I’m getting questions about what makes green burial different than a traditional one. I long for a day where there will be a simple answer, but I fear that that day will unlikely arrive. I think that those of us that are helping to facilitate the movement are also the ones that are creating our own biggest roadblocks. The terminology that we use and our eagerness to include any funeral and cemetery practice that doesn’t fit into mainstream funeral business have brought us to a place where no one really knows what constitutes eco-friendly services and products.
One of the biggest challenges that I see within the movement is the lack of standardization in the terminology that we use. Terms as simple as “green burial” and “natural burial” are used interchangeably but there are those that take great opposition to one or the other. These terms simply refer to any burial that attempts to minimize the impact on our planet, but “green” is a term that many of us reluctantly use because of its faddish nature and “natural” is so vague that many people don’t know what to make of it. Greenwashing is the idea that you can sell more of anything (including oil if you’re BP) by simply saying that something that you are doing is green. Marketing 101: tell them what they want to hear. So much is hyped up as green in the marketplace that we lose the objective point. Terming things as ‘green’ doesn’t speak to the specific impact on our planet. When we talk about green burial, what is it that we are trying to convey? For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to just use the term green burial for simplification.
What makes a burial green is: Where you bury them and how you wrap them up.
Where you bury them is easily described and researched at The Green Burial Council. They have divided the types of cemeteries that offer green burial into three categories:
1. Conservation Burial Ground – super green [my emphasis]
2. Natural Burial Ground – pretty green
3. Hybrid Burial Ground – green area carved out in a traditional cemetery
How you wrap them up is only a little more complicated because it’s harder to bullet point. Embalming is the universal taboo in the green movement. Everyone has an opinion about it and virtually no one thinks that it has a place. I am one of the rare people that think that it has a place in the movement, but only in limited cases and only with eco-friendly fluid. I will discuss that another time, as the topic of embalming, pun intended, never seems to die. What is important to the green movement is the casket and vault. Vaults, also called liners, are the outer burial container that maintains the integrity of the grave. These are almost as loathed as embalming in the movement, but are likely to be required in a hybrid cemetery. There are estimates to the amount of concrete, steel and iron that are placed in graves in the U.S. each year, but the truth is that they are estimates. It really doesn’t matter what the real data specifics are. What does matter is that we are not doing enough to improve how we treat our local ecology.
It is notable with these two main categories is that reducing the impact that we have on the local ecology is incredibly simple to achieve with minimal effort. Green burial, in whatever form you choose to identify with is a keenly personal decision. Everyone has a reason to research and choose a form of green burial and all of those reasons are easier today, than ever, to accommodate. Making choices like the Natural Legacy wool casket is a way to leave a legacy of commitment to renewable and sustainable products. Looking to someone in your family that has a passion for sewing to make you a burial shroud is a great way to involve the family in the process. It may be that you choose a cemetery that is fully involved in land restoration and conservation or that you just try to select a cemetery that has adopted water restrictions policies.
As this movement grows in interest and support, I think that we will see that the acceptance and understanding will create its own standards, terms and definitions. As it stands right now, the definitions and component parts of the movement have had a language that hasn’t come to know itself just yet. Not that you would want to call anyone other than Elemental, but if you do, ask them how they can make your family’s green burial really an eco-friendly experience. You may need to work through the terminology, but it will give the process more meaning and will help you to work through the process knowing that you are doing it thoughtfully.