Darren Crouch noticed an emerging trend of more people buying electric cars and shopping at farmer’s markets. He had a novel idea: If there’s a green market for food and cars, why not funerals?
In 1998, Crouch founded a “green funeral products wholesaler” called Passages International. He sells products to funeral homes that make biodegradable urns, caskets, and shrouds.
The funeral industry brings in $20 billion annually. Crouch believes that number will quickly plummet if funeral homes don’t pay more attention to their customers.
“Burial is becoming less relevant,” Crouch tells Debt.com. “I started my company around the same time the Prius came out and Whole Foods became a thing. People are buying organic produce. They see value in it. They’ll pay for it. When they have a loved one that passes away, you need to have greener options that are more sustainable and align with their values.”
Below are five of the products he’s selling that are changing the traditional funeral industry. Crouch is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but recommends checking your state laws before purchasing any of these products…
1. Biodegradable caskets
Price: $109 to $2,600
The average coffin costs anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. Coffins are often the most expensive funeral item because they’re typically crafted from hardwood and fastened with concrete bolts. They’re designed to protect a dead body from soil and the elements.
Crouch sells biodegradable caskets, that can be used for both a “natural burial” or cremation. The material they’re made from will naturally recycle with soil and clean burning.
There are religious and traditional reasons for burying the dead in a traditional wooden casket.
However, further research from Auburn University states “Jewish, Muslim, Wiccans, and other groups prefer not to bury their dead in caskets, simple biodegradable coffins, and shrouds could appeal to this target market.”
Speaking of funeral shrouds…
2. Funeral shrouds
Price: $325 to $875
Dating back to England in the 16th Century, poor and middle-class people were buried in shrouds as a cheaper alternative.
Not by choice, but by necessity.
Of course, today you do have a choice that will save you thousands of dollars buying a coffin. Bamboo, cotton, or willow shrouds are cheaper and better for the environment.
“If a bird drops out of the sky, we don’t need an artificial process to have that bird disappear,” Crouch says. “You can buy a shroud and dig a grave three-feet deep and put a body in there. That’s the most sustainable option.”
3. Biodegradable urns
Price: $89 to $525
Crouch sells urns to hold a deceased loved one’s remains to later bury in the ground and submerge in the ocean. Both are biodegradable. Crouch says they’re popular among boaters and former Navy sailors.
“We have products designed to be placed in water that will float briefly while you sing a song, say a prayer and have a moment of silence,” he says. “Then they’ll sink under the water surface and biodegrade naturally releasing the cremated remains and having no environmental impact.”
4. Biotree urn
Passages International’s site states that you’ll still have to pay for a cremation, which the average cost is anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 in the U.S.
Crouch did stress in an interview with Debt.com, that many of his customers see value in using their death as a unique experience. He compares the sales pitch to luxury cars.
“When you’re selling an Audi you’re not selling four wheels and a steering wheel — you’re selling the feeling you get when you drive an Audi, Mercedes, or BMW,” Crouch says. “What we’re selling is the experience you can have and the feeling you can get by choosing a greener funeral alternative.”
5. Scattering tube
Price: $65 to $125
This is the most affordable and popular option, Crouch says. More than 57 percent of funerals are cremations. There’s no commonly found source of how many cremations involve scattering the remains, Crouch says it’s around 40 percent.
The tubes he sells are recyclable and biodegradable. They come in 20 different designs varying from scenic dessert views to a golf course. His customers purchase them as personalized tributes to their loved one’s interests or hobbies.
“You can either pour the ashes out of the urn and then recycle it,” Crouch says. “A lot of people scatter ashes on or over water.”
Whatever services his customers choose, Crouch’s mission is to move the funeral industry away from its “cookie-cutter approach.”
“That’s where funeral directors went wrong,” Crouch says. “The funeral industry has become impersonal and institutionalized. People don’t want them. So there’s this movement towards sort of reclaiming back the funeral, doing more of it yourself and being more participatory.”