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8 Challenges Leaders Face

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2019
8 Challenges Leaders Face

 

I had the pleasure of presenting for CANA in 2009, and the past ten years have seen changes across the business world. What’s new or different about leadership today? And what are the biggest challenges leaders face in their businesses and communities?

In my work I advise hundreds of leaders each year. From their experiences, questions, hopes and fears, combined with the assessments of those they lead about what their leaders do well and what they do poorly, I’ve compiled eight challenges I hear most often and some suggestions about what to do to find your solution:

  1. Use of outdated time management thinking.

    The research is clear: multitasking is a myth – switching between two tasks can take up to 40% longer to complete both. Life balance doesn’t make sense either. It is about life design: devoting the right number of hours and energy to the most important things. It is time to reexamine outdated beliefs about time management and productivity. The ability to focus intently (“single-tasking”) on what is important should be at the top of your productivity list. And don’t feel guilty if your life isn’t balanced if it is well designed.

  2. Treating those they lead as “followers.”

    When asked what I think is the biggest change in leadership, my answer is followers. Those we lead increasingly resist thinking of themselves as followers, and for good reason. This is a limiting term that poorly represents the relationship we need. Employees want to be (and deserve to be) thought of as contributors, colleagues and team members. The concept of “following” to those we lead is as negatively tinged as referring to those in customer service as “servile.” Unless you’re a religious guru, you are better served leading a team of contributors than a band of followers.

  3. Fear of the great unknown.

    No leader likes uncertainty but today the size and impact of the unknown can be more devastating than in the past. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote the definitive book about overconfidence in our ability to predict, anticipate and plan. He describes the improbable black swan: an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences. Many leaders act as if black swans never happen, or can be avoided, but leadership is as much about taking action in the face of the unknown as it is gathering information to eliminate the unknown and mitigate consequences. No leader is clairvoyant, so he or she must accept the real limitations of knowledge about the future and act accordingly.

  4. A false dichotomy of ethics.

    Trying to separate personal ethics from professional ethics is a bad idea. There are just ethics, and trying to apply two different standards isn’t just confusing, it is wrong. Why would you trust someone at work that you know to be a conniving liar in his or her personal life? And why would you allow something that you know is wrong to happen at work? One psychologist calls it the normalization of deviance: making it acceptable to do at work what is wrong to do outside work. Leaders work hard to create what I conversely call the “normalization of integrity.” Without clearly defined values that are lived and observed by others, ethics slip dangerously.

  5. Overemphasis on generational differences.

    Not that long ago leaders often seemed to ignore generational differences. The pendulum has swung to another extreme. There seems to be a belief that everyone is so different we can’t effectively lead! Generations are different, and understanding those differences can provide effective tools for communication and collaborating better. At the same time people regardless of age share much in common: the need to belong to a winning team, meaning in their work, satisfaction in the jobs they do, and much more. Leaders must balance understanding and using differences and unifying their teams with shared interests and beliefs.

  6. Employee engagement.

    It is as important as competing for talent, a common dilemma according to my clients. One of the biggest myths I encounter is the belief that if you just get the best people on your team, your job is done. John Wooden wisely noted that he didn’t want the best players on his team. He wanted the players that made his team best. That points to the importance of engagement and teamwork. Talent is a start, but it is never enough. Divisive star players and disengaged genius are both liabilities. Good leaders find the best people and then focus on keeping them engaged.

  7. Lack of preparation to successfully lead.

    My research shows that only one in four leaders feels prepared when they assume formal leadership positions. Leaders need to learn to lead before they get their marching orders, not after. And that isn’t accomplished just through books and coursework but through real world projects and assignments where leadership skills are developed. If you don’t give your team members a chance to lead before they become formal leaders, they will lack the skills and confidence to lead when they move into management.

  8. Business model innovation.

    While speaking to a global technology company, I learned that their executives were more worried about innovation in business models than the impact of technology. A business model is the way a company makes money, and can be used defensively against competitors, to reinvigorate revenues in declining markets, or as a way of exploring new opportunities. Few business models are exempt from the need to be revisited and revised regularly. Business model innovation is increasing at lightning speed and may well be the single greatest high level business challenge leaders face.

Which of these challenges are you facing? And what are you doing to meet them head on?

