Towards a More Sustainable Afterlife:

Integrating Green Death-Care Alternatives into the Traditional Funeral Home Framework

Each year 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (+ formaldehyde)

  • 90,272 tons of steel

  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze

  • 30 million+ board feet of precious hardwoods

  • 1.636 tons of reinforced concrete in vaults

  • 14,000 tons of steel in vaults

So cremation is the more environmentally sensitive option, right? Not exactly... 540 pounds of CO2 are released during each cremation, which uses approximately 28 gallons of fuel—the same amount found in a standard SUV tank. 5,000 pounds of mercury are released yearly into the atmosphere from dental fillings during cremation.

The Green Burial Movement

Natural, or green, burial is defined as a burial alternative that allows the body to be returned to the earth and naturally recycled into new life usually without the use of embalming fluids, metal caskets or concrete vaults. It is an opportunity to honor the life of a loved one while respecting and conserving natural resources and the environment.

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A.U.D.I.O. Analysis

Simply stated, AUDIO is an issue-spotting tool. The grid formation helps the prospect company “listen” to the business and understand the concerns that must be managed both up and down the value chain for issues and opportunities to improve practices to be more eco-friendly. The audio analysis is a tool for spotting downside risks and upside opportunities. Driving environmental thinking deep into business strategy, the grid has 10 major environmental issues on the vertical axis (climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, chemicals and toxins, oceans, air pollution, waste management, ozone, and deforestation) and five dimensions to explore on the horizontal including Aspects, Upstream, Downstream, Issues and Opportunities (A.U.D.I.O.).

primary research

Our team conducted primary research in the form of online surveys, co-creation workshops and concept prototyping to gain insights into how we might develop a design that would empower both the death care industry and consumers to make more sustainable choices.

What is your most memorable funeral experience?

My cousin Brian passed away at 18 from Leukemia. Seeing all his high school friends so upset really affected me. He played baseball and they placed a baseball in his coffin.
I recently went to a funeral of a young man whose head had been crushed. I was nearly sick when I saw him in his casket. His family had insisted on an open casket and spent a lot of money on a reconstructive surgery. It was uncomfortable for everyone there.
The father of a young boy passed away after battling cancer. He planned his own service. During the funeral service, the pastor asked all of the men to stand up. He then asked the boy to stand up and turn around. The pastor read his father’s words. “These men will be fathers to you now.’

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Co-Creation Workshop

For the co-creation workshop, we wanted to get more in-depth data. We designed a Design Your Dream Funeral experience to simulate the funeral home director meeting process where a person would pre-plan their own funeral or the funeral of a loved one.

Instead of a digital web based experience, we opted for flash cards to gamify the process. We divided the pre-planning process into six stages: Body preparation and preservation, burial containers and shrouds, cremation, funeral services and venues, burial grounds, and markers and memorials. For each flash card, we included an image with the name and price on the front and the name, price and short description on the back if needed. We decided to include but not draw particular attention to green burial options to see how participants would respond and if they would actually consider or include those in their pre-planning.

The co-creation workshop was held at the In Vino Veritas bar in Drayton Tower, downtown Savannah. We selected this site because of the opportunity to target a wider range of participants that would more accurately reflect the demographic of our target client, Apollo Funeral Homes. The bar had a semi-private back room where we set up two tables for each of the funeral directors, who would walk and talk each participant through the pre-planning process.


Insights from Primary Research

  • Cost is a real concern, and most people think their family would spend too much on their funeral.

  • Most people still opt for cremation because of cost and efficiency.

  • Traditionalists are willing to take certain green options that fit their paradigm (i.e. eco embalming fluids)

  • Many people say they are aware of green burials yet most were not aware of natural or conservation burial grounds.

  • Most people have thought about planning their funeral, but haven’t taken concrete steps towards doing so yet.

Design Your Dream Funeral App

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design solution

Many people plan their dream weddings, so why not Design Your Dream Funeral? Our group designed an app that would recreate digitally the preplanning process of a funeral and burial with a funeral director to allow for transparency in both cost and environmental footprint.

The My Funeral Footprint Rating System helps consumers calculate their environmental impact during the preplanning process of their funeral. It measures the impacts of each death-care product or service offering on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the heaviest impact, 5 being the lowest or most regenerative). The rating system allows funeral homes the opportunity to foster sustainable behavior change among their customers through awareness and education, increasing demand for eco-friendly products – such as the examples listed below beside each rating – and encouraging

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Create your own Pinterest-style dream board at the beginning of the pre-planning process to explore all your options. Share your choices with your family and friends so that they know your wishes, and start a dialogue about pre-planning and last wishes. Write out your last wishes to share with family and friends so that they know your final bequests.

Create your own Pinterest-style dream board at the beginning of the pre-planning process to explore all your options. Share your choices with your family and friends so that they know your wishes, and start a dialogue about pre-planning and last wishes. Write out your last wishes to share with family and friends so that they know your final bequests.

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Awards & Recognition

The Design Your Dream Funeral App received a Silver award from the IDA Awards in the Sustainable Living/Environmental Preservation-Recycling Equipment in 2018.

Process Book

For a comprehensive look at the secondary research, primary research and design solution developed by our team, please flip through our process book bellow. This project is currently only a conceptual exploration and not a fully functioning application.