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Takeaways from the First Ever Green Funeral Conference

Posted By Barbara Kemmis, Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Takeaways from the First Ever Green Funeral Conference

 

The pace of change driven by consumers is the greatest challenge facing funeral service. No option has fallen off the menu, and yet more options pop up each year. How is it possible to create or reposition a business to fulfill these diverse requests? The 70 practitioners, suppliers and explorers who convened in Albuquerque in October 2019 for the First Ever Green Funeral Conference were up for the challenge. Their interactive and engaging experience is challenging to reproduce in a blog post, but there is too much great content not to share.

Passages International was the obvious sponsor for this Conference. However, some potential speakers and participants and social media commenters—and even members of the media—weren’t so sure why CANA was hosting. Cremation is widely considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, but where does it fit on the continuum of green funeral practices? That is the kind of conversation I like to start. CANA doesn't shy away from hard questions, or from asking those questions of itself. We're proud to provide the space to have these frank discussions and attract the right voices to contribute.

Set the Stage

Since this was the first conference of its kind created for funeral directors and cemeterians, it was important to establish context and the intention to be inclusive in our definition of green practices. I will attempt to follow the flow of the conference in this post. Glenda Stansbury served as our emcee and she set the stage from the beginning, establishing that this conference was an exploration of green practices along a continuum. In that spirit, I invite you, dear reader, to identify where you are on that continuum. Are you a light spring green with plenty of traditional burial and cremation offerings? Or maybe you offer eco-friendly products, but want to promote more family participation and natural burial? Are you a deep forest green and all in? This post is an opportunity to learn more about the Conference content and how it may apply to your business and community.

Ed Bixby, owner of Steelmantown Green Burial Preserve and President of the Green Burial Council, kicked off the Conference with a presentation describing the wide range of green burial practices he employs in his cemeteries and has seen around the world. He challenged the audience to recognize that the spectrum includes traditional burial as well as established businesses seeking greener practices—including cremation. Yes, the attraction of green burial is related to environmental concerns, but it also appeals because it is simpler, involves less fanfare, and facilitates enhanced participation from mourners. Ed said, “Participation changes everything. You have the right to care for the dead the way you feel they should be cared for.” He challenged us—and I extend the challenge to you—to shift the mindset. You can work within regulations and laws, but you can reconceive the services you offer to families. In CANA language, "find a way to get to yes for your families."

During Ed's presentation, the topic of embalming came up. Why are embalmed bodies excluded from green cemeteries? Is this based on science or policy? Embalmers in the room shared why embalming remains an important tool for some families, but others expressed the belief that preserved bodies had no place in a green cemetery. While no consensus was reached, it was refreshing to hear so many opinions and suggestions respectfully discussed. However, many questions remained unresolved:

  • People are buried with medicines in their systems and implants in place—so why is embalming prohibited?
  • Should formaldehyde-free fluids influence policies?
  • If embalming is required in order to transport a deceased person from the place of death to the natural burial cemetery, what happens then?
  • If green practices aren’t defined by law, but rather by policies and preferences, where do you land?

Next, Darren Crouch and Kilian Rempen of Passages International joined the conversation by discussing green products and marketing tactics to help businesses remain relevant and profitable. In the 20 years since Darren founded Passages International, he has learned many lessons. His customers are serving families that value green, but also unique and beautiful options. Darren asserted that the challenge of incorporating green options into businesses should feel familiar. It is similar to the challenge of embracing cremation 30 years ago. It was once controversial to add cremation to the sign in front of your funeral home and commonplace for funeral directors to send the rare cremation customer down the street to the cremation society. Ignoring cremation didn’t turn out well for funeral service, so Darren challenges funeral practitioners to not repeat past mistakes.

Darren offered practical advice, such as offering scatter-friendly urns for the 50% of your cremation customers who intend to scatter. He argues that scattering does not equal low-end, but rather that an urn that contains cremated remains for a time can be used as art or to hold keepsakes after scattering. Darren echoed Ed’s message of changing your mindset to envision new offerings.

Put It Into Practice

Once attendees considered the various aspects of green funeral practices and started to plot their positions along the continuum, they heard from cemeterians and a funeral director who have added them to their operations.

Jody Herrington described her success in converting funeral home selection rooms to include green merchandise. She acknowledged how overwhelming it seems to offer yet more options in an already crowded space. Jody shared that her success was directly linked to the communities she has served and their green values. Incorporating local artists along with eco-friendly products and more familiar caskets can be appealing, but every community is unique. You know the communities you serve and should reflect that knowledge.