Here’s a final thought: no challenge + no change = boredom. You might wish for fewer challenges than you currently face, but ultimately dealing with challenge and change is the essence of leadership.

 


Want to talk leadership? CANA’s 2019 Cremation Symposium highlights business innovation tactics, maintaining your leadership edge, hiring well, and mentoring across generations. Mark won’t be joining us, but we have experts from across our profession to talk these issues and more. Join us next week in Las Vegas!.

Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 52, Issue 4: “10 Challenges Leaders Face” by Mark Sanborn.

 


Mark Sanborn Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker, internationally recognized authority on leadership and the author of the bestselling books The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. To obtain additional information for improving yourself your business (including free resources), visit www.marksanborn.com.

 

Tags:  hr  leadership  public relations 

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Rethinking Preneed… a modern approach

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Updated: Monday, January 14, 2019
Five Important Tips for Selling Preneed Online

 

Superstar sellers, unreliable incomes, infighting amongst staff, confusing metrics… the list of problems in the world of preneed sales can be exhausting. The world of preneed is full of myths, misnomers, and fake news. These things can foster unrealistic expectations, or worse, can create significant barriers for managers responsible for their preneed programs and for regular folks seeking a meaningful career in funeral sales.

To find the solution, let’s take a look at the following formulas:

AC / #AA = C%
#CG / C% = RA
AC / AAB = CC%
RA / CC% = RLG

No, these are not a new batch of curse words or hashtags, they are tools you can use to maximize your preneed potential. They may look intimidating, but they are easy-to-use formulas that allow you to use real data to drive real sales.

Play Moneyball

But let’s digress for a moment.

Most readers will have seen or heard of the movie Moneyball. The film dramatizes the real-world example of how, in 2002, the Oakland Athletics baseball team radically changed the traditional game of baseball by using statistics and mathematics (called sabermetrics) to scout and analyze players.

What they realized was that traditional methods of scouting relied heavily on biased or incomplete information. This led other teams to overpay players in the hopes of buying success. In contrast, the Athletics adopted sabermetrics to build formulas using quantitative analysis of different player abilities. By building the right formulas, they were able to put the right pieces together to build success. This new method translated to on-field success; the newly-built Athletics tied the longest winning streak in American League history, and clinched the 2002 American League West title.

How does this concept translate to preneed sales? To quote a line from the movie: “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players (i.e., counselors), your goal should be to buy runs (i.e., appointments).”

Using statistics and mathematics, a successful preneed program can be developed to reliably predict success and take the mystery and magic out of the game of preneed.

Metrics Vs. Intuition

So where do we start? The most basic metrics of a successful preneed program can be distilled into a simple mathematical equation:

Actual Contracts divided by Actual Appointments = Close %
AC / AA = C%

This should be the launching point for the development of a simple formula to accurately predict the number of contracts a program can produce annually. All managers responsible for preneed programs should have a reliable way to accurately measure the closing percentage of each of their counsellors. Further, they should know their closing percentage for every type of lead. For example, the closing percentage for call-in and walk-in business should be over 80% whereas the closing percentage for a more challenging lead, like direct mail, will be significantly lower. When developing your program, this metric can be used to strategically apply human resources to the appropriate lead source.

Teamwork vs. Superstar

When developing a preneed team, many people are overlooked for a variety of perceived reasons: they’re too quiet, they aren’t motivated, funeral directors aren’t good at sales, etc. However, it is unrealistic to expect that one person can bring all of the necessary traits or skills to develop a successful preneed program. In the same way that the use of sabermetrics in Moneyball proved that a baseball team doesn’t need to have a superstar to win, the game of preneed doesn’t need to have a superstar seller to be successful.

Once you have figured out your closing percentage, you can safely estimate the number of appointments you need to book to reach your goals. This formula looks something like this:

Contract Goal divided by your Closing Percentage = Number of Required Appointments
#CG / C% = RA

This means that if you have an 80% closing percentage and your goal is to sell 200 contracts, you need to book 250 appointments to meet your goal.

