Green Burial

Shrouded body in gravesite, photo courtesy of MemorialEcosystemsHome funerals naturally progress into green burial. Burial is “green” when it furthers legitimate environmental and societal aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat.

All cemeteries can be more eco-responsible simply by relaxing their vault requirements and encouraging the use of biodegradable containers and products.

To find a green burial site near to you, there are two resources to take a look at:

1. Green Burial Council (GBC) certified. This means the cemetery aligns with the GBC’s standards, goals, and mission. At a time when the FTC is saying that consumers need to be skeptical about environmental claims (60% of which they say are empty ormisleading), a seal of approval from a credible organization that uses verifiable standards is what distinguishes GBC providers from any others. Check the Green Burial Council list of providers map.

2. Here’s a comprehensive list of natural burial spaces in the US and Canada. There are quite a few more on this list – many of which are in the process of GBC certifications.

Ask an Expert

Q: Can an animal dig up a body in a green burial?

A: Find out if they can, plus other pressing questions like smell and water contamination in the top ten questions about green burial.

Q: I’ve been invited to a green funeral. What can I expect?

A: You are an integral part of the service. Because the burial will be outdoors in a natural setting, dress accordingly. The grave will be about 3.5 deep instead of 6 feet, to stay within the aerobic soil zone. The body may be in a pine box or even shrouded. Find out all the details and more in  On the Way to the Green Burial Cemetery: A Guide for Families.

Q: How far could you travel on the energy used to cremate people in North America in one year?

A: Find out in Cremation Statistics by Mary Woodsen and Henry Fitzgerald.

Articles

Sheila Champion, founder of the Good Earth green burial groundNatural Burial: Bringing Death Back Down to Earth  Raised to see cemeteries as “spooky” and alienating, Champion is pleased to help regreen—and reclaim—the cemetery as a place of life. And, honestly, how scary could a graveyard named The Good Earth be, especially with a caretaker like Champion around? “I’ll be the old lady without the cats but with goats and a cemetery,” she says, with a hearty laugh. “My grandkids will love it.” by Mark Harris, The Progressive 9-3-2016

Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Green Funeral Terms  What the heck is the diff between green burial, home burial, blended funerals, and more? Find out the definitions here to help define common terms, including biological, hydrological, and soil language. A must read. By Lee Webster, Funeral One blog 6-3-2015

What’s a Death Midwife? Inside the Alternative Death Care Movement Char Barrett, progressive funeral director, breaks it down. From funeral cooperatives to green burials, there’s a kinder, gentler, less expensive way to die. By Jennifer Luxton, Yes Magazine 9-3-15

Notes from a Home Funeral “It felt intensely natural to take matters into our own hands this way. American families had conducted their own funerals for hundreds of years. When had our loved ones been taken from us by the institutionalization of death?” by Rebecca Novick, Huffington Post 6-30-14

Amy Cunningham, funeral director

The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals Progressive funeral director Amy Cunningham shows why Baby Boomers Are Drawn to Green and Eco-Friendly Funerals. By Susan Chumsky, The New York Times 3-12-14

For In-Home Funerals, a 21st Century Revival a throwback to the 1800s, a growing number of families are turning to do-it-yourself vigils. By Jeff Strickler, Star Tribune 11-30-11

Think Outside the Box: Being Green at the End of Life  It’s time we laid our current American burial practices to rest in favor of a more authentically Catholic—and eco-friendly—approach. By Joe Sehee, U.S. Catholic Faith in Real Life 11-2011

Books

Changing Landscapes: Exploring the growth of ethical, compassionate, and environmentally sustainable green funeral practices compiled and edited by Lee Webster. All the thought leaders in this collection have one central theme in common: finding ways to honor our commitment to ethical and compassionate funeral practices that nourish the relationships between families and providers, the profession and the public, and human beings and the Earth.

Hoffner_Green_Burial_Guide_cover_imageThe Natural Burial Cemetery Guide Ann Hoffner has documented the hard-to-find, nitty-gritty details of every known green burial cemetery in the Northeast in one succinct, information-packed book that is bound to be of immense service to anyone looking for a natural and healing burial alternative to our current environmentally and spiritually flawed practices. The lovely images of green burial cemetery graves, trails, woodland, and meadows capture the essence of what we all wish final resting places to be: soothing, sacred, safe, and serene.

Greening Death bookGreening Death: Reclaiming Burial Practices and Restoring Our Tie to the Earth by Suzanne Kelly. Learn the philosophical and historical backstory to the green burial movement. Explores the obstacles and other challenges getting in the way of more robust mobilization. As the movement lays claim to greener, simpler, and more cost-efficient practices, something even more promising is being offered up—a tangible way of restoring our relationship to nature.

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry by Mark Harris. A landmark book detailing funeral practices from toxic to natural

Video

Steelmantown Cemetery  captures the true essence of what the definition of natural burial is, and would be the closest thing to actually being fortunate enough to participate in one. 2015 (28 min.)

Cover of film 'Dying Green'A Will for the Woods What if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Musician and psychiatrist Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial in this immersive documentary. (94 min.)

Saving One Million Acres for Two Thousand Years TEDx talk by Dr. Billy Campbell (14 min.)

It’s What She Would Have Wanted TEDx talk by Claire and Ru Callender, sextons of a natural burial ground and progressive funeral directors of Totnes, UK (17 min.)

Dying Green focuses on the revolutionary idea by Dr. Billy Campbell of using our own death and natural burial to fund land conservation and create wildlife preserves. (23 min.)

Green Goodbyes Proponents of natural burial want to reduce the pollution and resource waste associated with funerals, which also includes burying masses of hardwood and steel. One solution is to use eco-friendly biodegradable coffins made out of cardboard or even banana leaves, increase natural burial sites, where plots blend in with the natural surroundings. Follows a woman trying to start the first green cemetery in MA and families selecting green plots.  7-22-13  (10 min.)

Green Burial – KQED QUEST A look at green burial families, featuring Joe Sehee (Green Burial Council founder) and Jerrigrace Lyons, Final Passages founder  (10 min.)

Home Funeral Merilynne Rush discussed the culture of avoidance/fear/denial, embalmbing, making death sacred again, how cremation is not environmentally friendly, and more. 9-25-12  (20 min.)

Podcasts

Listen | NPR On Point features Amy Cunningham and Esmerelda Kent on  funeral trends including eco products and practices, green burial council certification, economic impact of traditional burial, sturdy non religious shrouds, legal barriers, history of embalming, decorating funeral caskets, disposition and cost of green burial and more.  4-10-14 (46 min.)

Listensara williams friends with death | Listen to Sara Williams talk about home funerals and green burials with Olin Campbell on ‘The Meeting Place’ on WBAG 1150, a local station in North Carolina.  6-26-15 (24 min.)

Listen | NPR affiliate featuring Holly Pruett and Linda McCormick on variety of home funerals, hybrid funerals, disposition options, legal issues, green burial, green cemeteries, and the importance of ritual for community.  12-2015 (24 min.)

Listen | The Reluctant Home Funeral Guide – Ellen Macdonald of Eloise Woods Natural Burial Park only wanted to open a green cemetery, but she’s had to wear the hat of home funeral guide, funeral officiant, and grave digger. You’ll appreciate Ellen’s down-to-earth manner and sense of humor as she tells some of her stories from the graveyard. NHFA monthly teleconference 8/9/2015 (24 min.)

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