Jody posed a challenging question for me to hear – Is cremation a fall back? At this point some of you are probably nodding your heads in recognition, but I didn’t get it at first. Jody asserted that when faced with traditional burial caskets and merchandise, some consumers know they don’t want that so they fall back to cremation. Her experience showed that offering more eco-friendly merchandise and caskets resulted in more personalization and more sales to a satisfied customer. This leads me to wonder if green burial will slow the cremation rate increases we have seen. Only time will tell.

Our practitioner panel featured Donal Key and Linda Canyon of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, Gracie Griffin of Bellefontaine Cemetery, Salvador Perches of Grupo Perches and Recinto de la Oracion, Ed Bixby, and Jody Herrington—continuing the conversation around green burial practices and tips for creating and offering green options in existing cemeteries. It is impossible to summarize the rich content generated by the discussion between panelists as well as with participants. Each panelist shared specific examples of practices they employ to promote participation and innovate new traditions. The questions from participants did touch on business models, pricing, training and incenting employees to dig graves and assist families to dress their loved ones. The key takeaway is that you can get to yes with families. It may take more time and creativity, but you can and should do it.

Next up was Tanya Marsh, a professor at Wake Forest University School of Law, who examined the legal trends surrounding green burials and green cemeteries. Tanya presented a framework for understanding green funeral trends. She started by sharing the macro trend of consumers looking for more control and input while also seeking authenticity and a meaningful experience. This is a trend influencing all aspects of our lives. And it poses a challenge for funeral directors and cemeterians who are typically risk-adverse.

Tanya outlined considerations to take into account when considering something new – i.e., natural burial or a new disposition.

  • Does the law prohibit it? The dead have rights, so that must always be considered, but there is very little cemetery law on the books.
  • Are you in a gray area where there is no particular law prohibiting or allowing? If the law doesn’t say you can’t, then you can, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for moving ahead without permission from the funeral or cemetery board or coverage from a court order.

The example she gave was natural organic reduction, commonly referred to as human composting. Washington state law explicitly stated that burial, cremation and removal from the state were the legal forms of disposition. This meant they needed to change the law in order to pave the way for a new form of disposition. In states that don’t affirmatively identify the forms of disposition, a court order or opinion from the board or attorney general may pave the way.

Tanya led a free-wheeling Q&A session that touched on grave reusage, family participation, disinterments, indigent cremations, and what happens when cemeteries are abandoned.

Consumer Insights

The last sessions focused on consumers’ experiences and insights. Gail Rubin shared her perspective on consumer views of death and mourning and emphasized the ongoing theme of promoting participation and education.

I moderated two manufacturer panels—Luis Llorens of US Cremation Equipment and Paul Seyler of Matthews Environmental discussed the environmental impact of cremation and made presentations on the macro and micro impacts of cremation on the environment. This warrants its own blog post and one is in the works for publication in 2020. Stay tuned!

A second panel, with Sam Sieber of Bio-Response Solutions and Nicki Mikolai of Resomation America, discussed the science and practical application of alkaline hydrolysis. There was significant interest in alkaline hydrolysis among the participants, with some current and future practitioners represented. The questions from participants ranged from inquiries about the fundamental science, presence of radiation and mercury, to viewings and zoning challenges.

Legally, alkaline hydrolysis is considered to be cremation, but the process that occurs in the machine is completely different than flame-based cremation. Does that make it greener? That depends on the formula that is used. Is there a lower carbon footprint? Yes—or probably. Fewer fossil fuels are used to heat the water or dry the remains, but water and chemicals are used—so how does one account for that in the green calculation?

While more questions were raised than answered on the overall environmental impact of all dispositions, Sam did point participants to an important a recent study conducted in the Netherlands by Elisabeth Keijzer, who attempted to calculate the true costs of different types of disposition. Sam presents a useful framework for understanding the various environmental impacts and “shadow costs” discussed in the study.

Consumers are significantly ahead of funeral directors and cemeterians in seeking, performing and creating greener end-of-life options, so this conference represented an opportunity to engage in facilitated conversation, query panel presenters, and learn from leading experts. All walked away with practical ideas to implement now, and probably some ideas they considered but discarded for their own businesses. Here are three of my takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Definitions Matter

Language matters and it was important from the beginning to tackle some tough topics in order to facilitate open conversation and advance our collective understanding. We named this meeting the Green Funeral Conference to encompass a variety of green practices, and people came with many different ideas and opinions on what “green” truly means. However, everyone left seeing the full continuum of green funeral practices.