Working backwards, you then need to know how many calls you need to make in order to book those 250 appointments. This can be tied to your call conversion percentage, which can be calculated by using the following formula:

Actual Calls divided by Actual Appointments Booked = Call Conversion Percentage
AC / AAB = CC%

If you make 100 calls that result in 15 appointments booked, your Call Conversion Percentage is 15%. If we tie this percentage to the previous example, where your number of required appointments was 250, this means that you’ll need to have 1,667 leads to call to meet your goal:

Required Appointments divided by Call Conversion Percentage = Required Lead Generation
RA / CCP = RLG

Each organization will generate leads differently, but the best way to build leads is to diversify your lead sources. Consider incorporating direct mail campaigns, social media, referral programs, group seminars and presentations into your marketing mix. You can even apply Moneyball-style formulas to calculate how many leads you’re generating and where they’re coming from.

Putting It All Together

Using these formulas, or designing your own, can reap huge benefits for your organization. Using a reliable and consistent approach will put an end to the “feast or famine” results that are often seen when working campaign to campaign. Year after year, your contracts and volume will stabilize and your success will become much more predictable.

For more information on how “hacking your process” can improve your preneed business and help the families you serve, check out my session “The Art (and Science!) of Creating a Successful Preneed Program” at this year’s CANA Preneed Summit!

 


Are you looking for more about creating a preneed strategy that makes a difference? The Art of Selling Cremation: A Preneed Summit is back for the second year to with a one-day intensive on today's pressing preneed topics. Join colleagues in Las Vegas on February 5th, 2019 – see the full schedule at www.cremationassociation.org/CANAheroes.


Heather Kiteley Heather Kiteley is the President of Guaranteed Funeral Deposits of Canada (GFD), bringing over 25 years of experience in the field to the largest organization for managing preneed funeral trust funds in Canada. Heather blends her unique background and experience together with a skilled team of professionals at GFD to provide members with a trusted resource to help ensure their preneed programs succeed.

 

Tags:  hr  preplanning  statistics  tips and tools 

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Survive and Thrive: A Tribute to CANA’s Oldest Members

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Updated: Monday, December 10, 2018
Survive and Thrive: A Tribute to CANA’s Oldest Members

 

With the opening of The History of Cremation Exhibit at the National Museum of Funeral History (and the holidays making us a bit introspective and nostalgic), we’ve had a renewed sense of interest in the history of the cremation movement—and therefore the history of the Cremation Association. And we thought we’d take the time to celebrate some of the establishments that had representatives at the first convention in Detroit in 1913 remain part of CANA today. (While not all have maintained continuous membership for all of the association’s 105-year existence, their memberships are current now, at a time when cremation education and information are in high demand.)

In early 1913, Dr. Hugo Erichsen sent invitations to every crematory in existence, and even to some strong advocates who were not affiliated with crematories. An advertisement in Modern Cemetery Magazine “proposed to establish a national organization and discuss various questions of practical import relating to the best methods of advertising, management of crematoria, etc.” which became CANA.

Erichsen’s invitation brought fourteen representatives from ten of the fifty-or-so crematories in operation at the time. Along the way, several established crematories added their names to the roster of the association and they too have given their continued support for cremation. We share seven stories of these earliest delegates, and current CANA members, below.

The Buffalo Cremation Company

The Buffalo Cremation CompanyBuffalo, New York

The Buffalo Cremation Company completed its “Crematory Temple” just after its first cremation took place on December 27, 1885. The engineer for the crematory came to the U.S. from Italy to oversee the construction. The temple was unlike any structure built in the U.S. at the time. In fact, it would be a couple more years before a complete cremation facility was completed at the Missouri Crematory at St. Louis.

The delegate for the Buffalo Cremation Company was George Metcalfe. Endeared to many and known as “Uncle George,” Metcalfe was in attendance at all but one Cremation Association convention from its inception to his death in 1934. At present, the crematory is still in operation as the Forest Lawn Buffalo Cremation Company under Joseph Dispenza and his capable staff.

 

The US Cremation Company

The US Cremation CompanyMiddle Village, New York

The US Cremation Company completed their more utilitarian structure housing only the cremation apparatus, and conducted their first cremation on December 4, 1885. Their membership in the association came after the first meeting, their delegate, William Berendsohn, serving as our third president from 1918-1920. The crematory is now operated as the Fresh Pond Crematory and is managed by memorialization advocate Joseph Di Troia, a second-generation operator.

