Green Burial and Green Funerals: Shades of Green
By: Ken Holmes
Green burial, also known as natural burial, is actually an old concept. Essentially, it involves burial of unembalmed remains directly in the ground, using a shroud or a biodegradable container, and without a concrete vault, so as not to inhibit natural decomposition. The family might even dig the grave by hand. The grave could be marked with plantings (wildflowers or native plants), a rock, a tree, or nothing. In some green cemeteries, graves are located using GPS coordinates. In many ways green burials are simply a return to burial traditions of the past. Some religions and cultures have continued to practice those traditions for centuries. Green burial is about having less impact on the environment, conserving natural resources, reducing carbon emissions, and preserving or restoring natural habitat.
Some people choose cremation, thinking it is a green alternative to Western traditional casket burial. How green is cremation? Some people believe that the carbon footprint of cremation is larger than for burial. For example, in India, where cremations are done by families at the river’s edge, it takes about 600 pounds of wood for one cremation. In modern crematoriums fossil fuels are used instead, releasing carbon monoxide and other emissions, including mercury from fillings, into the air.
Green funerals, whether cremation or burial, can include any number of green options:
- Funeral arrangements that don’t require embalming.
- Alternatives to formaldehyde-based embalming: refrigeration, dry ice, and nontoxic essential oils applied topically or by injection.
- Caskets or urns made of natural, replenishable, biodegradable materials.
- Environmentally friendly burial ground: green cemetery or memorial nature preserve.
- Use printed materials with a higher percentage of recycled content.
- Plant native trees, shrubs and flowers in memory of the deceased.
- Request memorial contributions to earth friendly organizations.
- Offset carbon emissions.
When considering green options, keep in mind that some may not be available in your area, some may conflict with local laws or cemetery regulations, and some may not work as well in meeting the needs of your survivors. You might feel like Kermit the Frog, who used to sing, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. With some thought and planning though, you can have a greener funeral or burial. From many green options, you may choose as many as possible, or just a few. It’s more a matter of what shade of green. Your local funeral director or funeral planning professional can help you explore these and other options, to satisfy your wishes and meet the needs of your family.
Ken Holmes is a Certified Preplanning Consultant for Lensing Funeral & Cremation Service in Iowa City, IA. In the past seventeen years, he has helped more than 5000 people plan their own or a relative’s funeral.