What is a sustainable coffin?

Feb 1 2022

The environment is very much in focus at the moment, this focus will likely remain for the foreseeable future, shaping our lives not just through work but at home and in everything we do. For Somerset Willow, I believe the real question is how we retain all the positive environmental characteristics that come from the growing of willow and the weaving of finished articles.

As we look to grow our business alongside increased demand for our products, we must ensure we maintain these positive benefits. For instance, our willow fields directly offset a good proportion of the carbon emitted in our manufacturing process through carbon sequestration. During the growth of the willow crop, CO2 becomes trapped under the soil, reducing the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. This has a net positive effect on the environment but must be managed carefully. We must maintain and continue to increase the area of our willow crop to offset current demand. If demand outstrips supply, this could upset the carbon balance as our willow crop would not suffice alone.

In 2016 Somerset Willow undertook a lifecycle analysis of our willow coffins, the results were impressive. During the manufacture of one of our willow coffins, the carbon emitted was 60% less than that of conventional particleboard alternatives. However, other factors within a funeral must be considered, such as the coffin during cremation. Most coffin materials aid the cremation process of the deceased, but some are more effective than others, with several offering more extended combustion periods and enhanced cremation efficiency. Regarding burial, decomposition rates will differ based on the soil conditions and type of coffin chosen. Being an entirely natural material, willow is among the more compostable options and breaks down quickly in the earth. When comparing different products, it’s easy to make broad assumptions. There are so many variables at play, each affecting the overall sustainability of any one product. This includes whether certain elements are included or excluded from the calculation and, more importantly, what makes a coffin genuinely sustainable. Is it degradability or renewability, and at what cost are most people prepared to accept a change to what would be considered normal?

An article was recently published about the benefits of using cloth nappies over single-use nappies. The major benefit is less plastic going to landfills.  On the other hand, a counter-report showed that the carbon cost to wash and dry renewable nappies increase beyond the carbon cost of producing single-use nappies. It seems we are faced with a myriad of choices, compounded by calculations using different sets of comparisons, as well as perspectives. 

The majority of us are all concerned about the environment. This must continue to form the basis of our thinking now and into the future, where we will all navigate the challenging complexities of the environment. The issues will be overcome by all of us, not just a handful of large corporations. It’s the small things that make big differences.