So, what shade of green are you or do you aspire to be? Have this conversation with your staff and seek to understand what your community wants or will respond positively to. And then have this conversation with your vendors to educate yourself on more eco-friendly options. Figure out your carbon footprint and how you can offset or reduce it.

Are your own policies and procedures standing in the way?

Takeaway #2: Everything Old is New Again

For cremation, it took a few evangelists (and 100 years) to make cremation a tradition. Green funerals are completely different. For some, the practice is cultural tradition and anything else is desecration. For others, it's an attempt to mitigate their carbon footprint on the world by removing external interference (letting nature take its course). So, whether it's to save money, to save the planet, or to honor tradition, it means every option, every time. And providing that is hard work.

You know your communities and have served them for the length of your career or possibly generations of your family. Incorporating green funeral practices does not mean starting over from scratch, but it does mean shifting mindsets. You may consider following the path you took to embrace cremation.

Takeaway #3: Start now!

It took nearly 150 years, but cremation in the West evolved from a European fad to the dominant form of disposition in the US with the help from multiple types of leaders. First came the evangelists—those spreading the good news of the hygienic and aesthetic virtues of cremation. Then came the practitioners who formed CANA as a forum to share best practices and promote the practice of cremation. Those practitioners innovated products, technology and services to support cremation practice. Many of these practitioners ultimately formed companies that supplied practitioners nationwide. As those companies matured and merged and competitors formed, cremation products and services further developed to support the industry.

Will green funeral practices follow a similar pattern? Probably. Likely following a significantly shorter timeline, but it certainly will happen, thanks to a similar mix of contributors. Yet again, consumers are leading the way by demanding greener funeral practices. The participants and speakers in the Green Funeral Conference represented a mix of champions of funeral practices along the continuum, both current and future practitioners.

This conference was a true meeting of minds and collaboration in exploring green funeral practices. I'm proud of the conversations that happened at this meeting and have attempted to capture some of the content and the spirit of the event.

What's Next?

Consumers will continue to require and expect a wide range of options from you and your businesses. These expectations will evolve and advance as the media reports the unfolding story. CANA and Passages are planning the second Green Funeral Conference to provide an ongoing forum for practitioners to explore their responses to consumer demands. In the meantime, you can access the Green Funeral Conference content online. Most importantly, you can share this post with your employees and hold your own conversations about how you can incorporate green funeral practices in your business.

 

 


Want to learn more from the presenters and participants in the Green Funeral Conference? This is the shameless plug to buy the recordings and join in the conversation from the comfort of your office. Learn more: goCANA.org/GFC2019

Recent CANA research shows that cremation customers are less interested in body-centric products and services, and instead seeking experiences to honor a life lived. The presenters hadn’t seen this research at the time of the Conference, but their experiences and advice supported these findings. If the consumer wants to focus on the person and not the body, are you prepared to support with your services and merchandise? This research on "The Cremation Experience" took the cover story of the most recent issue of The Cremationist and will be featured in issues and blog posts throughout 2020. Join CANA to read the magazine, consistently voted the most popular benefit of membership, or follow The Cremation Logs blog to get the reports as they come out!

 


Barbara Kemmis

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

Tags:  alkaline hydrolysis  body preparation  cemetery  education  embalming  events  green practices  manufacturers  marketing  personalization  services 

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Refractory Rules: Five Tips to Maximize Cremator Efficiency

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Refractory Rules: Five Tips to Maximize Cremator Efficiency

 

All cremation equipment, regardless of the manufacturer, is lined with refractory materials. By technical definition, refractory materials are substances that are resistant to heat. The term comes from the Latin refractarius meaning stubborn. The refractory materials used in cremation equipment are designed, not only to keep the intense heat required for cremation contained within the chambers, but also to retain as much heat as is safely possible to aid in subsequent cremations, saving fuel.

Even the most sophisticated refractory materials will wear out over time and need to be replaced since the refractory floor or hearth is subject not only to the intense heat of cremation, but to the abrasion of sweeping and cleaning out cremated remains after every cremation. It’s typical for the floor to be the first, and most common, area that is replaced in a cremator. Because refractory repairs are such a necessary (and expensive) part of operating a crematory, we went to the experts.

We asked all CANA member crematory equipment manufacturers questions regarding the replacement of the hearth or floor of a cremator, seeking their insight and wisdom as well as any tips on how to increase the longevity of the refractory hearth.

How often should a crematory operator expect to replace the refractory floor in their cremator?

This question got quite a range of answers – anywhere from one thousand to five thousand cremations! Our experts agreed that so much of the lifespan depended on the design of the units and the materials that are used. Determining the longevity of the floor (or hearth) is based on frequency of use, load volume, and remember that loading the case and removing the cremated remains causes abrasions. The average of the companies’ responses ranged from 1,250 to 2,500.