 

The Cincinnati Cremation Company

The Cincinnati Cremation Company, Hillside ChapelCincinnati, Ohio

After the US Cremation Company and the Buffalo Cremation Company, the Cincinnati Cremation Company operates the third-oldest operating crematory in our country. The cremation furnace was completed and their first cremation took place June 22, 1887. Their chapel was added in 1888. Additionally, they sent a delegate to the first meeting of the Cremation Association, A.T. Roever, and, in 1915, he was elected Secretary – a post he held for almost a decade. Later, R. Herbert Heil operated the Cincinnati Cremation Company, and served as president of the Cremation Association from 1947-1949. Today, the Catchen family own and operate the crematory and columbarium as the Hillside Chapel of the Cincinnati Cremation Company.

 

Crematorium, Limited

Outremont, Québec

In Canada, the first crematory in operation was the Crematorium, Limited, operated on the grounds of the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, Quebec. Construction on the crematory here was begun in 1900, and it completed its first cremation in 1901. Their delegate to the first Cremation Association meeting was W. Ormiston Roy, who was the first to confirm his attendance after Dr. Erichsen’s invitation to the 1913 meeting in Detroit. He served as our president from 1920-1922. Mount Royal Cemetery has now assumed control of Crematorium, Inc.’s operations, and it is still a sought-after and popular cremation services provider.

 

Flanner & Buchanan

Flanner & BuchananIndianapolis, Indiana

In 1904, the leading Indianapolis undertaking firm Flanner & Buchanan decided their establishment was incomplete without the appropriate facilities for serving families who desired cremation. The nearest crematories were more than 100 miles away, and at least one of the active members of their ownership, Charles Buchanan, was a cremationist. At the time, their firm was one of just a handful of funeral directors that owned a crematory. They became active in the Cremation Association, Charles Buchanan being present at the first meeting, then serving as president from 1922-1925.

Additionally, Frank Bates Flanner, while not an officer of the Cremation Association, made many presentations at conventions and wrote many informational pamphlets for better relations between funeral directors and crematories, which had been an antagonistic relationship even in those early days. While the original building and even the second building have long been razed, Flanner Buchanan is still thriving as a leading funeral services provider in Indianapolis and surrounding areas.

 

Fresno Crematory

Fresno CrematoryFresno, California

Fresno’s Chapel of the Light, established in 1914 as the Fresno Crematory, was begun by a reform society of cremationists in their city. After struggling with their ability to successfully operate a crematory, the trustees of the crematory approached Lawrence Moore, operator of the California Crematorium in Oakland, to take over their operations. He purchased a majority of the stock and became the owner in 1919.

On what was to be a brief assignment, Moore sent one of his employees, Herbert Hargrave, to operate the facility. He ended up staying in Fresno and quickly became involved in the Cremation Association. In 1925, he was elected Secretary and maintained that position until his retirement in 1979, with the exception of a two-year term as president from 1935-1937. He operated the Chapel of the Light from his initial assignment there until his death in 1981.

Herbert Hargrave’s son, Keith, worked with his father at the Chapel of the Light, serving his Cremation Association presidency from 1985-1986. He became involved in the crematory’s operations in 1955, assuming management responsibilities at his father’s retirement. He served as General Manager throughout acquisitions and the selling of the firm and was a mainstay in the company until his death in 2014.

 

Valhalla Crematory

St. Louis, Missouri

The second crematory constructed in St. Louis was completed in 1919 by the St. Louis Mausoleum and Crematory Company, a division of the National Securities Company in St. Louis, and on the grounds of the Valhalla Cemetery on St. Charles Rock Road. Their involvement in the Cremation Association was begun by Robert J. Guthrie, who served as treasurer of the Association from 1925-1932 when he was elected president. Just two years later his death ushered in a new branch of his family. Having no children of his own, Guthrie left the operations of the Valhalla Chapel to his niece’s husband, Mr. Clifford F. Zell, Sr.

The Zell family have been some of the most influential cremationists in American history. Their facility in St. Louis was a blending of the east and west coast ideas of cremation and inurnment. In addition to Mr. Guthrie, their family produced three past-presidents of the Cremation Association, Cliff Zell, Sr., Cliff Zell, Jr., and the first-ever female president of any funeral service or cemetery organization, Genevieve “Jinger” Zell, wife of Cliff Zell, Jr. Valhalla is still under the operation of the Zell family.


