Funerals — and, by extension, burials and cremation — are intended to mark a person’s life and legacy after their death. Unfortunately, funerals also tend to leave a mark on the environment. Overcrowded cemeteries, acres worth of hardwood, and thousands of tons of steel all make the burial process leave a massive carbon footprint. And cremation results in millions of pounds of carbon emissions. Both methods exact a devastating toll on the planet.

Recompose is hoping to change that. The company offers a greener alternative to burial and cremation: human composting. Recompose’s system converts bodies into soil, allowing people to return to the earth naturally. We reached out to Recompose founder and CEO Katrina Spade to learn more about the benefits of human composting and how the company created its own market.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

Recompose logo
Company: Recompose
Security Type: Equity - Preferred
Valuation: $76,074,578
Min Investment: $1,000
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Oct 1, 2023
View Deal

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Recompose provides the service of human composting as an alternative to cremation and burial. Our process transforms human bodies into soil that can then grow new life. Our flagship location, Recompose Seattle, is a full-service funeral home specializing in human composting. Our team cares for people all the way through the death care journey. 

Recompose has two business arms: We are opening and operating more facilities like the one in Seattle and we are licensing our proprietary green funeral technology to partners all over the world.

What inspired you to take the leap and start Recompose?

It was less of a leap and more of an evolution. I started the work as a graduate student in architecture. I was exploring the U.S. funeral industry from a very personal perspective because I didn’t want to be cremated or buried. I was also looking at it through a design lens, like, what would I want to exist? My thesis was an early concept for Recompose — a place where humans would be composted and ritual around that event would be encouraged. I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t start with a business plan or from a business perspective, because I am sure I would have talked myself out of the idea altogether.

I graduated and started to realize that more people than I initially thought were interested in the concept. Turning into soil and rejoining the natural ecosystem is a powerful idea. The foundation Echoing Green deserves a lot of credit that human composting exists. In 2014 they awarded me a fellowship, which allowed me to quit my day job and focus entirely on building community, running early proof of concepts, and getting some of the legal strategy figured out. I started a 501(c)(3), ran a Kickstarter, and met some incredible advisors. (Tanya Marsh, funeral and cemetery legal expert and Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, soil scientist, are two who have been instrumental in getting Recompose to where it is.) It turned out that people were excited about human composting and the option of something other than the status quo funeral. We started to get press and I was speaking at conferences and figuring out how to make it available to the public.

Around 2016 it hit me that I might talk about the idea for the next decade or two but never quite get it going. I decided to found a company to raise more capital, and Recompose was born in 2017. Recompose is a public benefit corporation, which means our bylaws have social and environmental requirements alongside profit. All of our investors are in it for the mission and impact first, and they know this is a long-term investment. I didn’t want to start a company that didn’t lead with its values, and that is something my team and I are constantly working on.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Recompose is made up of two broad categories of staff: our death care practitioners and the people focused on growing Recompose. The practitioners include our Services Team, many of whom are licensed funeral directors, and our NOR Team*, the people who are tending to the transformation of bodies into soil. Many of our death care practitioners come to Recompose because they have seen the funeral industry firsthand and believe in a better way. 

Two of the teams focused on growing Recompose are Capital Projects and Marketing and Outreach. We’ve designed the Recompose process and equipment to be replicable for ease of licensing/franchising. The Capital Projects Team is in charge of opening new facilities and creating licensing agreements with partners. Their background is in commercial real estate development and facilities management. Of course, Marketing and Outreach is important for almost any company, but for Recompose, we have to start by educating the public that this brand-new green funeral option even exists. Then, we show the benefits (environmental, emotional, etc.) so that people can decide if it’s right for them. The people on our Marketing and Outreach Team come from backgrounds in music production, marketing, and death care.

*NOR stands for natural organic reduction, the legal term for human composting.

You didn’t just enter the human composting market, you created it by lobbying, which is impressive. You might be the best person in the country to answer the following question: How do you see your market evolving?

After almost 10 years of developing this idea and building community around it, I am convinced that human composting is going mainstream.

To me, composting humans is a fundamentally urban solution to the problem of a toxic funeral industry. Rural places have natural burial, a nearly perfect process. But in our cities, we don’t have tons of land for any kind of burial. So cremation becomes the default, but for most people, it’s not a beloved idea or even meaningful, and it doesn’t align with people’s desire to leave the planet in a good way. Composting our dead allows a return to the earth, provides benefit to the planet, and is scalable and uses space in a way that can conceivably take care of billions.

What is Recompose doing well right now and what are the next steps to improve your service?

I think we are building a beautiful company, from the brand materials like our website to the way our teams care for people. We work really hard to be consistent in our messaging and view clarity of communication as a form of care — especially around the end-of-life, which can be so difficult.

One of the things we’re especially excited about is building Precompose, our pre-arrangement program. This is an incredible marketing tool and a way to secure future customers today. We have so far mostly responded to organic interest for Precompose, but now we are building out an awesome team to grow that program.

Who are your typical clients?

We’ve directly cared for more than 260 clients since we’ve opened. All backgrounds, all ages, and from all over the world. Everyone from off-the-grid naturalists to ranchers who want the simplest way to go back to their land to folks who just want something different — young activists, home makers, small business owners, artists, doctors, scientists, and engineers.

We also have more than 1,300 Precompose members, many of whom are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Precompose members can pay all at once or monthly toward a total, and the money goes into trust until they die. These folks are ambassadors of Recompose. They are passionate and help spread the word about human composting. Precompose is a way to bring people into our community in a really tangible way.

Your customers are one-time clients. In this specific context, what is your growth strategy?

Because one’s funeral is only a one-time purchase, it’s important that Recompose build a beloved and trusted brand. Thoughtful design, a meaningful client experience, and being a leader of the green funeral movement are all part of that effort. 

And although it’s true that each person purchases their funeral only once, it is also true that every single person on the planet will die someday. Every person has a body that needs to be cared for and people they are leaving behind who will benefit from a meaningful and sustainable funeral choice.

We look forward to seeing where Katrina and her team take the company. Recompose is currently raising on Wefunder.