How long should one expect to be out of service while this type of repair is completed?

Our manufacturers generally said two full days – one for removal and pouring the new refractory, one for curing. Curing refers to the hardening of the refractory materials (poured to a minimum of 2½ inches thick) and gradually heating the materials to the temperature of a cremation. This timeline assumes that the machine starts fully cooled, and you may need to plan for an extra day depending on the kind of material and the size of the unit.

Is there a specific or particular type of refractory material that you use? What are its advantages? Disadvantages?

To a one, this was proprietary – no one wanted to say what was in the secret sauce – but all have tried and tested many materials until they found ones that could withstand very high heat, held up with heavy use, and created a smooth surface.

Does the material used play any part in ease of installation of the new floor?

Here, our manufacturers formed two camps:
Cast and Cure manufacturers require an on-site, expert technician for the install. This, they argue, ensures professional, quick, seamless work for a solid floor.

Pre-Cast Tile manufacturers may not require an expert technician (though some still recommend it) since the units are placed, not poured. This, they argue, cuts down on install time since the floor is pre-cured as well.

Is there anything an operator can do to increase the longevity of the refractory hearth in their unit?

Be gentle in loading by using rollers and in recovering the cremated remains with the right tools and method. Don’t use the rake like a garden hoe, but gently remove then brush – vacuum systems are preferred, cold air blowers are not.

Plan your day, or even week, ahead of time. There’s a reason that we spend so much time on this in our Crematory Operations Certification Program. A well-planned day saves fuel, labor, time, and your refractory floor. Cremate cases back to back, not one a day, and don’t leave the unit running if the case is done to minimize thermal shock on the refractory.

BONUS! Are there options other than full replacement? Patches? Protective overlay?

Some manufacturers offer options to patch problem areas, particularly when using pre-cast tile floors.

One CANA member decided to have a refractory overlay installed on top of the existing worn floor in one of his units to test the concept. Tim Gjerde of The Cremation Society of Minnesota (which performs 5,000+ cremations per year) wanted to see if he could extend the life of the hearth for a year or two and stave off a complete floor replacement — as busy as they are, down-time is disruptive and avoiding large repair expenses for as long as possible is just good business.

Preparation for the overlay involved a jackhammer and a chisel to remove approximately 2 inches from the existing worn floor surface. Once the surface was ready, a high density 3000°F rated castable refractory product was mixed with water in a specialized mortar mixer and packed into shape on top of what was left of the existing hearth. Because the moisture in all newly formed refractory materials could vaporize and “pop” the refractory shape during the drying process, a slow gradual cure-out is necessary to assure the material sets up properly.

Tim is happy with his decision to try the overlay and plans to repeat the repair on his other units. He claims that the cost is about 10% of what a full hearth replacement would be and that he should get a year and a half more life from the floors on which he performs this procedure. Tim also cautions readers that this procedure should only be carried out by an experienced refractory expert such as a crematory manufacturer or accomplished refractory technician.

 

There are many factors affecting the life of the refractory floor, such as cremator design, total case volume, actual refractory materials used, clean out procedures, and even the number of cremations performed in a day. One thing is certain; unless you have previous knowledge or skills working with refractory materials always seek the guidance of an expert for any repairs.

Refractory materials are also potentially hazardous and should always be handled in accordance with safety protocols and procedures. Most refractory materials contain aluminum, silica and magnesium oxides which are all known to cause respiratory problems if inhaled. Precautions must be taken to avoid this and only those trained in the safe and proper handling of these materials should be involved.
 


Many thanks to the CANA Crematory Manufacturers that contributed to this article: Dr. Steve Looker, President, B&L Cremation Systems; Mr. John Raggett, Vice President, American Crematory Equipment Co.; Mr. Ernie Kassoff, Sales Manager, FT the Americas; and Mr. Kevin Finnery, President, Cremation Systems/Armil CFS.

This article is excerpted from "All Systems Go: The Refractory Floor" by Larry Stuart, Jr. which first appeared in The Cremationist Vol. 53, Issue 2 — CANA Members can log in to see this and more articles from our quarterly publication. This is the first piece in our recurring column All Systems Go! written specifically for the crematory operator and featuring an assortment of practical knowledge regarding operations, maintenance, and best practices for running an efficient, safe, and cost-effective crematory.

