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What is a Green Funeral?

Green Burials

A green funeral causes minimal environmental impact and minimizes funeral costs, usually eliminating need for a casket and/or cremation. Everyone has to go at some point in time, so why not go green? Here are some tips on how to have a green funeral.

1. Learn about Green Funerals. Not long ago, the idea of green burial was unheard of by most funeral directors, and today, for a variety of practical and emotional reasons, many people still frown upon the idea. However, there are signs that the industry is getting used to the concept. A growing number of products and services can help them do just that. Key points to think about include:

Funeral Directors: Ask your funeral director about more sustainable options, or seek out a funeral home that can offer green practices.

Specialists: Green burial specialists can help you explore greening your final resting options.

Literature on Green Funerals: Read one of the books that can guide you through the hard process.

2. Be Clear. If you are reading this, you are most likely interested in the idea. Be sure to discuss funeral arrangements with your family about this concept well in advance. Death is often a difficult process and your family members may not think to consider the environment in making arrangements. Even if they do, they may not have a grasp on what are the best and greenest courses of action to take. To further enforce this, add a clause in your will or create an advanced funeral wishes document that stipulates your green funeral concerns. Consider including a copy of this guide with your instructions.

3. Cremation. On the face of it, cremation doesn’t seem like an altogether green idea. Burning anything causes pollution, especially if there are toxic substances present, and returning nutrients to the ecosystem via decomposing matter is a core tenet of environmental thinking. That said, modern crematoriums have made significant reductions in emissions. Additionally, many cemeteries (particularly in the U.S.) have rules and regulations stipulating the use of concrete vaults, coffins, and other such requirements that use significant resources and space. Becoming one with nature isn’t as straightforward and easy as it may seem at first glance. Cremation may make more sense from a green perspective. If it seems like the right choice to you, you can ask the crematorium about what they are doing to reduce emissions.

4. Bury Your Remains. Ultimately, our remains are part of the food chain and the natural process of decomposition. Unfortunately, many of the trappings of modern burial–such as embalming, hardwood coffins, and concrete vaults–are designed to delay decomposition. Though these ideas have become modern standards, the truth is that anything we can do to return to the earth more easily will lessen our impact on the environment.

Preservation: Embalming slows the decomposition process. For those whose tradition does not designate embalming as part of the burial practice, consider skipping this step, and opt for a closed casket and rapid burial.

Coffins: Cardboard, bamboo, or jute coffins, shrouds, or biodegradable urns are all dignified ways to unite with nature more rapidly.

Green Burial Grounds: The Green Burial Council and other organizations are taking strides to develop and identify sustainable burial and cremation practices.

6. Give Gifts of Sympathy. Cut flowers have a short shelf-life; besides, flower-farming can be a resource-intensive endeavor. It’s already common practice to ask for donations to charity in lieu of flowers; after all, what better way to remember the dead than to create a better world for the living? From organizations that provide solar power to the developing world to others that provide bicycles for AIDS caregivers, charity-giving is a magnificent way to honor the endeavors of deceased friends or relatives.
5. Leave a Living Marker. It can be important for mourners to have somewhere to go to remember their loved ones long after the funeral is over. Natural or living memorials can be wonderful alternatives to quarried headstones or marble mausoleums. Consider planting a tree or a bush that will carry on in honor of the deceased. Online memorials are also becoming increasingly popular.

7. Explain Your Greenness. So much of what we hold dear about a person includes their ideals and convictions. It is fitting, then, to commemorate the life of a departed fellow environmentalist with a memorial ceremony that touches on the subject of the environment. We are not suggesting a 6-hour lecture on Earth Theory, but a joyful remembrance of a passionate green life well-lived. With more and more faiths and denominations from Catholicism to Judaism and beyond embracing stewardship of the environment, it shouldn’t be hard to find a minister with sympathies for your cause. Green funeral providers and any funeral director will also be able to offer advice on how to create a unique, personalized ceremony.

8. Green Up Your Funeral Service. As with any event, much of the environmental impact is in the details. Even if you don’t opt for any of the ideas above, you can still make a funeral greener by incorporating the following practices into the memorial:

Programs: Use recycled paper for programs or hymn sheets.

Flowers: Source any flowers from organic, local growers.

Procession: Make arrangements for carpooling from location to location during the funeral.

Refreshments: If the deceased was an environmentalist, the chances are they enjoyed local, organic food. If refreshments are being served, it makes sense then to look closely at where they come from.

9. The Ultimate Recycling. I’ve already suggested that using biodegradable coffins or urns, and avoiding concrete vaults, can help reduce our impact by returning our remains to the earth. However, some folks are taking this even further by finding safe ways to literally compost human remains.

10. Return to the Woods. The woodland burial movement, which started in the UK, is widely credited with the birth of interest in natural funerals in general. Not only do woodland burials involve low impact ceremonies, they also aid in the return of a piece of land to a natural forest. Trees and native wildflowers are often planted above a grave, and because the location becomes dear to the families of the deceased, chances are good that the site will remain protected for years to come.