green Burial movement will end up a lot like the passenger trains of the 1950’s. If those companies had been in the “transportation” business instead of the “train” business they may be the companies operating our passenger airlines today instead of having being only involved in the extinct train passenger business.