Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and has gained a reputation for expertise within the local area and wider industry. Here, Becky reviews a recent episode of BBC 5 Live’s The Big Green Money Show…
When I first joined Freeman Brothers almost five years ago, something I learned very quickly was that the general public hates talking about death. It is something that we will all do at some point, but it remains a significant taboo. As such, a large part of my role has been to try and increase acceptance of the conversation around funerals.
Back in 2017 when my mission first started, it was a real niche. Our conversations took place in an echo chamber, and for it to be welcomed, there had to be a really clear link between death and whichever organisation I was conversing… but not so close of a link that it felt crass. So it was ok to discuss death with people in hospices or care homes, but not so much in hospitals (because the perception is that hospitals are for healing, or at the very least sustaining life, rather than the end of it).
Things did steadily start to broaden… and then COVID happened, and overnight death was everywhere, quite literally. It was an awful way for the conversation to enter public consciousness, and there was a lot of misinformation and confusion. And then things started to quieten down again – I think, quite understandably, people had heard too much about death, and wanted to talk about something else.
And now the pendulum is swinging ever so slightly back in the other direction. People are asking questions again, and the conversation has reopened. I was curious to hear that The Big Green Money Show was due to feature funerals. One of the main areas of development in the industry since I joined has been improvements to environmental impact, and much of this has been consumer-driven.
However, death and funerals remain complex topics, as the show’s hosts acknowledged: what remains the most important factor for many people arranging a funeral is that they follow the wishes of the person who has died, and take the opportunity to truly honour the life they lived. And, for lots of people, their environmental impact is important. Finances are probably the second greatest concern, so it was good to hear of a show bringing the two together.
Had I listened to this show five years ago, prior to working in the funeral industry, I’d have been surprised by much of the content. Cardboard coffins would’ve been the topic of discussion I was most familiar with (my Grandma has often said that she would prefer to have one), and I knew of the concept of natural burial (my cousin’s father-in-law stated his wish for this several years previously). However, having been part of the funeral profession, I anticipated much of what was covered, and what surprised me the most was how low awareness continues to be that the general public has choice beyond a wooden coffin and a crematorium service.
I find this incredibly sad, as no two lives are the same, and if we are talking about funerals honouring a life lived, then neither should any two funerals be the same. With the focus of this show firmly being on the eco-friendliness of funerals, there was a lot of discussion about sustainability credentials of products used, as well as transportation processes (both in terms of acquiring coffins and conveying them from the funeral director to the funeral) and emissions from crematoria (plus it was a surprise to one of the hosts that the plural of crematorium is crematoria).
Something that I’m glad the show mentioned was the construction of cardboard coffins. When the word ‘cardboard’ is used, many of us think of the familiar packaging of items such as boxed chocolates, or those that consumer goods are delivered to our homes in. We may go so far as to contemplate items used to package bulkier goods, such as furniture or gardening equipment. But we typically think about quite thin material, which leads us to wonder whether a coffin is structurally sound, and assume that it also must be cheaper than a wooden one.
I’m grateful that the hosts spoke to someone who shared that this isn’t the case – cardboard coffins are much thicker and solidly constructed, plus all coffins have to pass safety tests.
I was disappointed that a thorough discussion of electric vehicles didn’t take place. Electric hearses were mentioned very much in passing, before the conversation moved swiftly to bicycle hearses, an equally novel concept! My suspicion is that not much was said as, although electric hearses are becoming more readily available, and we would be happy to hire one in at the request of a customer, they still lack a certain level of viability. As anyone who has considered purchasing (or has purchased) an electric car may have discovered, the UK’s infrastructure is still lacking in terms of supporting these vehicles – primarily in the critical sense of charging them – and when used to carry heavier loads – such as a number of passengers, and a loaded coffin – the battery usage is significant. Unfortunately, we are still quite some way off electric hearses being standard practice; in the near future, hybrid vehicles are likely a more realistic step.
And, at risk of seeming foolish, I have to say that, at the end of the show, I wasn’t sure what ‘eco-friendly’ even is (and this conundrum has made me interrogate my wider beliefs – I have been trying to make purchasing decisions in my day-to-day life which are ‘sustainable’ for some time, and am now not sure whether I’m doing so correctly!). Because it is clear that there is an environmental cost to every choice we make, and if you take it on a mathematical level, use emissions as your yardstick, and the numbers happen to be the same or similar… then what’s the answer?
Which I think returns us to the idea of preference. If there is no one, stand out, environmentally-friendly option (as Abi referenced via this post), we are left with considering the options available, and choosing the one which best meets our needs.
If you would like help discussing eco-friendly – or other – options for funeral planning, we are always happy to do so, for free and without obligation.