Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Neutral is Not Good Enough: We're Planting 100 Trees for Every Casket We Build

Carbon neutrality is a key concept in today's popular commercial trend in "Green" marketing.  It is so popular, in fact, that the Federal Trade Commission has issued a recommendation to revise its "green guides" that it gives to marketers to avoid misleading environmental claims.  The notion that the carbon emitting practices of the post-industrialized world have outpaced the planet's capability to recycle carbon dioxide has been cause of much international debate, legislative agenda, and a wide variety of information (and misinformation) in the media.   Let us set aside politics and consider science for a brief moment.  While it is widely accepted in scientific circles that (1) the globe is warming, and (2) that the cause of global warming has to do with the effect of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere, there is significant disagreement about the chain of actions and reactions causing the earth to warm, whether or not mankind (industrialization) is the culprit, and most importantly, if the effects of global warming are reversible.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans.
Let's face it, the world has cancer.  My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago, and after two years fighting the disease he was given a grim prognosis of one more year.  Refusing to give in to the disease, he sought second opinions and took an approach that many cancer victims take--fight the disease on multiple fronts.  With a combination of therapies from radiation to herbal tea, he is still with us today and in reasonably good health.

Faced with potentially overwhelming consequences, we must fight the good fight on multiple fronts.  In the end, it matters not which method was most correct or which facts or assumptions lead us to change our behavior.  My father will never know if it was the dirt-tasting tea or the radiation treatment alone for which he has to thank for living to attend his granddaughter's 7th birthday party on roller skates.  Similarly, we must not allow the anticipated or disputable impact of an act of conservation that may reduce global warming be the reason for not taking action.

There is political debate on cap-and-trade legislation to regulate carbon emissions and carbon offsetting activities to reduce the impact of carbon emitting activities elsewhere.  For the Northwoods Casket Company neutral is not good enough.  We know that not every small, medium, or large company on the planet will take measures to offset their own carbon emitting activities.  And we don't need to wait for a legislative mandate to take action.  We also recognize that we don't know (and may never know) the quantifiable impact of our actions--but this is not cause for inaction. 

We plant 100 trees for every casket we build.
With this sentiment we pledge to plant 100 trees for every casket we build.  In cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division we are planting 100 trees on both public and private reforestation projects in our beautiful state for every casket we build.  Please support us by telling your friends and family about the Northwoods Casket Company and our commitment to plant 100 trees for every casket we build.

If you have considered pre-planning your funeral but have not taken the initiative yet, we encourage you to take the initiative today.  Talk to your funeral director and ask about green burial practices and caskets made by the Northwoods Casket Company of Wisconsin.  Purchase a green casket from the Northwoods Casket Company, and be proud of the fact that your choice will result in 100 trees planted to help in the global mission toward carbon neutrality.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Save Your Planet with Natural Burial

Some people ask me, "How does a natural burial save our planet?"   There are several answers to this question.  For those who subscribe to the carbon counting method of measuring our impact on the planet, this question can be answered scientifically and the impact of a typical steel or wooden casket can be quantified in terms of the carbon emitting activities leading up to the construction, transportation, and burial of a casket. 

Consider a steel casket manufactured in the United States.  Steel requires mining, transport, smelting, and processing of natural resources all involving carbon emitting activities.  Then that steel is transported 100s (or 1000s) of miles where it is ultimately manufactured into a casket again consuming energy and emitting more carbon.  This casket is then stored in a warehouse facility heated (or cooled) consuming energy and emitting more carbon.  If the casket is manufactured overseas, add up the carbon points for more transportation.  Follow the supply chain of transportation via ocean liner, air cargo, or over-the-road, and finally the casket finds its way to a funeral home.  By this point a steel casket can easily have a carbon footprint larger than a typical Tibetan has in his/her entire life! 

Each year we bury enough steel to build a 100-story skyscraper.
Let's explore this a little deeper.  According to statistics compiled by the Casket and Funeral Association of America, Cremation Association of North America, Doric Inc., and The Rainforest Action Net, we bury more than 100,000 tons of steel caskets and burial vaults in the United States each year.  That is enough steel to build a 100-story skyscraper that could serve as a workplace for more than 25,000 employees.  That is enough steel to build schools for 25,000 children, or enough homes for 50,000 people.   This steel is permanently removed from our GDP (gross domestic product).  The 2700 tons of copper and  bronze hardware used in conventional caskets share a similar fate.  We will never recycle the steel or precious metals used in my Grandmother's casket to build anything else--ever!

Oak, cherry, walnut, and maple caskets.
How about caskets made from fine hardwoods?  Each year we bury 30 million board feet of hardwoods in America's cemeteries.  A small ranch-style house with three bedrooms requires about 3,000 board feet to build.  So each year we bury enough wood to build 10,000 homes.  These fine hardwoods like oak, cherry, walnut, and maple should be reserved for flooring and furniture, and not buried in the ground after a few hours of viewing.  Softwoods like pine and poplar are good candidates for caskets and coffins.   Unlike hardwoods, these softwoods grow quickly and are less dense thereby requiring less energy to transport and shape into caskets.

While casket selection seems to be the dominant topic for green burials, casket selection is a small part of the "going green" aspect of the funeral home industry.  Take for example the work of James Olson of Lippert-Olson funeral home in Sheyboygan, Wisconsin.  James is working with the National Funeral Director's Association of American (NFDA) to bring eco-conscious thinking to all aspects of the funeral home operation from composting the coffee grounds to replacing worn carpets with flooring made from recycled and eco-friendly materials. There are opportunities to conserve energy and limit wasteful practices in every part of the funeral home from water usage to use of compact fluorescent light bulbs.

While there is plenty of discussion in the media about replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, it certainly isn't as exciting a topic as shopping for or building your own green casket as your final act of eco-friendly conservation.  Nonetheless, if conservation is important to you, awareness is the first step.  Pre-plan your funeral and discuss your wishes with your family and your funeral director and ask about green practices and eco-friendly opportunities for your funeral.