It would take pages upon pages to list the crematories in the country and their respective individuals that have been active in our Association since our beginning in 1913. Suffice it to say that all have served in countless capacities—from leading the association as officers and board members to faithfully paying dues each year—and each have contributed in their own ways to the growth and success of our association and of the cremation movement in North America. Past, present, and future, our association’s membership continues to be the guiding force of cremation in America.

 


This post is excerpted from an article of the same name originally published in The Cremationist Volume 52, Issue 1. Since then, we’ve celebrated our 100th Convention, our 105th Anniversary, and the opening of the first History of Cremation Exhibit at the National Museum of Funeral History. It’s been a busy two years and we’re grateful for the continued leadership and support of our members both old and new. Thank you for all you do for the association, the profession, and your communities – it just wouldn’t be the same without you.

Happy Holidays from CANA.

 


How to Donate to the History of Cremation Exhibit
Financial or artifact contributions are what make the History of Cremation Exhibit possible. Please consider donating to the History of Cremation Exhibit today.


Jason Engler Jason Ryan Engler is a licensed funeral director and is known as the Cremation Historian. His interest in the funeral profession came at an early age in his life and his intrigue with the practice of cremation memorialization has put him on a journey of appreciating the beauty of the torch over the spade. Not only is Jason a practicing funeral director, he is also a speaker for local, state, and national associations. He also serves as the Cremation Historian for both the National Museum of Funeral History and the Cremation Association of North America. Mr. Engler’s articles have appeared in regional and national funeral and cremation trade journals including “The Dead Beat,” “The Cremationist of North America,” and “Funeral Business Advisor.” Additionally, he is author of the book "Body to the Purifying Flame: A History of the Missouri Crematory, St. Louis, Missouri."

Tags:  cemetery  history 

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Five Important Tips for Selling Preneed Online

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Five Important Tips for Selling Preneed Online

 

In today’s world, talk about going completely online is a topic for most businesses. The preneed industry is no different. Our consumers, as with any others, like to do research and shop online, so providing them an avenue to do this is very important. Providing options and allowing customers to shop and truly plan out their funeral is what they are looking for.

1. Offer a Range of Options

In some cases, an online contact will lead to a cremation sale with very few additions, very simple and straightforward. In other cases you’ll need to provide avenues to shop for a range of items, including caskets, other merchandise, and services.

In all cases you need to be prepared to serve each customer differently and provide them with the options they want so they can shop and do it on their own time. Make their online experience similar to what you provide in person. Make it easy and engaging for them to interact with you.

2. Capturing Personal Data

Another key component is to continually monitor who is visiting your sites and capturing their information to ensure you can follow up. Planning and purchasing funeral services online may be difficult for some consumers, so establishing those relationships and providing ways for families to contact you if they have questions will be key to finalizing the purchase.

These consumers may even opt to come and meet with you after planning most of their funeral online, because they just can’t or won’t finalize arrangements online. Be ready for this type of consumer. They will be very prepared to tell you what they want and will be looking for your help to finalize their plans.

We are finding that the younger demographics, people under 40, are using “Contact Us” forms as a first contact. They include messages like: “I’m interested in pre planning. Please call me,” or “My uncle just died. I need some information. Please call me.” These consumers are more likely to send an email than make a phone call, so make sure your “Contact Us” form is on your home page or easily available on the main navigation pages.

3. Consumers Want to See Prices

Pricing is important to these online shoppers, so please don’t leave it out. If families don’t find pricing on your website within two clicks, they will leave and find another funeral home. We do know that mobile is used more than desktop searches, so be sure to pull out your phone and count the number of clicks it takes for a person to find your pricing.

If you don’t have pricing on your website and you’re not sure if you should add it, check your website analytics report. This will tell you where consumers are going on your website. The standard is #1 - Obituaries, #2 - Contact, #3 - Pricing. If you have a high bounce rate—over 50%—on your pricing page, then this tells you consumers are leaving.

4. Marketing Online Services

Marketing your online services should be no different than what you do to market your funeral home services currently. Let consumers know that they can shop and browse their options online in your direct mail campaigns, at your group presentations, in your advertising, and on your social media pages.

Online shopping should fit into all of your current marketing efforts and be presented as an additional service and option you provide. Perhaps you even lead with your online shopping options in your marketing so that people know they can plan in their own time and you are ready for them when they are ready.

