Start by defining Green.  The journalist responded eco-friendly, kinder to the environment. We agreed that this was a good place to start. I explained that I personally don’t like to use these terms and prefer “Greener” or “More friendly”.

It would be better to avoid any such term and be precise with your claim or statement. I explained how most of the coffins we make and sell share very similar characteristics and all have a low impact on the environment, Carbon Footprint varies but a figure  <50kg CO2e could be stated. A tiny number in comparison of our own Life time Carbon footprint. For example a average car (Audi A4 BMW  3 series) will emit more CO2 e on a 200 mile journey than the above.

How can I state this in terms of the environment? It is important to have a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) when considering such matter.

Life-cycle assessment is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. Wikipedia

What does the letter e after CO2 mean? This is to show that it is not literally CO2, but is used as a gathering unit. All greenhouse gases are considered in an assessment and the figure is expressed in CO2e

JC Atkinson completed an LCA study on the various types of coffins we sold in 2008 and again in 2019.  The changes were minor in the data, but the analysis  was of interest to ourselves for product development.  As the coffins tested also included different interiors and handle options.

JC Atkinson further wanted to understand how our coffin behaved in the cremation process. As part of the 2019 review, we studied the cremation process in detail.

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A Cremation is defined as the disposition of a body by burning Wikipedia

JC Atkinson always understood a coffin acts a secondary fuel. Many cremator operators have told us that a cremation with a wood coffin would use less gas at the end of the week than at the beginning.  To consider this scientifically, we asked Giraffe Innovation to research and correctly quantify the LCA values for the different types of coffins we sell for cremation.  I explained how variations existed in the results, which were related to many different factors such as the type of coffin, the sex and weight of the person, the day of week* and time of day (* due to the stored latent heat of the furnace brick lining being greater at the end of the day / week).

The journalist asked the cremation emissions including NOX, I stated how NOX is not an emission which is currently required to be monitored by Defra at present but the amounts were very small and most NOX came from the body not the coffin. Based upon a number of cremations on our Giraffe Innovation results and other global research worst case NOX output per cremation is 1.56kg, best case 0.8kg, the breakdown between the components is as follows, worst case. The coffin worst case was fitted with Cremfilm, plastic handles and taffeta lining, the removal of these components lowers the cremation emissions, including NOX.

1.56kg NOX  is equivalent to driving a medium sized (Audi A4 or BMW series 3)  diesel car 525 miles or a petrol car 2,557 miles (Defra 2019  carbon reporting).

With an average of 0.8kgNOX this would be equivalent to driving a medium sized (Audi A4 or BMW series 3) diesel car 270 miles or a petrol car 1,311 miles.

Best case includes the use of a solid wood coffin, wood handles and no plastic inside the coffin. The Gas emissions are also lower due to its contribution as a secondary fuel, the burning of the body in the cremation process.

What would I personally recommend?

I described how the coffin not only carried out a role in safely containing and presenting the deceased, but also could be chosen by a family for its looks or design; what it is made of; where it was made; how it was made and could it be personalised with names, poems, pictures or passions? I described how Oasis Willow supports a community in Bangladesh and how a wool coffin makes use of wool from local farms.  Irish families like to have an “Irish coffin” design as they are often repatriated to Ireland for burial, given that burial is more popular than cremation there. I recalled the answer I gave in 2003 when Johnny Kennedy visited our factory to film his preparation for death.  On our advice he had a solid pine coffin with a Baked Bean can , Whisky bottle and Cigar symbols routered on the coffin sides and lid. The Boy whose Skin Fell off became a BAFTA winning film and renowned documentary.

The journalist asked me how can you have a Greener funeral if it is not the coffin? I affirmed that it is the coffin as it’s also symbolic. A person who is caring for the environment may choose a hand-made Willow woven coffin because, in comparison to a traditional manufactured and polished coffin, it looks softer and more natural, desire satisfied on an emotional need but don’t be mistaken they haven’t saved the planet, the LCA CO2e numbers are very similar for all types.

Finally, we discussed the funeral and the funeral director’s role in guiding choices. An arranger’s role is just that – and could include correct knowledge about the environmental impact of the various funeral activities and it would do so with care to ensure green claims are correctly represented.

So for me what I would choose is our Brighton, a solid Pine Coffin with no plastic interior and wood handles.

Regards the funeral impact on the environment, consider the venues location and ask the mourners to share cars or use public transport.

Oh and defiantly leave the Diesel car at home!

Julian M Atkinson – JC Atkinson

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