Will Green Burial Slow Cremation Rates?

Funeral Industry News July 11, 2021
green burial
Aries Jo

Aries (they/them) is a certified Celebrant and the Director of Outreach and Education at Parting Stone where they create forward-thinking content for funeral professionals. Aries leads the Death Curious online community and hosts the Death Curious podcast. Learn more about Parting Stone and their complete alternative to cremated remains here.

Will Green Burial Slow Cremation Rates?

There is no doubt that consumers today are looking for environmentally friendly options, even in deathcare. A 2017 survey by NFDA reveals that 53.8% of funeral consumers indicated an interest in exploring green burial options. With cremation rates also steadily and predictably increasing over the past few decades, it bears asking if the desire for greener options in death planning could interrupt that steady cremation growth pattern. 

What Do Today’s Deathcare Consumers Really Want? 

Many of today’s consumers across generations, but especially in the millennial and gen z demographics, are focused on making purchases that prioritize eco-friendliness and environmental concerns. A recent study by IBM Institute breaks down what is driving consumer choices in 2020. That study reveals that 41% of consumers are value-driven (making purchases based on price and convenience) and 40% of consumers are purpose-driven (making purchases based on ethics, beliefs, and personal values). 

purpose driven consumers and green burial

This means that today’s consumers are just as likely to make a purchase based on ethics and values like eco-consciousness as they are based on price or savings. Funeral care is no exception to these stats. According to the Green Burial Council’s website, general interest in and opting for green burial is on the rise across platforms and surveys, with stats showing the 53.8% NFDA survey previously mentioned, as well as a whopping 79% interest from one Medium article exit poll. 

rising interest in green burial

What is the total potential market for Green Burial? 

Using projections and estimates about total deaths, cremation rates, and burial rates in 2020, we can see just how big those numbers are. The NFDA projects that 37.9% of all funerals planned in the US in 2020 were burials (though, there are no hard numbers on this percentage from NFDA yet). And, according to CANA’s 2021 Annual Statistics Report, 2020 saw 3,358,697 deaths total resulting in 1,844,164 cremations for a cremation rate of 56.1%. 

Using those numbers and the IBM study on purpose-driven consumers we know that 40% of consumers in the US today are more likely to look for greener alternatives in disposition.  If this is true, we can speculate that of the 1,844,164  families that chose cremation in 2020, 40% of them might opt into more eco-friendly options like green burial in the future. This math shows that there were 737,666 (40% of 1,844,164) possible cremation families in 2020 that could have chosen green burial instead and better satisfied their desire for an environmentally friendly disposition. 

Furthermore, of the presumed 1,272,946 burials that are projected to have been performed in 2020 (37.9% of 3,358,679 total deaths in 2020) if 40% opted for green burial, that would equal 509,178 additional green burials instead of traditional burials. Taking 737,666 cremation families that could choose green burial and adding to the 509,178 burial families that could choose green burial, we end up with a Total Serviceable Market of 1,246,844 U.S. families in 2020 whose purchasing motivations align in a way that they could have chosen green burial. To take advantage of this large green burial serviceable market, click below to download a free ebook guide to green burial info and services: 

While green burial rates aren’t currently tracked, and the Green Burial Council’s data on the number of cemeteries receiving official green burial certification year-over-year doesn’t reflect a clear upward trend yet, it is clear that consumer and market interest is strong and growing in those services. 

According to an article about green burial on MarketWatch, “Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization that has established standards for funeral homes, cemeteries, and funeral product makers, said his group had certified only one green funeral provider in North America in 2006. That number is now above 340, including 270 funeral homes and 60 cemeteries from California to Maine. ‘It’s going to trend up as baby boomers go into the grave,’ said Sehee. ‘This is a generation of people that has upended every cultural milestone they’ve met.’” Indeed, it seems that boomers and gen-x are just as interested in green burial as the environmentally aware millennial and gen z generations. According to this article from the Funeral and Memorial Information Council, “In 2015, 64 percent of adults 40+ said they would be interested in green funeral options, compared with 43 percent in 2010.”

increase in rate of interest in green burial in consumers over 40
Graph from the Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s website.

This begs the question of how quickly green burial rates would be rising if more green burial certified cemeteries and options were available, and would it be enough to upset the consistent rise in cremation? We’ll have to wait and see. 

In the meantime, today’s deathcare market has a wide range of eco-conscious options for both burial and cremation families, for regions in which green burial isn’t widely available. Click below to download an ebook funeral services and products that appeal to purpose-driven consumers: 

 Cremation Data from CANA’s 2021 Annual Statistics Report

Many experts say that rising cremation rates aren’t going anywhere, even in the face of new options like green burial and organic reduction. According to CANA’s 2021 Annual Statistics Report, “cremation is driven by customer choice.” This clearly reflects that consumers and funeral planners truly want the benefits that cremation offers. In the 2021 Annual Statistics Report, cremation rates continued to increase steadily and according to projections. They are anticipated to continue to increase steadily, and CANA’s predictions have been incredibly accurate for the past decade.

In her interview with Deathcare Decoded Barbara Kemmis, President of CANA,  does point out that “I do think there is one potential movement afoot to slow down cremation which is green burial. For many customers with strong environmental values and concerns about their carbon footprint, cremation is a fallback, because maybe there isn’t a green cemetery or green burial options nearby. [We know these customers] don’t want embalming and all of that, so cremation is this middle ground. It will be interesting to see as green burial options increase and it becomes more accessible to see if that impacts cremation rates.” It’s important to note that Barbara also goes on to share that CANA’s statistics consultant does not see any data that points to the potential for green burial options disrupting consistent increases in cremation rates. 

What do more green burial options mean for your funeral business?

It turns out that the appeal of green burial isn’t just environmental, but fiscal as well. Since fewer resources, chemicals, materials, and procedures are involved in a green burial, the cost is also much lower on average. According to MarketWatch, “In 2010, 15% of people over 40 surveyed by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council said they would be interested in a green funeral primarily for cost reasons. By 2015, that had risen to 26%. Natural burials cost an average of $2,000 to $3,000 including a burial plot, interment fees, and a shroud or environmentally friendly casket, according to Sehee. A traditional funeral can cost much more. The median cost of a funeral with a metal casket, viewing, and burial was $7,181 in 2014, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Add a burial vault, which the NFDA says is typically required by cemeteries, and the cost jumps above $8,500.”

Furthermore, the Green Burial Council’s website explains that “The cost [of a green burial] varies by cemetery. Most hybrid cemeteries report that graves cost the same or somewhat less than conventional cemeteries. By replacing a vault, steel, or exotic wood casket, and embalming costs with a biodegradable casket or shroud, the resulting savings may be significant.” Caitlyn Hauke, President of the Board of Directors of the Green Burial Council explains that “Funeral homes can educate themselves on how to best serve those that may request a green burial by doing their homework in advance, asking questions of those offering green services already, or reaching out to organizations like the GBC.” For more information, reach out to the GBC on their website here.

While more and more families might be drawn to options like green burial in the future for natural or financial reasons, the good news is that there is also an abundance of eco-friendly products and services to go along with green burial that align with the priorities of both purpose and value driven consumers. Learning to leverage this powerful combination will be a boon to your funeral business and good for the environment at the same time. 

To learn more about offering green burial options to your families, download an ebook guide to green burial by clicking below: