Seven years ago Jack Davenport, co-owner of Davenport Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, was approached with what seemed to be an unusual request.
A family trying to grant the last wishes of a loved one wanted the body buried in a biodegradable casket to allow for natural decomposition.
Davenport, 53, was able to accommodate the family, and in the process launched a new line of business that caters to environmentally conscious families. His firm now offers biodegradable caskets and shrouds, which are typically a linen cloth used to wrap the body of the deceased.
"I do this because the environmental, green movement is growing," Davenport said. "Some families don't want cremation. They want a burial. Their mentality is that what comes from the earth will have to return back to it."
Green burials aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by cremations and toxic chemicals used for embalming a body.
And as consumers become more conscious about the products and services that they use, funeral homes are ramping up their green burial services to a small but growing client base interested in reducing their carbon footprint, even in death.
Options include caskets made from willow, sea grass or bamboo.
Other green trends include biodegradable urns and a water-based alternative to cremation called alkaline hydrolysis.
According to a 2019 survey from the National Funeral Directors Association, fewer than 20% of funeral homes across the country performed green funeral services in the past year.
Some funeral homes are limited by state laws in what they can offer.
However, demand for green funeral services is growing, so much so that the funeral directors group now offers a green funeral practice certificate.
Davenport, who has funeral homes in the Chicago suburbs of Barrington, Lake Zurich and Crystal Lake, Ill., said his firm has performed about eight green burials so far this year.
"By and large it's a request by the deceased," Davenport said. "It's something that's preplanned by families."