Philip Backman – A Moment of Clarity


In the first of a series of how ecoLegacy came into being, we profile a curious young disrupter called Philip Backman, who questioned how best to memorialise the dead….

Chapter 1

A demonstration of freeze dried strawberries in an undergraduate chemical engineering class. The energy crisis of the early 1970s. A two year army posting in Arlington cemetery and a long commute to work on a Honda 350.

A serendipitous mix of elements surely, but elements which for Oregonian maths and science teacher, Philip Backman, came together to sow a seed of an idea. An idea that could, literally, change the world. An idea that we know today as EcoLegacy.

The year was 1963 and having finished college and his military service, Phil was a high school teacher in Springfield. Due to an unexpected adjustment of the G.I. Bill in 1971, Phil took sabbatical leave from teaching to get a masters degree at Oregon State University. This required an eighty mile commute from where he lived in Eugene. Phil had always seen his time on his motorbike as “thinking time” and as he rode his shaky Honda 350 along the winding roads, the seed of an idea began to germinate.

“Some people think the energy crisis is a new problem,” says Phil, “but in the early 70s here in Oregon all people were talking about was how to save energy, how to be sustainable. Being posted in Arlington I’d seen two or three funerals a week, that’s enough for anyone in a lifetime. I knew how much energy each one took, I thought there had to be a better way.”

The better way, Phil’s vision, is EcoLegacy, a gentle, ethical and simple process which uses the minimum of energy and has a positive impact on the environment as well.

Phil remembers vividly how, during his undergraduate chemical engineering class, his eyes were opened to the potential of using science to break down molecules .

“This guy had all these strawberries lined up in front of him. He put his hand around the one that had been treated with liquid nitrogen and I expected it to squash to pulp in his palm like the others, but something different happened. When he opened his fingers it had disappeared, turned to dust in front of our eyes. I remember there was a fan on the demonstration desk that caught the dust and scattered it through the tiered lecture hall. I can still remember our faces as we watched it, the scent of strawberries slowly filled the room.”

With each mile he covered, each bend he rounded on his ‘thinking bike’ his idea grew. “I knew it would work but I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen,” recalls Phil. “I was a school teacher with four children under the age of five. I thought that it was always going to remain as an idea, there on paper. I never dreamed I’d see the process working in my lifetime.”
To be continued…..Check out next week’s blog and continue Phil’s Journey with us….

Tony Ennis, Sharon and Philip Backman at our global launch October 2016.