Better Place Forests offers trees and nature as an alternative to urns and graveyards


More and more people are choosing cremation over caskets. Better Place Forests, a Californian startup, offers trees instead of tombstones.

So if you choose to be cremated, for a comparable and arguably better price, you can mix your ashes with dirt and scatter them around a tree, the company says.

Seeds of native wildflowers are scattered across the top and a number of saplings planted nearby in your memory. The tree becomes a place to visit for your family instead of a cemetery.

The trees are located in memorial forests across the United States, where others have chosen what Better Place Forests CEO John Collins calls a sustainable end-of-life alternative.

The right to visit the memorial tree in perpetuity is protected by an irrevocable license filed with state and local governments, Collins says. The company aims to obtain conservation easements for its forests, starting this year.

“I think what I love about this process is that it’s in tune with nature,” says Collins, who took over as director of Better Place Forests in October, after 25 years at the clothing retailer. Outdoor Patagonia.

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Better Place Forests, based in San Francisco, would be the first American company to offer forests as an alternative to cemeteries for families who choose cremation. People can choose one tree for the whole family (and their pets) or a set of trees.

The business started in 2015, but has grown from three forests two years ago to a total of 10 now. Better Place Forests has memorial forests in the United States, totaling over 1,000 acres in California, Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

In the memorial forests, “what I see is a feeling of happiness and a sense of ‘I’m making a great choice for myself and for the planet,'” Collins says.

Trees are planted in areas near the Memorial Forests through a partnership with One Tree Planted. Last year, 225,000 trees were planted in 18 restoration projects across the United States. And these trees provide climate benefits, while using less of the world’s finished land for graveyards.

“The more trees we sell, the more forests we protect, the more carbon we sequester in the atmosphere,” Collins says.

The company’s green form of burial isn’t necessarily a cheaper alternative to traditional cremation and funerals, which average around $7,000.

Prices listed on the Better Place Forests website start at $6,900 for one person, including a ceremony. The cost varies depending on the location and setting, the type and size of the tree, and the number of people’s and pets’ ashes scattered under the tree. You can get a spot for as little as $5,000, says the CEO.

“It’s a different alternative, but one that I would say also adds more value for the customer,” like the ability to spread more than one set of ashes on a single tree, Collins says.

Better Place Forests sees itself as disrupting an old pattern in an industry that is expected to reach revenues of $68 billion by 2023. Meanwhile, the number of people choosing cremation over other forms of burial is growing, which is estimated at nearly 80% by 2040.

Collins says the number of Better Place Forests customers has doubled since 2020 and gross sales for 2021 have increased significantly, declining to give details.

The CEO remembers visiting one of the memorial forests before he became CEO, on the Mendocino Coast in Northern California.

“It was alive. It wasn’t as morbid a feeling as you might get when you go to the cemetery.

He adds that Better Place Forests offers “a combination of environmental stewardship at a time in life when it’s hard to please customers.”

Along with the irrevocable license that comes with a memorial tree, allowing a family to visit the site forever, the company also has a stewardship trust, Collins says, where 7% of every memorial purchase goes into a trust run by a trustee. third parties to ensure that the forest is maintained.

Better Place Forests is looking to expand, with more forests and in other areas. Sand dunes and wetlands were mentioned.

“People have connections to places,” Collins says. “And when they can make that connection for families and themselves at the end of life, it’s just a much better story.”


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