Trees Over Tombstones: Silicon Valley Startup Pitches New ‘End-of-Life Experience'

A Silicon Valley startup is rethinking what happens to your remains after you die by choosing trees over traditional tombstones. 

"I think after you've lost someone, the idea that you can come back to a really beautiful place and see the tree that they chose, that has grown and changed is really comforting," Better Place Forest CEO Sandy Gibson said.

The idea behind the startup is not only to spread ashes in the soil of a specific tree, but to protect the land the tree lives on and reduce environmental impact.

A concept Better Place Forests is marketing as an "end-of-life experience." 

Jennifer Gonzalez / NBC Bay Area

"We take the ashes, we mix them with local soil to re-balance the pH balance so that the natural soil bacteria can break down those ashes into their components that are nutrients for the forest," Gibson said.

The startup has 124 acres located in Santa Cruz and Mendocino counties, with plans for more in Seattle, Portland, Denver and Flagstaff. 

Jennifer Gonzalez / NBC Bay Area
Better Place Forests CEO, Sandy Gibson poses for a portrait at the Santa Cruz forest.

If the company were to go out of business, the tree memorials are safe from development because the land is permanently protected by conservation easements and local land trust. 

Prices for a tree can range anywhere between $2,900 to $30,000 and includes a spreading ceremony, new tree plantings in drought and fire affected areas, memorial markers, traditional upkeep and a visitor center.

Unlike a traditional cemetery, the forests are not open to the general public to maintain privacy and an appointment is requested to visit a loved one. 

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