There are so many ways to use (and abuse) cremation equipment. How the equipment is operated and the procedural and maintenance choices that the cremationist makes during operation can affect his or her well-being, the safety of the facility, the quality of the air and the environment, and the profitability of the business—as well as the perception of cremation in the eyes of the public. Practical wisdom concerning cremation equipment maintenance, operation, and function are key to running an effective crematory business.

Have more questions about refractory and your cremation equipment? These and other crematory manufacturers will be on the exhibit floor at CANA’s 100th Annual Cremation Innovation Convention! Ask your questions and learn more about how to keep your refractory floor and entire unit running at peak efficiency in-person July 25-27 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. See what else CANA has planned for this unique event: goCANA.org/CANA18.

Tags:  installation  manufacturers  processes and procedures  tips and tools 

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The Framing of a Fiery Controversy: Part 2

Posted By CANA, Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The Framing of a Fiery Controversy: Manufacturers' Recommendations

 

As we discussed in Part One, community backlash over a proposed crematory can be swift and severe. The efforts you go to well in advance of the actual proposal will be well worth the time and effort. And who better to help you navigate this than your crematory manufacturer? Here are just a few of the tips shared by various manufacturers when it comes to being prepared.

FT the Americas believes that education is the key… you need to educate anyone and everyone that may be involved with the project. It needs to be extensive and based on scientific facts, not hearsay. Your opponents will have done their "research," and will likely cite many negative stories and "facts." Your fiercest competitors will be the “not in my backyard” naysayers.

Matthews Environmental Solutions also points out that the NIMBY (not in my backyard) crowd is getting bolder and more vocal, so they suggest starting earlier by developing allies in the community well before you submit any applications. Having these allies, or others who have no vested interest in your business, speaking on your behalf will add a lot of credibility and help offset the complaints of the NIMBY’s.

Cremation Systems advises on doing your due diligence. Knowing whether your zoning board and city council officials are elected or appointed will matter during an election year. Have ready examples of installations in similar environments along with pictures. Research the other local crematoriums and document how long they have been in operation.

The common thread, and thus a critical point, is that talking to anyone and everyone as early as possible is vital. Talk to prospective neighbors of the crematory so you know what kind of objections to expect, or who may end up being an ally. Educate people with accurate cremation content before they discover the "facts," a.k.a. inaccurate data or misinformation, that would hurt your efforts.


Members can read the full article in Vol. 53, No. 1 Issue of The Cremationist.

Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!

Tags:  manufacturers  public relations  tips and tools 

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The Framing of a Fiery Controversy: Part 1

Posted By CANA, Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, July 18, 2017
The Framing of a Fiery Controversy: Bethany, Oklahoma

 

If you are thinking of expanding your business by building a crematory, your community may not welcome you with open arms. Even if you are well-established and well-respected. We at CANA hear the stories of these often fought battles regularly. These battles are wars of words, and often are a result of opponents to the crematory not having all the facts, or even correct facts, to support their view.

Take the sleepy little conservative town of Bethany, just outside of Oklahoma City, as a case-in-point. A very well-known and respected funeral home submitted their Planned Unit Development proposal to construct a chapel and crematory and squeaked by with the votes to get approval, despite the vocal and loud objections from residents. The first hurdle was overcome. However, the community backlash that followed eventually caused the funeral home to withdraw their proposal. But because a referendum was already in progress and could not be stopped by law, the withdrawal didn’t matter. The community then broadened their appeal, and began vilifying the members of the city council who failed to heed the voice of the people. They did this by shaming the members on a billboard for all to see. Six months later, the community was finally successful in convincing the city council to overturn the approval. The funeral home will not be able to grow and expand.

There were several surprising issues that were observed from this series of events. First the community, though very conservative and home to several faith-based universities, did not object based on religious reasons. In fact, some of the opponents planned to be cremated themselves. Their concerns centered around air quality, depreciation of property and its proposed location (next to a senior living center, restaurant and other retail stores). Eventually, they even brought traffic and parking in to the mix as issues of concern. Another surprise was that the community did not attack the funeral home, but instead this inanimate object called a crematory.

There were also several lessons learned in this situation. Location will play a significant role in the type and frequency of opposition. In addition, this opposition can be formidable and adaptable and hard to predict. While accurate technical data is necessary in presenting your side, you must also account for the emotional response that may come from opponents and not ignore it. Finally, be aware of "planned opposition." The internet is chock full of forums and groups all too willing to share tactics.

How will you prepare when the time comes for you to build a new crematory? Stay tuned for Part Two as we share advice from CANA manufacturer members in future blog postings.


Members can read the full article in Vol. 53, No. 1 Issue of The Cremationist.

Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!

Tags:  consumers  installation  manufacturers  public relations 

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