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硅谷做起殯葬新生意:把骨灰埋進森林

Could Trees Be the New Gravestones?
硅谷做起殯葬新生意:把骨灰埋進森林

SANTA CRUZ, California — Death comes for all of us, but Silicon Valley has, until recently, not come for death.

加州圣克魯茲——我們所有人都會被死亡找上門來,但死亡,直到最近才被硅谷找上門來。

Who can blame them for the hesitation? The death services industry is heavily regulated and fraught with religious and health considerations. The handling of dead bodies does not seem ready for venture-backed disruption. The gravestone does not seem an obvious target for innovation.

這種姍姍來遲,也怪不得他們。死亡服務業受到嚴格監管,還充滿各種宗教和健康考量因素。尸體處理工作似乎還沒準備好被風險資本顛覆。墓碑看起來也不是顯然的創新對象。

But in a forest south of Silicon Valley, a new startup is hoping to change that. The company is called Better Place Forests. It is trying to make a better graveyard.

但在硅谷南部的一片森林,一家新的初創公司正希望能帶來改變。公司名為善地森林(Better Place Forests)。它正在試圖創造一種更好的墓園。

“Cemeteries are really expensive and really terrible, and basically I just knew there had to be something better,” said Sandy Gibson, chief executive of Better Place. “We’re trying to redesign the entire end-of-life experience.”

“墓地貴極了,也恐怖極了,基本上我就知道,肯定有更好的選擇,”善地首席執行官桑迪·吉布森(Sandy Gibson)說。“我們在設法重新設計整個臨終體驗。”

And so Gibson’s company is buying forests, arranging conservation easements intended to prevent the land from ever being developed, and then selling people the right to have their cremated remains mixed with fertilizer and fed to a particular tree.

于是吉布森的公司在購置林地,達成保護地役權協議,意在保證今后這片地永遠不會被開發,然后他們將權益賣出去,給那些想將自己的骨灰和肥料混合在一起,給一棵特定的樹做養料的人。

The Better Place team is opening a forest in Point Arena, a bit south of Mendocino; preselling trees at a second California location, in Santa Cruz; and developing four more spots around the country. They have a few dozen remains in the soil already, and Gibson says they have sold thousands of trees to the future dead. Most of the customers are “pre-need” — middle-aged and healthy, possibly decades before finding themselves in the roots.

善地團隊正在門多西諾略偏南的競技場岬開辟一片森林;在位于圣克魯茲的加州第二處地點預售樹木;還在全國開發另外四個地點。他們已經有十來人的骨灰入土了,吉布森說他們還向未來的死者售出了數千棵樹。大部分客戶都是出于“預先需求”——尚在中年且身體健康,落葉歸根可能還要等上幾十年。

Better Place Forests has raised $12 million in venture capital funding. And other than the topic of dead bodies coming up fairly often, the office is a normal San Francisco startup, with around 45 people bustling around and frequenting the roof deck with a view of the water.

善地森林已經籌得1200萬美元風險投資基金。除了頻頻談起有關尸體的話題外,這里和尋常的舊金山初創公司沒什么不同,大約45個人忙來忙去,常常光顧帶水景的頂層露臺。

There is a certain risk to being buried in a startup forest. When the tree dies, Better Place says it will plant a new one at that same spot. But a redwood can live 700 years, and almost all startups in Silicon Valley fail, so it requires a certain amount of faith that someone will be there to install a new sapling.

在初創公司的森林里入葬有一定風險。那棵樹死后,善地稱它會在同一地點新植一棵。但紅杉能活700年之久,硅谷幾乎所有的初創公司卻都會倒閉,所以需要一定程度的信念,相信有人會去種植一棵新樹苗。

Still, Gibson said most customers, especially those based in the Bay Area, like the idea of being part of a startup even after life. The first few people to buy trees were called founders.

但吉布森說大部分客戶,特別是灣區的客戶,喜歡即便是身后仍能成為初創公司一部分的創意。最早買樹的幾個人被稱為創始人。

“You’re part of this forest, but you're also part of creating this forest,” said Gibson. “People love that.”

“你是森林的一部分,也是這片森林創建行動的一部分,”吉布森說。“人們很喜歡這個。”

Bring Your Dog, Forever

帶上你的狗,直到永遠

Customers come to claim a tree for perpetuity. This now costs between $3,000 (for those who want to be mixed into the earth at the base of a small young tree or a less desirable species of tree) and upward of $30,000 (for those who wish to reside forever by an old redwood). For those who do not mind spending eternity with strangers, there is also an entry-level price of $970 to enter the soil of a community tree. (Cremation is not included.)

紐約時報中英文網 www.gwbyzx.live

客戶可以來認領一棵永恒之樹。目前價格在3000美元(欲在幼樹或普通樹種下匯入泥土者)到30000多美元(欲永遠棲息在一棵老紅杉下者)之間。對于不介意和陌生人永久共存者,還有970美元的入門價(不含火化),在共有樹下入土安息。

A steward then installs a small round plaque in the earth like a gravestone.

管理員隨后會在土里安上一塊類似墓碑的小圓牌。

When the ashes come, the team at Better Place digs a 0.9-meter by 0.6-meter trench at the roots of the tree. Then, at a long table, the team mixes the person’s cremated remains with soil and water, sometimes adding other elements to offset the naturally highly alkaline and sodium-rich qualities of bone ash. It is important the soil stay moist; bacteria will be what breaks down the remains.

當骨灰送來的時候,善地森林團隊會在選定樹木的根部挖出一道0.9米乘0.6米的溝。然后,在一張長桌上,工作人員把這個人的骨灰和泥土與水混合起來,有時會添加一些其他的物質,以抵消骨灰本身堿性強、鈉含量高的特點。重要的是讓土壤保持濕度;細菌最終會分解遺骸。

Because the forest is not a cemetery, rules are much looser. For example: pets are allowed. Often customers want their ashes to be mixed with their pets’ ashes, Gibson said.

森林不是墓地,所以規則要寬松得多。例如:允許與寵物合葬。吉布森說,客戶常常希望自己的骨灰能和寵物的骨灰混在一起。

“Pets are a huge thing,” Gibson said. “It’s where everyone in your family can be spread. This is your tree.”

“寵物是件大事,”吉布森說。“每個家庭成員的骨灰都可以灑進來。這是你的樹。”

“Spreading” is what they call the ash deposit. The trench is a “space,” the watering can is a “vessel,” the on-site sales staff are “forest stewards.” When it comes to both death and startups, euphemisms abound.

他們把骨灰沉淀物稱為“揮灑物”。溝是一個“空間”,灑水壺是一只“容器”,現場銷售人員是“森林管理員”。涉及到死亡和初創公司,委婉語總是少不了。

It is all pretty low-tech: mix ashes in with dirt and put a little placard in the soil. But there is a tech element: For an extra fee, customers can have a digital memorial video made. Walking through the forest, visitors will be able to scan a placard and watch a 12-minute digital portrait of the deceased talking straight to the camera about his or her life. Some will allow their videos to be viewed by anyone walking through the forest, others will opt only for family members. Privacy settings will be decided before death.

這全都沒有太多技術含量:把骨灰和泥土混合起來,在土里插上一小塊標牌。但其中也有技術因素:只要額外付費,顧客就可以制作一個數字紀念視頻。在森林里走過時,訪客可以通過掃描標牌,觀看一段12分鐘的視頻介紹,逝者將直面鏡頭講述自己的一生。一些人會允許任何走過樹林的人觀看他們的視頻,另一些人則選擇只允許家屬觀看。隱私設置將在生前確定。

Death Is a Growth Industry

死亡是個增長行業

As cities are running out of room to bury the dead, the cost of funerals and caskets has increased more than twice as fast as prices for all commodities. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a traditional funeral and plot burial often costs $15,000 to $20,000. The majority of Americans are now choosing to be cremated. 紐約時報中英文網 http://www.gwbyzx.live

隨著埋葬死者的空間即將耗盡,很多城市葬禮和棺材花費的增長速度超過了所有商品的兩倍。在舊金山灣區,一個傳統葬禮和墓地土葬開支通常在1.5萬美元至2萬美元。大多數美國人如今選擇火化。

“The death services market is very big — $20 billion a year — and customer approval is low,” said Jon Callaghan, a partner at True Ventures, an investor in Better Places. “The product is broken.”

“殯葬服務市場很大,每年達200億美元,而且客戶認可度很低,”真創投(True Ventures)合伙人、善地投資人約翰·卡拉漢(Jon Callaghan)說。“產品很差。”

The firm’s other investments include Blue Bottle, Peloton and Fitbit, and Callaghan sees consumers of those products as ones who would be interested also in Better Place trees.

