“Most people don’t know when someone dies, they have green options,” says Darren Crouch, president of Passages International. “When you go to the grocery store, you know there’s organic produce. When you buy a car, you know there are hybrids you can choose. However, green options are very hard to think about when you are dealing with a death in the family.”
Passages International, an industry leader in green burial products and eco-friendly cremation urns and scattering tubes, is headquartered near my own back yard. Tucked away near the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Passages International President Darren Crouch sat down with me recently to discuss the growth in green funeral arrangements.
As the eco-conscious baby boomer generation ages, green burial and cremation are top of mind concerns. The traditional funeral – embalming, metal caskets, somber ceremonies, etc. – aren’t resonating with boomers, and they want other options.
Crouch started Passages International in 1999 after he married into the funeral business. There are several funeral directors in his wife’s family (she’s an attorney). His brother-in-law approached him with an idea for providing an affordable, eco-friendly container to scatter cremated remains.
At the time, there was a wide discrepancy in products for accepting cremated remains. You either had to spend a lot of money on a permanent urn of metal, bronze, marble, wood or other high-end materials, or you could get a cheap cardboard or plastic box. One study indicates that 40% of cremation customers scatter the ashes. Of this 40%, over 70% intended to scatter in or over water.
Crouch saw an opportunity. He came up with an attractive temporary container that could be used to scatter ashes and then either kept or recycled. Passages’ Eco-Friendly Scattering Tubes™ are attractive cardboard tubes that provide a dignified and simple way to scatter cremated remains. A funeral director places the cremated remains in the tube and presents it to the family to do with as they wish. A dozen designs are available to reflect the passions and interests of the deceased.
From those humble beginnings, Passages has become an international leader with a wide selection of eco-friendly funeral products, designed to be attractive, functional and affordable. They offer caskets crafted by hand from sustainable and renewable resources of willow, bamboo and sea grass; biodegradable urns of paper and rock salt for water burial; earth burial or keepsake urns of recycled paper, cornstarch, bamboo, and a sand/gelatin mixture; even pet urns and remembrance items.
Biodegradable Water Burial Urns
Passages doesn’t manufacture everything they sell. What they do produce in New Mexico are two styles of water burial urns made of recycled paper – the Sand Shell Urn and the award winning Memento™ Urn. For both of these products, Passages makes a monetary donation in remembrance of the deceased to a non-profit ocean conservation organization.
These urns will float briefly to allow a final farewell before gracefully sinking. Purchasers are reminded that Federal and local regulations must be followed when placing an urn at sea (at least three nautical miles offshore).
The Memento Urn was honored with the Red Dot Design Award in 2011. This prestigious honor is given to companies with cutting-edge product design. Other Red Dot Award winners include Apple and Bosch.
The Memento Urn allows families to create a unique, meaningful and participatory ceremony by placing personal notes into the urn prior to placing it at sea. Twenty handmade paper note cards are included with each urn.
The video below shows how a Shell urn floats before it sinks. Once it reaches the ocean floor, it quickly biodegrades.
On the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22nd, 2010, Passages launched the informational website AGreenerFuneral.org. The goal of A Greener Funeral is to educate the general public about ways in which they can leave a lighter footprint on this earth by selecting a greener funeral. How green a family ultimately decides to be is entirely up to them.
This website presents numerous alternatives so that educated consumers can know what to discuss when they meet with their local funeral professionals. The website also lists resources for green burial grounds and funeral establishments able to meet the product and service needs of those families opting for a greener funeral.
“The vast majority of funeral directors are very well-meaning, caring people,” said Crouch. “It’s unfortunate what most people see in the media is negative. There are very few bad apples in the industry.”
Passages International is a wholesale distributor that sells to about 5,000 of the 20,000 funeral homes in the U.S., ranging from small family-owned funeral homes to large corporately-owned ones. Passages can ship urns overnight and caskets with two or three day delivery in most cities. Crouch’s father runs the British office of Passages International, providing eco-friendly products to funeral homes in the U.K. and other countries.
While Passages sells only to funeral homes, even with retail mark-up, their products are on the lower range of funeral product costs. Their eco-friendly caskets retail in the $2,000 range and urns range from $95 to $495.
“People ask if green funerals are cheaper, and really it depends on the services, products and level of involvement by the funeral home the family wants,” said Crouch.
The important thing to remember is to have a funeral planning conversation before someone in the family dies. If going green with your final arrangements is important to you, make sure everyone knows!