A charitable enterprise is a legally constituted charity that, once fully established, becomes financially self-sustaining by means of trading.
As a charity, a charitable enterprise has a clearly defined charitable purpose and structure. It is legally required to apply any and all financial surpluses to its stated purpose, and, conversely, is legally forbidden from distributing profits.
As a trading entity, a charitable enterprise offers goods and/or services to customers. Those goods and/or services may be unique to the enterprise, or similar, or identical to, those commonly provided by commercial businesses or government.
Funding for the establishment of a charitable enterprise is by way of donation. This ensures that financial surpluses are directed solely toward the charitable purpose, and not toward servicing debt or providing a return to stakeholders.
A true charity must be able to give and receive, but must not owe or be owed.
Operating as a charitable enterprise, earthfunerals offers professional end-of-life services, promotes the establishment of stand-alone natural burial grounds, and directs any and all financial surpluses to land-scape scale, ecological restoration programs.
All funeral types involve a similar use of resources to transport, hold and contain the remains of the deceased. Cremation uses fuel (gas, electricity) and emits atmospheric pollution. In virtually all cases, both traditional and natural burial also use some fuel to dig and refill graves.
Traditional burial results in non-biodegradable, and potentially toxic, materials being buried in the earth. In contrast, a genuine natural burial process conforms to the principles of permaculture, and yields a neutral environmental impact.
There have been unsubstantiated (greenwashing) claims suggesting that methane produced as a product of natural decomposition escapes into the atmosphere, and contributes more to greenhouse gas effects than the carbon dioxide emitted from a cremation. There is simply no scientific evidence to support this claim, with experts suggesting that any methane would most likely be absorbed into the soils of the grave.
In the greater scheme of things, the contribution of a funeral service represents a tiny fraction of most individuals’ whole-of-life carbon footprint. Logically, and emotionally, a natural burial represents the simplest, lowest impact funeral style.
Claims that the planting of a tree, or even 6 or 9 trees, is adequate to offset the environmental impact of a funeral, or make it sustainable, is a good example of greenwashing. The idea of ‘offsetting’ any human activity is complex, and one of the main challenges faced by environmental economists is deciding what to count as part of an activity.
Consider a funeral – it seems logical to count the energy embedded in the coffin and maybe the fuel used by the funeral director and the hearse. But what about the fuel and travel emissions of everyone who attends the service? The energy used in cremation or to dig a grave What about the food eaten at the gathering afterwards? As you can see, the process of calculating and comparing an ‘offset’ is challenging.
It is possible to quantify one or two specific parts of the funeral process, and calculate some form of offset, but claims made of ‘offsetting the funeral’ or making it ‘sustainable’ invariably go beyond reality, and simply become greenwashing.
In contrast, earthfunerals’ works to make the entire process genuinely sustainable by way of creating wildlife corridors, restoring bushland habitat and only using biodegradable and non-toxic consumables.
In practical terms, there are two parts to a funeral: the first part includes the handling and transportation of the deceased, the coffin and services directly related to the ceremony. The second part is the disposition of the remains either by cremation or burial. The cost of organising the first part of the funeral is similar in both cases, but for a burial the cost of the second part (in a traditional cemetery) is generally much higher ($2000 to $4,000 more). This is simply due to the high fees charged by existing cemetery operators for the gravesite and digging.
Fortunately, the establishment, design and management practices associated with genuine natural burial grounds are very different to those of a traditional cemetery. As a result, the cost of a burial in a natural burial ground will be about the same as a cremation.
The availability of land for burial is one factor, but not necessarily the main issue. If a person wanted to be buried in an inner city cemetery, where remaining space was limited, a high cost is likely. However, the universal driver of high cemetery prices is the cost of the endless maintenance associated with traditional cemeteries. If the problem was just space, then cemeteries in regional and rural areas (where space is not an issue) would not need to charge up to $2,000 or more for a site and grave digging.
In most cases, it is technically possible for an individual to take charge of most aspects of a funeral. That said, in all Australian States, a burial must take place in a legal burial place, and the cremation of a body can only occur at a licensed crematorium. There are also regulations governing how human remains are to be handled, transported and housed prior to and during a funeral, as well as a small number of legal requirements (e.g. registration of death, application for a cremation permit etc.) that are legally mandated.
Provided the legal requirements are met, a do-it-yourself funeral is, for the most part, possible, but it is fair to say that at the time of a death it would be a reasonably daunting task for most people to work systematically through these (often) unfamiliar processes. If handling every part of the funeral (or at least all those parts legally possible) is very important for you, the best advice we can provide is to prepare and learn about the processes in advance. We understand, of course, that this is not always possible.
In our experience, what most people desire is the choice of being involved, or not, in certain parts of the funeral process that are important or meaningful for them. earthfunerals willingly provides the opportunity for individuals, or family members, to be actively involved in virtually any aspect of the funeral – provided it is legal and safe to do so.
Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.
Greenwashing is a deliberate act to mislead customers. Sadly, greenwashing exists in every industry, and the commercial funeral sector is no exception. The pursuit of profit often overrides ethical standards, and it is common to see words like green, natural and eco used in funeral business names, services and products without any real justification.