retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Over the years, the subject of death - and, more specifically, the marketing of death - has come up here from time to time. From Costco’s decision to start selling caskets to changes that funeral homes have made in how they come to market, it has been interesting to see how leaders in this industry have innovated, and to look for metaphors that can be applied to other industries.

Now, the New York Times has a story about the latest innovation: “The death services industry is heavily regulated and fraught with religious and health considerations,” the Times writes. “The handling of dead bodies doesn’t seem ripe for venture-backed disruption. The gravestone doesn’t seem an obvious target for innovation.

“But in a forest south of Silicon Valley, a new start-up is hoping to change that. The company is called Better Place Forests. It’s trying to make a better graveyard,” and is doing so by “buying forests, arranging conservation easements intended to prevent the land from ever being developed, and then selling people the right to have their cremated remains mixed with fertilizer and fed to a particular tree.”

Here’s how it works:

“Customers come to claim a tree for perpetuity. This now costs between $3,000 (for those who want to be mixed into the earth at the base of a small young tree or a less desirable species of tree) and upward of $30,000 (for those who wish to reside forever by an old redwood). For those who don’t mind spending eternity with strangers, there is also an entry-level price of $970 to enter the soil of a community tree. (Cremation is not included.)

“A steward then installs a small round plaque in the earth like a gravestone.

“When the ashes come, the team at Better Place digs a three-foot by two-foot trench at the roots of the tree. Then, at a long table, the team mixes the person’s cremated remains with soil and water, sometimes adding other elements to offset the naturally highly alkaline and sodium-rich qualities of bone ash. It’s important the soil stay moist; bacteria will be what breaks down the remains.”

I love this. I’ve always thought that when I go, I’d like my ashes to be tucked into a small, remote corner of a vineyard … far enough away from the vines so that they do not affect the terroir, but close enough that if someone comes to visit, they can stop at a nearby winery for some libations.

The interesting thing about the Better Place Forests concept is that it is a fairly low-tech innovation that at least initially is designed to appeal to people living in one of the most high-tech places on earth, which may speak in an Eye-Opening way about people’s desire for something basic and elemental to define not just their lives, but their deaths.

Life is ripe for disruption and innovation. So is business. And so, apparently, is death.
KC's View: