Winter 2021 – Affiliate Spotlight
Be A Tree Cremation
Like many in this work, Emily Nelson stumbled into death care before it developed into a deeper calling. She was exposed to death early and often in her younger years, starting with the loss of her birth mother as a small child, followed by grandparents, and then the loss of a close friend to war during college. She knew she wanted to understand people on a deep level and that encompassed their grief. She has never been one to shy away from existential topics or feel uncomfortable by the complex emotions that come along with loss.
After studying business as an undergrad, Emily found herself working in healthcare where she was responsible for marketing a variety of complex messages about hospice, palliative care, and much more. Then, she joined the team of her former boss and long-time mentor at Service Corporation International where she led digital demand generation strategy for over 2,000 funeral homes across North America. It was there that Emily says she became interested in understanding how people make decisions in a time of emotional distress. She found that the options available to them often are disconnected from their values in daily life. For example, many people here in Colorado go to great lengths to live a lifestyle that is in harmony with the environment, but the second someone dies, we are so desperate to make decisions and clouded by our grief, we turn to the status quo.
It was when Emily was having a conversation with her mom (her mom adopted her when she was young) when this really clicked. After talking about the various options available, her mom simply said, “I want to be a tree.” When Emily suggested green burial, her mom quickly corrected that she wanted to be cremated. That’s where the disconnect lies, Emily says, “2 in 3 people in Colorado are choosing cremation, but they don’t know the toll it takes on our environment.” She added, “People are starting to return to older traditions where we are in closer harmony with the earth, so why would they want their last bodily interaction to emit as much CO2 as a 600-mile car trip*, only to be placed on a mantle or inside a concrete vault, never fully reincorporating with the earth to foster new life? When people think about that, it really doesn’t make sense to them.”
After many months of research, Emily developed a business plan around water cremation (or alkaline hydrolysis). Water cremation uses water instead of fire along with alkali to mimic the natural decomposition process over the course of a few hours. It has approximately 1/10th of the carbon footprint** of flame cremation and zero emissions from the facility. What’s really fantastic is that the liquid byproduct can be used as a fertilizer. We call this fertilizer “Tree Tea” and it will be used on non-edible trees and plants at a local floral farm called Half Moon Farm. The remaining bones are processed and returned in an urn, giving families a sense of familiarity with traditional cremation. Emily offers products from The Living Urn™ so families may plant a memorial tree with the remains if they choose.
Here lies the challenge. How do we get people to have a vision for their death long before it occurs so they can be in choice about how they make their exit? Emily believes it is by educating and having strategic discussions with our loved ones and our communities. She has found that the topic is much easier to approach with people when it’s packaged under the notion of living on through nature, and that’s why she chose the name, “Be a Tree Cremation,” for her business.
Be a Tree Cremation is on target to start serving families in January 2021. Their long-term goal is to make water cremation a more mainstream choice and prevent millions of tons of CO2 emissions. Emily hopes to bring this to other communities in Colorado and around the US by creating a sustainable business model and advocating for legislation in other states to allow water cremation. It is currently legal in 19 states, so there is still a lot of progress to be made.
Emily says she is, “also really excited to partner with advocates who are bringing people more empowerment around their death, from doulas to celebrants, which is why we’re so glad to be involved with the Colorado End of Life Collaborative.”
**Source: Bio Response Solutions