By Susie Price, Funeral Arranger – Handforth Funeral Home

I’ve always been interested in the idea of sustainable funerals. I’m fortunate enough to live close to a natural burial ground and have been able to learn more about our local environment and how funerals can be made more sustainable. 

Choice is something our Co-op is passionate about, not only because we know each person is unique, but because it’s the right thing to do. Giving our families choice is something that personally resonates with me. It’s important to me these choices include local businesses, local people and sustainable options.

During the pandemic, death and dying became a discussion in many households. We found this gave families the confidence to discuss alternative funeral options at their time of need, including the options for more sustainable funerals.

What is a sustainable funeral?

We’re running ‘test and learns’ to find out what’s more sustainable when it comes to funerals – there isn’t a great deal of research about eco-funerals, so we’re doing our own. We want to find out more about the environmental impact, what families want and how this works in practise.

Our branches are close to the local natural burial ground and we’ve gained the knowledge to confidently provide information on environmentally friendly choices to our families. However, this isn’t the same across all Co-op Funeralcare branches. This ‘test and learn’ activity will look at how we can provide these kinds of options to every family.

Across Cheshire and Bristol we’re running the first sustainability ‘test and learn’. This includes:

  • offering a cardboard coffin as part of the direct or essential funeral
  • planting a tree for every funeral arranged – in partnership with Ecosia
  • replacing the scatter tube, which was sourced from China with a UK produced biodegradable cardboard ashes box
  • eco-friendly memorial items
  • upskilling our team with local and sustainable options

For me, the most valuable aspect of the test and learn so far is connecting with our local providers. We’ve had the opportunity to spend time at the natural burial ground and a new eco-focused crematorium. We’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge, and made new friends. We’ve created a space to openly discuss the environmental impact of funerals with our families.

We’ve been enjoying the flexibility of taking our families around the natural burial ground, and arranging the funeral directly in the beautiful surroundings there. It’s great to have this available as part of our wider offering to make our funerals even more unique.

The new hybrid vehicles are also popular (although it’s taken a few weeks for us to get used to how quiet they are when we’re paging!) Families are really loving our shiny new fleet and comment on how professional they look. They’re a real talking point.

We’re the only local funeral director who offer these vehicles, so it feels like a real selling point, it truly demonstrates that we’re market leaders.

This ‘test and learn’ is just the start, we’re finding our way, finding what works and feeding this back. This will shape the future of Funeralcare, not just for the Co-op but the way we do funerals across the country and I feel very proud and privileged to be part of it.