The baby boomers and green deathcare

The leading edge of the largest generation of Americans is approaching its predicted lifespan, and simultaneously beginning to make end-of-life decisions, including a growing interest in and participation in eco-friendly burial. Though the Baby Boomer generation is well known for valuing tradition, it is becoming clear that several important factors weigh heavily in their decision making, which remarkably is trending away from tradition.

Baby Boomers are living longer. Increasing life expectancy among Boomers is creating an interesting effect: end-of-life decisions are being delayed, prolonged, or even ignored as the generation that is predicted to "live long and prosper" continues to defy life expectancy predictions. Equally, because Boomers are living past expected estimates, many are working with decreasing personal wealth, which is directly influencing purchasing decisions.

Baby Boomers are defined by the values they share with each other. Unlike previous generations which took their collective cues from their parents, Boomers have united on many fronts, and have presented collective thinking and desires to the deathcare industry. On the AARP website along, there are more than ten pages of articles regarding deathcare and end-of-life decision making. Interestingly, the Boomer generation is also the first to produce a large number of sibling decision makers and influencers. The average number of siblings per family who could expect to be involved in deathcare decisions is 4.2 (Michael Rybarski, "Boomers After All is Said and Done," American Demographics).

Boomers have expressed a strong sense of entitlement. The Boomer generation grew up with the advent of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and Civil Rights legislation. Collectively, they funded many of these programs, and they expect to be rewarded for their efforts. What that means to you is that Boomers are focused on perceived value, and expect to maximize the value of their deathcare investments.

Boomers want it "their way." Recent key studies have pointed to the expectation of Baby Boomers for personalization, individualization, and choice when it comes to deathcare decisions. Standard procedures and offerings, while appealing to those who imbibe tradition, may not appeal directly to Baby Boomers, and the successful funeral director is one who offers a break from traditional process and offerings.

70% of recently surveyed Baby Boomers don't want to be buried in the ground. This data point is from AARP, and the survey population was diverse and quite large. Assuming this represents the generation as a whole (and there are those who don't believe it does), it is incumbent upon those of us in the industry to offer alternatives. I've said that before.

The new Wirthlin Report points to a rise in cremation, and lists, as the second most common reason for choosing cremation, "to protect the environment." For those of us who actively promote eco-friendly deathcare, this is good news. For those of you who don't, it may be time to consider offering some of the many new alternatives available.

If you attended NFDA's convention in Las Vegas last week, you may have been encouraged, like I was, by the number of exhibitors at the NFDA convention last week who offer green burial services and products. Though clearly a minority group among the many traditional exhibitors, Pat Dreckmann of NFDA, the coordinator of the show, remarked that there was a substantial increase in the number of new green-friendly exhibitors. We'll carefully explore some of those offerings in future articles.

What should the progressive funeral director do? I'll offer some suggestions to those of you who either embrace or are beginning to embrace green burial alternatives.

  1. Do some research. There are many new choices you can present to the Boomer generation that are environmentally inspired… and potentially lucrative. It remains to be seen whether Boomers will opt, in mass, for artificial reef burial, having their remains scattered or shot into space, embedded in glass, diamonds or simply buried in eco-friendly caskets. It is clear that they will appreciate your knowledge of and offering of choices.
  2. Read. FuneralWire is a perfect example of a place to find news of the latest in trends and alternative offerings, focused specifically on keeping you abreast of trends and new deathcare ideas. Take the time to read the articles and broaden your knowledge base. There are many other industry publications as well, all of which are rich with "hints of green."
  3. Listen. Baby Boomers are collectively quite vocal. Anyone who works in Washington, D.C. knows that. As much as we all love our "standard approach" and our ties to tradition, this generation requires more listening and less talking. I live in Florida, which is rich with senior life, and every restaurant I go to is filled with discussions about end-of-life and deathcare decisions.
  4. Be creative. The group that is constructing the Atlantis underwater cemetery in Miami is a prime example of deathcare creativity come to life. There are many others who are thinking beyond tradition and offering new and different alternatives for the Boomers. We'll start looking at them individually in future articles.

The moral of the story is clear: Baby Boomers are bucking the trends, and the progressively-thinking funeral director is aware of that trend, and is taking steps to meet the needs of this vital generation of business. I'm here to help, and I look forward to continuing to share news from the green pastures.

Andrew Whitaker is the vice president of Great Burial Reef, Inc. and holds an MBA from the University of Central Florida, and the coveted Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence from the American Society for Quality. He is a lifelong environmentalist, and can be reached at

Great Burial Reef, Inc., based in Sarasota, and founded by visionary entrepreneur Jason Rew, builds living ocean reefs and honors our loved ones by permanently placing sealed urns containing their cremated remains within the reef structures.