Eco-hearses are an option, but not the only answer

FST talks with Sarah Jones, director of Full Circle Funerals, about the role of eco-hearses and green funeral travel options in achieving sustainability initiatives

Conversations regarding lowering global emissions to achieve greater sustainability are becoming increasingly prevalent. Whether it is a change in demand for eco-friendly products and services, or a willingness from suppliers to drive sustainability initiatives, the funeral service sector is no different. For Sarah Jones, director of Full Circle Funerals, it is the “small, incremental changes” that build up to collective change. 

Offering both a traditional fleet and an eco hearse for its services, Jones recognises that the greener option is not always chosen on purely environmental reasons.

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She also explains that eco-hearses are not the only way to achieve sustainability goals in the wider industry.

How has the demand for green funeral transport at Full Circle been affected as discourse surrounding sustainability continues to grow in the wider public?

We have had our Nissan Leaf eco hearse since we opened Full Circle in 2016. It has been used very often since we opened, and we have found that people choose it for several reasons.  

If the environment has been important to people during their lives, then those making funeral arrangements would usually also like this to be reflected in their funeral choices. A small, silent, understated electric hearse is a powerful and visual way to make that statement.

However, we also find that many people choose it because they like the tone and style of the vehicle and the message that it gives to people attending. Upon arrival it has a very different feel to a large traditional cortege and many people feel more comfortable with it for that reason.

Similarly, some families choose the eco-hearse because it is more unusual, and they feel that reflects the life and values of the person who has died. If they were someone who was more inclined to independence in their decision making, then it might feel fitting that transport at the end of their lives is in keeping with that.

We have found the eco-hearse has been popular from the moment we bought it but as awareness about our impact on the environment has increased, people seem to find the “green credentials” of the eco-hearse even more compelling.

Other than at Full Circle, how do you think the supply of green transport for funerals has changed throughout the wider industry in recent times, if at all?

We have both the eco-hearse and a traditional fleet of cars at Full Circle. It has been wonderful to see an increase in options available for hybrid and electric hearses and other vehicles needed by funeral directors.

I understand that more and more funeral directors are using hybrid and electric vehicles when buying private ambulances and the options for hearses is also increasing. This is great news because if there are more choices available to funeral directors then the uptake is also likely to increase. This means that the people we support will also have a greater number of choices available to them, which is good news.

What different forms of sustainable transport can be used for funeral services, do they have to be modern options?

There are some wonderful options available, beyond modern electric and hybrid vehicles. People arranging funerals can consider bicycle options pulling coffins on a trailer, pony or horse and cart options and full horse-drawn carriages. 

As with every funeral choice consideration must be given to logistics and safety but there are certainly older and established ways to travel to your funeral without use of an electric hearse.

Do electric hearses represent a costlier experience both for funeral directors and customers? How can this be changed to make it more accessible if so?

We charge the same for our eco-hearse, as we do for a traditional hearse, so cost isn’t part of the decision making process for customers. As a funeral director we have invested in an eco-hearse to give people a choice and for ethical reasons. We chose an option that was right for us, although I do know that some of the brand new hybrid cars can be expensive and it would be a big decision to replace an entire fleet. Hopefully prices will come down as these vehicles become more mainstream which will make it easier for more funeral directors to make the switch. 

How important are eco hearses in the drive for greater sustainability in the funeral service sector? Are there larger changes to be made and if so, what are they?

Our impact on the environment is a very important consideration and the funeral industry has a meaningful contribution to make in this regard. I believe that we should embrace any innovations which reduce our negative impact on the world and keep our minds open to that. There are several interesting options, such as water cremation, which are on the horizon.

However, we also need to stay mindful that people have several different considerations in mind when arranging a funeral, and it is important to continue to create a space where people can choose what is right for them.  Increasing the number of “green” funeral choices would be very positive.

In addition, I think that it would be helpful to have objective, impartial data about what the “greenest” funeral choices are. For example, it would be helpful to understand the total impact that a particular coffin choice has on the environment – considering everything from its raw materials, impact of transport and how it behaves when buried or cremated. This is clearly a very complex calculation, but I would find it helpful to be able to have this level of clarity when providing information to the people we are supporting.

Why do you feel that eco funerals are an important step to take in the drive for increased global environmental sustainability?

We all have a contribution to make personally and professionally. Small, incremental changes can add up to have a big impact and if we consider the environment in all the choices that we make then this could contribute to us collectively reaching a tipping point.

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