For Colorado casketmaker, green is the way to go
The Denver Post/AP
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colo. – Colorado’s beetle-killed timber is the fodder for a Longmont casketmaker whose handcrafted boxes are designed for a growing green burial market.
From a two-car garage in a central Longmont neighborhood, Luc Nadeau, 37, is turning out simple pine coffins with a focus on environmental sustainability.
Nadeau’s tiny startup firm, Nature’s Casket, has no illusions it will make a measurable dent in cleaning up Colorado’s 3 million acres of forest decimated by the ravaging mountain pine beetle.
Yet he sees the use of beetle-killed lodgepole and ponderosa pine as part of his approach in doing business with as light an environmental footprint as possible.
“We’re trying to be as green as we can and to use local products as much as we can,” said Nadeau, a Toyota Prius driver who also runs a commercial painting business and has a master’s degree in fire ecology from Colorado State University.
Nadeau sold his first coffin last year. He has built 20 and sold 15 since. The caskets come in three sizes, ranging in price from $375 for an unassembled, rectangular box suitable for shipping, to $775 for an assembled, hexagonal coffin with rope handles and a linseed-oil finish.
Jack Dionigi of Boulder ran across the Nature’s Casket Web site while shopping for a coffin for his recently deceased father.
“It’s something my father would have liked because of his respect for nature,” Dionigi said. “And he was a woodworker and cabinetmaker, so I know he would appreciate the craftsmanship.”
Nadeau said the bulk of his customers like the firm’s environmental approach. Others have purchased the coffins because of their preference for a simple product.
Green burial – a broad concept that can include biodegradable caskets, formaldehyde- free embalming fluid or no embalming, and lack of concrete vaults – is a growing trend.
The Green Burial Council lists about 300 funeral homes nationally that offer variations of the service, up from just a handful in 2008. Home funeral services also are on the rise.
Nadeau said he can’t predict how big Nature’s Casket will become, but he’s expecting growth.
Pine used in Nadeau’s caskets carries the subtle yet distinctive blue streaks characteristic of beetle-killed wood – a byproduct of a fungus left in the trees by the insects.
The coloration is prized by some woodworkers, who pay premiums of up to 100 percent for it, compared with conventional knotty pine. At Centennial Wood in Denver, blue- stained, tongue-and-groove paneling sells for $2.25 to $2.50 per square foot , while regular pine goes for $1.25 to $1.50.
Yet ironically the blue stain is unwelcome by most bulk wood buyers in the construction business, with high-volume sawmills being forced to discount prices on beetle-killed pine.
That’s one reason Colorado has been unable to attract enough sawmills and wood-product businesses to create a market for all the beetle-killed trees foresters would like removed for fire-prevention and safety reasons.
“There’s a tremendous amount of supply – more than we can accommodate with the current (wood processing) infrastructure and the marketing of products,” said Tim Reader, a forest-products marketing specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service.
The majority of Colorado’s harvested dead trees are used by wood-stove pellet makers in Kremmling and Walden. A smaller percentage goes to sawmills for use by flooring and furniture makers.
Even Nature’s Casket’s relatively minuscule wood consumption is large compared with the symbolic use by Crazy Mountain Brewing Co. of Edwards.
The brewer said it will make all its beer-tap handles from branches harvested from beetle-killed pine.
“Our aim is not only to pair craft-made tap handles with our craft-made beer,” the brewery said, “but to help protect and clean up our valuable forests.”