When Jon Hallford approached his wife, Carrie, and friend, Jack Dhooghe, about starting an environmentally friendly funeral home in Colorado Springs, they didn’t believe it would work.
Jon, a licensed funeral director, educated the two on green burials and was able to convince Carrie and Dhooghe — both of whom have worked in the industry for years — to open a green burial-focused funeral home in southern Colorado.
In the works since May 2016, the three founders opened Return to Nature Burial & Cremation’s doors Sept. 5 in downtown Colorado Springs at 123 E. Las Animas St. and say there is interest in the concept.
Return to Nature offers the same merchandise and services as other funeral homes, but encourages customers to choose its environmentally friendly and typically less expensive burial and cremation options, which include biodegradable cremation urns, baskets, hardwood caskets and shrouds, or biodegradable cloths.
People also can request to be buried with no clothes or covering, as long as they’re buried in a cemetery that allows for green burials, according to Jon.
In Colorado Springs, Fairview Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery are two cemeteries that allow different standards in burials.
Though Return to Nature is not the only funeral home in the Springs with both green burial and traditional options, several factors separate the new business from the others, said Jon, whose family has worked in the industry for more than 80 years.
Return to Nature encourages its customers not to embalm or preserve bodies with chemicals, he said.
“When I started learning about [green burial] I started thinking, ‘Why on earth have we been doing this all this time, and how many times have I facilitated a final moment with a family member and they’ve smelled or experienced formaldehyde?’” Jon said. “That’s really where it sunk in that I’m not going to do this anymore. This is our passion. … I’m not going to just leave the industry, I’m going to find a better way to do it.”
Embalming bodies affects the water supply and is a threat to employees’ health, he said. Bodies preserved without embalming fluid can look the same as bodies with it, Jon said.
“In the funeral business there are no guidelines,” Jon said. “So when a body is being embalmed, whatever excess formaldehyde mixture is left in the tank just goes right down the drain. It’s not neutralized — it’s going straight back into our water system that’s eventually recycled and reused.”
“It’s not just that, we’re placing over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, formaldehyde, into the ground every year. … There’s not a cemetery around you can’t drive through without seeing a sign that says nonpotable water.”
Return to Nature seeks to offset the need for chemicals to focus on Earth-friendly burials.
“With the natural burial you can be buried in a shroud or basket, which is going to decompose into the earth and you’re essentially living on,” Carrie said.
“We just want to have another option for people. People are still going to use traditional services and funeral homes — we just want to have what we offer as an option.”
While Return to Nature prides itself on its customer service, Dhooghe said his brand of burials and cremations are also better financial options.
“Most people … don’t have the funds to spend [$5,000] to $10,000 for a traditional funeral, so I think it’s a big option as far as the economy goes,” Dhooghe said. Inudstyr experts say a green burials cost as little as $2,000.
Return to Nature lists prices on its website, which many funeral homes don’t do, Jon said. Because of high costs in memorial services and caskets, most people opt to pay for cremation services as a less-expensive alternative.
In Colorado, more than 70 percent of people are choosing cremation over burial, according to Jon.
He added that Return to Nature is installing an alkaline hydrolysis system, which is an alternative to cremation, but uses water and an alkaline solution of potassium hydroxide and provides a greener alternative to traditional burial.
“We know the industry here and the market here — it’s our town,” Jon said. “We’re not concerned with the other funeral homes; we don’t feel like we’re coming in and getting on their turf or trying to put anyone out of business.
“We’re just opening up a business and trying to offer a service to families and they’re either going to use us or they’re going to use someone else.”