5. Get Creative with Video

People don’t read like they used to. Just look at your social media accounts. Compare video to text and you’ll find that posts are going to be 5 to 1, with more and more video being added all the time.

A great tool you can use is an “explainer video.” These can be in the form of animation or with still photos, telling more about your product or services.

 

Online preneed sales may not be for everyone but providing the option to everyone will ensure that you are getting those sales from people who are ready to buy online. This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your great service. It just means you are offering them a way to plan in their own time. You can still provide your great service on the website, after the sale, and while the policy is in force.

 


This article originally appeared in The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 1 by the same name. Are you looking for more about creating a preneed strategy that makes a difference? The Art of Selling Cremation: A Preneed Summit is back for the second year to with a one-day intensive on today's pressing preneed topics. Join colleagues in Las Vegas on February 5th, 2019 – see the full schedule at www.cremationassociation.org/CANAheroes.


Jessica Grann Jessica Grann oversees and leads the marketing communications team and manages all aspects of the NGL brand. She has more than 15 years of broad marketing experience encompassing strategic planning, creative design, media planning and purchasing, direct marketing, public relations and sales promotions.

 

 

 


Lynn Eliott Lynn Eliott founded Media Demographics in 1999 following a successful three years at Arbitron, the radio ratings company. In addition to business development and customer relations management, Media Demographics provides development, design and production of a range of projects including corporate identity programs, trade advertising, marketing collateral, direct mail campaigns, custom online surveys, web branding and site design.

 

Tags:  marketing  preplanning  tips and tools 

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“What do you know about Alkaline Hydrolysis?”

Posted By Barbara Kemmis, Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2018
What do you know about Alkaline Hydrolysis?

 

“What do you know about Alkaline Hydrolysis?”

Recently, I’ve been getting this question everywhere. It doesn’t matter what my presentation is about, or if I’m presenting at all, someone asks me about Alkaline Hydrolysis.

What is Alkaline Hydrolysis?

Alkaline hydrolysis. Also known as AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, aquamation, biocremation™, or Resomation™, alkaline hydrolysis is, in short, cremation. CANA took this position in 2011 for the simple fact that cremation is the method of speeding up decomposition, traditionally done with fire, but also through other methods like alkaline hydrolysis. As states and provinces began to legalize the process, their laws expanded the existing regulations to define alkaline hydrolysis as a form of cremation. In 2013, CANA observed this trend and decided to broaden its official definition of cremation to recognize this new reality:

"The mechanical and/or thermal or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments."

CANA remains the only trade association to take this controversial position. And ever since we did, we’ve had the book thrown at us – specifically, the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines cremate (v): to reduce to ashes by burning. “There you have it,” people exclaim, “alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t burn and thus cannot cremate. Ergo, it isn’t cremation!” But cremation is not defined in dictionaries, it is defined in legislation. For many states and provinces, cremation is not just combustion but chemical, mechanical, or thermal dissolution of remains to bone fragments.

In essence, CANA is following the leadership of the state and provincial regulatory bodies and classifying alkaline hydrolysis as cremation. And since it’s cremation, it can be marketed as such. Hence, the many terms to describe the process.

What AH Is, and Isn’t

In practice, CANA prefers the term “alkaline hydrolysis” because it clearly describes what happens – an alkaline solution using water to break chemical bonds at the atomic level (aka hydrolysis). What it looks like, though, is a typical cremation: body goes in, bone fragments come out. The process of alkaline hydrolysis requires that the body be submerged in water with alkaline (base) chemicals and, through a combination of time, pressure, heat and possibly agitation, the body is reduced to bone fragments. The sterile waste water (or effluent) can flow into the water system with the remaining chemicals (salts, amino acids, peptides, etc.) which help break down waste at the water treatment plant or even fertilize crops.

But the public isn’t thinking about that. Current practitioners find that their families don’t ask much about these details. Instead, they see the same results as flame cremation (cremated remains) but, presented side by side, perceive “water cremation” as gentler and more environmentally friendly. The term evokes something like a bath – one person called it “the final spa treatment.”

