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Our Last Act on Earth: Deathcare and the Environment
by Tom Harries, CEO and Co-Founder of Earth
It is a sobering thought that for most of us, our last act on earth is one of pollution. This shouldn’t need to be the case. For years the funeral industry has lagged behind from a sustainability perspective. The challenge is to reduce or eliminate emissions and environmental damage, while providing an appealing option that allows for memorialization and celebration of a life.
While much thought fortunately now goes into the environmental impact of the decisions we make in our day-to-day lives, it is only very recently that the choices we make about our end-of-life plans have received similar attention.
There is, however, finally a growing demand for end-of-life options that minimize the negative environmental impact we leave behind and that reflect the values we hold during our lives.
This demand partly stems from, and is partly a driving force behind, the creation of new and exciting funeral alternatives. These options seek to address the industry’s environmental issues while still forming beautiful and meaningful ways to honor a loved one.
The traditional funeral industry’s climate problem
While traditional burial emits pollutants into our earth, cremation emits them into our skies. Each year in the US, burials are estimated to use 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 64.5 thousand tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete and 20 million board feet of hardwood. These chemicals and materials cause soil pollution when buried, damaging surrounding wildlife and degrading the earth. Added to this pollution, conventional burial consumes valuable urban land at an unsustainable rate.
Cremation is sometimes incorrectly touted as a more environmentally-friendly funeral option. Unfortunately, this is a misplaced belief. While cremation may be better from a land consumption perspective, it is a fossil-fuel driven process that emits substantial greenhouse gasses. Cremations are typically fueled by natural gas. As a result, one cremation produces an estimated 535 lbs of carbon dioxide. For perspective, that is the equivalent of a 609 mile journey in an average car. Emissions are not limited to carbon dioxide - the process also emits carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, as well as fine soot and mercury.
Fortunately there are now a number of green funeral alternatives available that rise to this challenge, presenting sustainable options that provide a beautiful send-off.
One way to make a funeral greener is to adapt a traditional practice. There are various elements of traditional burial that can be removed or altered to reduce environmental damage. The casket is the most obvious starting point - burial is possible with a biodegradable vessel or even without a casket at all. Green burials typically also avoid the use of chemicals such as embalming fluid and minimal use of resources for grave marking. There is a growing number of burial sites in the US that are wholly or partly dedicated to green burials.
The other way to make a funeral greener is to opt for a process that is specifically designed with environmental concerns in mind. One of these is alkaline hydrolysis, which is a disposition method that uses heat, pressure, water and lye to produce a benign liquid known as hydrolysate.
Another process is soil transformation, which is also known as natural organic reduction or human composting.
We started Earth to develop the most environmentally friendly deathcare option possible. Over a 45-day period, our proprietary process gently transforms a body into nutrient-rich soil. At the end of the process our families choose how much soil they would like returned - for scattering or planting - and the remainder is sent to conservation land for restoration projects.
Soil transformation is an especially sustainable option because it not only avoids negative environmental effects during the process, but also has an actively positive effect after. The soil produced is healthy soil that is ideal for conservation uses such as reforestation and erosion control. Many people see beauty in this return to nature and find that soil transformation allows for meaningful and tangible memorialization.
The future of funerals
US residents now have more environmentally-friendly funeral options available to them than ever before. Soil transformation and alkaline hydrolysis are not yet legal in all states, but there is a strong movement throughout the country to legalize the processes in ever more states.
With growing demand, and an increasingly supportive legislative landscape, the next few years are set to see significant progress for an industry that was initially slow to adapt.
✍️ The Draw-down
Weekly climate art by MCJ Artist-in-Residence, Nicole Kelner. Don’t miss the next Climate Art Workshop TONIGHT at 3pm PDT 🎨 RSVP here.
📢 Climate Action of the Week
Want to do more? Sign up for the next Climate Changemakers Hour of Action here.
It's imperative that we maintain a pro-climate-action majority in Congress. Write letters to voters in Michigan to support three stellar climate candidates: Dan Kildee (MI-8), Elissa Slotkin (MI-7), and Hillary Scholten (MI-3).
🎙My Climate Journey Podcast
📉 Jason talked with Timothée Parrique, an author and researcher in ecological economics about the concept of degrowth as a lever for change, ecological budgets, and creating a culture of low-carbon goods and services.
🪨 Cody caught up with Mary Yap, Co-Founder and CEO at Lithos Carbon, and Adam Wolf, Co-Founder and CEO at Eion Carbon about enhanced rock weathering, the long carbon cycle itself, the different types of rocks found on earth, how agriculture uses mineral inputs today, and some of the underlying economics of this method as a carbon removal technology..
✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 If you identify as Black, Indigenous, or any person of color and are looking for a role in California, this is a statewide email list for BIPOC climate/sustainability professionals in local government, community-based organizations, academic, and nonprofits.
👏 Pique Action launched a newsletter spotlighting good climate news and the paths we can take to a more sustainable planet. Subscribe to Pathfinder: Uplifting Climate Stories here.
👩💻 Climate Jobs
Mantel is seeking multiple research engineers/scientists, a process engineer, and more for their seed stage company developing a novel molten salt-based carbon capture technology. (Cambridge, MA)
RRC Companies is looking for project managers, engineers (electrical, civil, mechanical, geotechnical), computer programmers, and corporate communications professionals to join their international engineering and design firm. (Various Locations)
Terawatt Infrastructure released new roles for Software, Construction/Site Development, Real Estate, General Council, Accounting and Business Development to help scale EV infrastructure development. (Remote/San Francisco, CA)
🗓 August/September Events
For more climate events, check out the #c-events channel in MCJ Slack.
🎨 Climate Art Workshop with Nicole Kelner TONIGHT! This month’s theme is Solarpunk, the art movement that envisions how the future might look like if we live in harmony with nature. (8/30)
🤝 MCJ Career Transitions Meetup: Casual monthly event designed to build a network of individuals who can learn from and support each other into their new roles. (8/31)
💨 Distributed Decentralized DAC by AirMiners: Jason Hochman (DAC Coalition) will moderate a panel of DAC company founders who are going forward with their distributed solutions. (8/31)
⭐️ Austin Sustainability / Climate Tech Meetup: For anyone interested in networking and discussing anything related to sustainability, climate policy, renewable energy, climate tech, you name it. (8/31)
✨ MCJ Community Roundtable: Join the MCJ team to learn about progress that’s been made over the past year and what’s ahead. (9/01)
👥 Fireside Chat: Alternative Finance for Climate Tech: Join this session led by Dimitry Gershenson for a deep dive on alternative finance in the climate tech sector. (9/01) Additional Climate Event series by Candice Ammori here.
🍻 MCJ London Social: Converse and connect with entrepreneurs, operators, investors, academics, explorers, students and more. (9/05)
👋 MCJ Community Welcome Call: Connect, share and learn with other MCJ-ers. (9/08)
🤑 Fund Your Climate Tech Startup: Online, cohort-based course from NEN member Dr. Chris Wedding. Use promo code CHRIS2 to get a discount and a bonus coaching session for your startup. (9/05-9/16)
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