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Environment / Sustainability

Recycling ourselves is good business

May 20, 2010
By Joshua Zaffos

Colorado State alumnus Luc Nadeau is serious about finding better ways to live lightly on the land, and now his latest business venture has generated interest for the living and the dead. As a CSU student in entomology, Nadeau saw the effects of beetle-killed pine, and an idea took shape. Now he's gaining fame as a place to go for eco-friendly burials.

Editor's Note:  The following story about Colorado State University alumnus and coffinmaker Luc Nadeau is an excerpt from the original article that appeared in Northern Colorado Business Report. Nadeau has a master's degree in fire ecology from Colorado State University. See the full story.

A green way to go

Luc Nadeau isn't entirely sure how he landed in the casket business. Thinking about his own demise, one day he realized he had never heard of any environmentally friendly options for burial, so he began thinking up his own.

After contemplating making coffins of recycled wood, Nadeau recognized an abundant supply of available soft wood throughout Colorado: mountain pine beetle-damaged lodgepole pine.

Fledgling casket company

A timber company does the milling and processing for Nature's Casket, Nadeau's fledgling company. One of Nadeau's pine caskets costs about $600 to $700, depending on a few specs, and they all have a blue color caused by a fungus introduced by the beetles.

Customers with a strong recycling ethic can purchase a rectangular casket now and use it as a nifty green bookcase until their time comes.

Nature's Casket is part of the gradually expanding green-funeral industry. Nadeau estimates he's sold about a dozen caskets, but believes his business is just starting to ramp up.

"I thought I invented this idea when I came up with it, but of course there are many people thinking about this," he said.

Revising ‘dust to dust’

The modern funeral industry has a less-than-eco-friendly reputation. Many families and cultures cope with death by preserving bodies of loved ones with formaldehyde and embalming chemicals, then putting the body in a hardwood or steel casket and interring it in a concrete vault with a large, polished headstone. Add in the flower arrangements and limos and the American funeral industry generates about $21 billion a year, but the results aren't quite "dust to dust."

The country's rising cremation rates reflect people's dissatisfaction with standard mortuary techniques, according to green-burial advocates like Karen Van Vuuren, the executive director of Natural Transitions, a Boulder-based nonprofit.

Going to greener pastures

In a green burial, the body is placed in a simple wooden box or a shroud (or sheet) and set into the ground without a concrete seal or a polished headstone. Conservation burials go one step further by burying a body where the grounds are not mowed, instead managed for wildlife and environmental values.

Van Vuuren said she hears regularly from Coloradans who are thinking about greener pastures and simpler practices for burials, although the options are still pretty limited. The U.S. Green Burial Council, based in Albuquerque, certifies cemeteries that stick to certain eco-friendly guidelines, although it doesn't yet recognize a green burial ground in Colorado.

In Fort Collins, the city council approved the designation of a green burial section within Roselawn Cemetery in 2009. The separate, one-acre area prohibits the use of embalming fluids and vaults. Graves, which are wider and $500 more expensive than traditional sites, will be marked with small stone memorials.

The city is still awaiting its first customer, but expects interest based on previous inquiries.

Joshua Zaffos is a freelance journalist based in Northern Colorado who covers environmental issues for the Business Report quarterly.