Our profession, on the other hand, hasn’t seen it the same way. While AH practitioners find the public doesn’t ask about the process, it seems to be all the profession can think about. And many people say it’s gross to “dissolve bodies in acid” and disrespectful to “flush grandma down the drain” and celebrate legislation being quashed in their state or province. But these fears aren’t based in fact: AH doesn’t use acids and the waste water doesn’t contain identifiable bits of grandma (especially when compared to the wastes of embalming). This has not stopped the Catholic Church from taking an official position opposing AH, nor industry leaders from dismissing it out of hand and even attempting to make it illegal.

But the process has caught people’s imagination and emotional reactions have spread faster than good science and facts.

Emerging Technology That’s Here to Stay

Alkaline hydrolysis has been everywhere recently from letters to newspaper editors, national science magazines, and governors’ desks. When they call CANA, they are looking for answers and predictions. I explain that, while it’s gaining popularity as an alternate form of human disposition, it’s a proven technology that has been in use in universities and colleges since 1994, and was originally patented in 1888.

Recently, I had a reporter ask if alkaline hydrolysis is the reason that the US cremation rate is over 50%, if it had pushed the cremation rate passed this milestone. The question is logical given the coverage AH has received in the media and also the push to legalize the disposition, but the impact of AH on cremation rate growth is negligible. Because alkaline hydrolysis is considered a form of cremation, it is counted with cremation in disposition rates and there is no way to accurately report AH alone.

CANA estimates that less than one tenth of one percent of cremation uses the alkaline hydrolysis process nationally. This is roughly on par with home funerals and green burials, which have also captured the imagination of consumers and professionals alike, but is rarely practiced. This figure does not (nor should it) count the thousands of pets and animals (data not collected) or the hundreds of bodies donated to institutions like the Mayo Clinic or UCLA that have AH machines in their medical schools (reported in vital statistic data as body donation).

More and more states and provinces are legalizing AH, but few of them have actual practitioners. While it takes a united front of practitioners, manufacturers, consumers, and the media to change the law, it is a different mix to make a business successful. One of the primary obstacles to new AH businesses is the business model itself. There are regulatory and financial barriers to entry, as well as the need to educate and recruit the public. Then significant capital investments and uncertainty of what consumers choosing AH will ultimately pay for the option. It took 100 years for traditional cremation to reach 5% of dispositions in the United States, but AH businesses will need to see a return on their significant investments in a much shorter timeframe to be successful. Early adopters have navigated these obstacles and are enjoying success that may be a model for others to follow.

Outcomes of CANA’s Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit

The second Alkaline Hydrolysis Summit brought practitioners, regulators, and other curious people together to discuss the practicalities of running an AH crematory. But with such low adoption of AH to date, why talk about this now? CANA specializes in bringing experts together, pooling knowledge and problem-solving with peers facing similar challenges. Our attendees were people who have been operating an alkaline hydrolysis facility for years, people who are eager to launch their own, and so many others curious about the process and how it works. And this group doesn’t represent even half of the people operating alkaline hydrolysis units every day.

Together, we gained a greater understanding of the practical and technical matters of running an alkaline hydrolysis crematory. We learned that cotton is the enemy of the process, that a larger urn is actually not always necessary, a mixture of two hydroxide salts is more effective than either alone, and so much more. But, there’s a lot we still need to learn and to share with our colleagues and the public to combat the misinformation out there. Alkaline hydrolysis has been in use for over twenty years in body donation programs and pet crematories. The science of the process is well documented. It has a significantly different environmental impact. Current practitioners have much to share regarding best practices and successful business implementation. CANA is excited to be involved in curating all this information for use by future practitioners.

The outstanding questions can only be answered by time. For instance, cremation started in cemeteries who built crematories as a side project – who will be the early adopters and evangelists for AH? At the moment, practitioners are installing units in response to market interest, regulations prohibiting flame crematories, and curiosity. Which leads to another question – what kind of training will regulators require of AH owners and operators? States and provinces vary on crematory requirements, certification standards, and even funeral director licensing, so it stands to reason that variance will continue when AH is in the mix.

We’re excited to participate in this conversation, and proud to be a resource for practitioners and the curious alike. The content presented at the summit will be made available in the coming months through articles in The Cremationist, online learning modules, and presentations at various events. Stay tuned for more...

 


Barbara Kemmis

Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.

Tags:  alkaline hydrolysis  events  processes and procedures 

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