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Green imperatives drive sector towards sustainability

Climate change and the urgent need for more environment-friendly practices are high on the agenda for many funeral businesses. In this news feature, Sharon Barnard takes a look at what’s going on ...

As part of an organic farm and community renewable energy project on the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border, Westmill Woodland Burial Ground is committed to long term sustainability. And that commitment is having a positive impact on the natural world.

A recent plant survey has revealed an unusually wide of range of plants springing up in different habitats in this tranquil corner of the English countryside (see main photo), including some rare bee orchids.

“Careful management of invasive weeds, no pesticides and only mowing our path areas has allowed a lot of biodiversity to develop,” explained manager, Jan Power.

“All our bird boxes were occupied last year and our nearby fields proudly house the highest concentration of corn buntings in Oxfordshire. 

“Larks soar above us regularly; kites, goldfinches and many other varieties feed and hunt over the burial ground,” she added.

It’s an encouraging picture, and like Westmill, direct cremation pioneer Pure Cremation also have evidence that their efforts to protect the environment are making a difference.

They commissioned an independent assessment which showed that its Charlton Park Crematorium in Andover generated 22.5% less CO2 per service than a typical crematorium.

Co-founder Catherine Powell said, “Few realise a traditional funeral comes with a significant cost to the environment.

“We are the only funeral business the Carbon Trust has assessed from end to end, revealing how to deliver a carbon-neutral service.”

Pure Cremation purchase eco coffins in bulk and minimise fossil fuel consumption. Filtration technology means they can cut harmful emissions, and the photo wrappers on their biogradable urns are printed using vegetable inks.

In West Sussex, funeral products specialist Tributes Ltd are busy working on plans for their new environmentally-friendly premises on a plot they purchased in 2020.

It will feature solar power, an air exchange heating system and electric vehicle charging points, as well as water recycling, allotments and a grass covered log cabin to be used as recreational space for staff.

In addition, chairman Richard Bush (pictured right) is keen to create “a green garden” to encourage wildlife, envisioning a natural pond, insect hotels and bee hives.

“This is a very exciting project indeed, not only bringing greater efficiency to our business, but also heightening our green credentials,” he pointed out. 

In last month’s issue we reported how Ecoffins is producing more energy than it consumes thanks to the 159 solar panels now up on its office roof in Kent. It has also cut fuel consumption by packing coffins more efficiently and redesigning its product range.

As General Manager, Simon Howard commented, “Ecoffins has always been a trailblazer in all matters Eco. We hope these two projects we’re currently engaged in demonstrate that we’ve in no way lost our edge.”

Coffin manufacturer J C Atkinson also have a considerable green track record. In 2008 the Tyne & Wear based business was named ‘Best Green Company’ by The Sunday Times.

"It began in 1992, with our Sapling Tree Planting Initiative,” explained commercial director Greg Cranfield.

“We ensured all mahogany-style wood coffins were from a named sustainable source. Then we pioneered chipboard using waste wood in 1998, and in 2002 we secured FSC-certification of our coffins."

After harnessing the power of rainwater and biomass heating, the company launched ‘Greener Goodbyes’ in 2007, making it easier for people to have a greener funeral.

“The following year we became a Carbon Trust Standard Bearer, before deciding to generate our own solar electricity in 2010.

“Tree number 10,000 was planted in 2012 and in 2015 we launched a plastic-free range. Since then, JC Atkinson has put its name to supporting environmental initiatives on a local and national scale,” said Greg.

When it comes to greener motoring, there are now more options available to funeral directors.

Wilcox Limousines recently unveiled the new Nissan Leaf all-electric ‘Athena’ hearse, which has a range of 168 miles on the WLTP cycle (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure), offering zero emissions motoring with the look and feel of a more traditional funeral vehicle. The vehicle tells you when to recharge and with a longer wheelbase and new design, provides the looks expected from a leading coach builder.

“Funeral vehicles must perform well and be reliable,” said Kevin Smith of specialists Superior UK.

“Hybrids are coming into their own.

“Electric cars aren't appropriate for funeral directors who cover large geographic areas, or who serve a rural community. But hybrid vehicles look stunning and have amazing specs – and tick that ‘green’ box,” he added.

Specialist vehicle manufacturer Woodall Nicholson, based in the north-west, are introducing the first Coleman Milne Mercedes-Benz plug-in hybrid range which is now available to order (see right).

It features an electric vehicle ‘powertrain’ which can offer up to 30 miles of zero emissions driving.  It also has a 2.0 petrol engine.

Woodall Nicholson say that along with “the range and flexibility” that you would expect from a conventional vehicle, this one can be run in absolute silence during a funeral and emit no emissions in a city centre or Clean Air Zone.

E-Class hybrid hearse and limousines are also being offered by Duffy of Dundalk, as featured on last month’s front cover.

In March this year organisations operating in the cremation, burial and cemetery fields joined forces to launch the Environmental Stewardship Group (ESG) to address the environmental challenge of the years ahead.

The ESG will focus on all aspects of this diverse sector together to help create a road map.

Howard Pickard, MD of Resomation which uses natural water instead of flame to gently return the body to ashes, said their involvement with the ESG and other initiatives “illustrates the increasing confidence in the introduction of water cremation in the UK.

“We will continue to support all our partners as they look to offer the public a ‘greener’ funeral.”

And as Howard pointed out: with the UN Climate Change conference COP 26 taking place in Glasgow this November, “the climate emergency remains high on the national agenda”.

It’s apparent that the quest for environmentally sustainable funeral products and services is only going to become more fervent.
J C Atkinson –


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