真創投的其他投資項目包括藍瓶咖啡(Blue Bottle)、Peloton公司和Fitbit手環,卡拉漢認為這些產品的客戶也會對善地的樹感興趣。

“Every industry seems to have its time when things get wild,” said Nancy Pfund, the founder and a managing partner at DBL Partners, which led early funding. “It’s been mobile apps, it’s been cars, it’s been fake meat, and now it is death care,” she said.

“每個行業似乎都會有一段瘋狂的時期,”從事早期領投的DBL合伙人公司(DBL Partners)創始人兼管理合伙人南希·芬德(Nancy Pfund)說。“已經有過手機應用、汽車、人造肉,現在輪到殯葬服務了,”她說。

Around 75 million Americans will reach the life expectancy age of 78 between 2024 and 2042, Better Place suggests. The company’s pitch is that tree burial is good for the environment, the location is more beautiful than a traditional graveyard — and it is cheaper as well.

善地表示,2024年至2042年間,約有7500萬美國人將達到預期壽命78歲。公司的賣點是,樹葬利于環境,地點比傳統墓園更美,而且費用也更便宜。

Where’s Grandma?

奶奶在哪?

Those tracking the death services industry are more skeptical about how disruptive it will be.

那些密切關注殯葬服務業的人,則對這項服務的顛覆力存在懷疑。

John O’Conner, who runs Menlo Park Funerals, said more than 90% of his clients opt for cremation.

經營門洛帕克殯葬服務公司(Menlo Park Funerals)的約翰·奧康納(John O'Connor)稱,他90%的客戶都選擇火化。

“Most of my people scatter on their own,” O’Conner said. “They just go at night, scatter grandma, have a cup of Champagne, and every day they drive by that park they know grandma is there. Why would they pay $20,000 to go to a memorial grove when they can scatter at any little park they want to for free?”

“客戶大多都自己撒骨灰,”奧康納說。“他們就直接晚上出去,撒放奶奶的骨灰,喝杯香檳,然后每天驅車路過那個公園時,他們知道奶奶在那里。既然能免費在自己想要的任何公園撒灰,干嘛要花2萬美元去墓林呢?”

That act is, technically, illegal.

嚴格來講,這種行為是非法的。

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” O’Conner said.

“別問,也別說,”奧康納說。

Ben Deci, a spokesman for California’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, said Better Place Forests’ activities do not fall under the bureau’s purview.

加州公墓和殯葬局(Cemetery and Funeral Bureau)發言人本·德西(Ben Deci)表示,善地森林的經營活動不受該局管轄。

“It looks to me like they’ve just purchased large tracts for forest land and are allowing people to disperse their ashes, and they say here ‘This’ll be your tree or whatever,’” Deci said. “You don’t need our approval to do that.”

“在我看來,他們只是買下了大片林地,允許人們撒放骨灰,然后他們說這棵‘將是你的樹之類’”,德西說。“做這個不需要我們批準。”

As Gibson hiked across the Santa Cruz forest, he noticed a rhododendron, his mother’s favorite flower, growing out of a stump.

徒步走過圣克魯茲的林地時,吉布森注意到一棵樹樁上長出了一朵杜鵑花,那是他母親最愛的花。

Both his parents died when he was young, and, at 12, Gibson was adopted by his half brother. He is now 36, and, since then, he has spent many afternoons in Toronto at his parent’s grave site, set on a noisy corner, with a shiny black headstone that reflects traffic.

吉布森的父母均在他年幼時離世,12歲時,他的異父母哥哥收養了他。他現已36歲,自那時起,他在多倫多的許多個下午是在父母的墓地度過的。墓地位于一個嘈雜的角落,光面的黑色墓碑能映出附近的車流。

“You remember them dying, you remember the memorial service, and you remember the image of their final resting place,” Gibson said. He was haunted by that badly designed grave site. “It’s comically bad.”

“你會記得他們離世的情景,會記得葬禮,并且會記得他們最終長眠之地的樣子,”吉布森說。那個設計糟糕的墓址讓他耿耿于懷。“差得讓人發笑。”

Visiting their grave in 2015, he decided to quit his job running a marketing automation company. He would make a better graveyard.

2015年拜訪他們的墓地時,他決定辭掉掌管一家營銷自動化公司的工作。他要建造更好的墓園。

“A lot of investors laughed at us when I first pitched this,” Gibson said. “People don’t really like thinking about this.”

“我剛開始推銷這個的時候,很多投資人都取笑我,”吉布森說。“人們真得不大喜歡思考這個。”

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