Americans are leaning more and more towards being environmentally conscious consumers. As a society we have become accustomed to: recycling, composting, conserving water, purchasing locally made goods and locally grown food, driving fuel efficient vehicles, utilizing reusable coffee mugs, researching product manufacturing labels, and generally engaging in activities that reduce our personal carbon footprint and foster minimal impact on the environment. Why not continue with this behavior when considering options for end-of-life rituals? Most people are surprised to learn we have environmentally friendly choices for our grand finale, classified as “green” or “natural” burials.
A green, or natural, burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact. This could pertain to aiding in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and/or the restoration and preservation of natural habitats. There are many ways to “go-green” on a burial including:
Foregoing embalming of the body, even if there is a viewing (totally legal!)
Use of non-toxic and biodegradable burial containers: opting for a bamboo, wicker, or banana leaf casket, or natural materials for urns
Selecting a non-toxic and biodegradable burial shroud; they come in many designs and colors.
Some of you may be wondering how you ensure that the funeral service provider and materials you have selected are legitimately green-options. That is where the Green Burial Council comes in. Established in 2005, the Green Burial Council (GBC) endeavors to provide the public with the information necessary to find providers offering green services and products, and plan a funeral and burial with minimal environmental impact so that individuals can incorporate their environmental ethic into their final act. To search for funeral homes and cemeteries that support green burial, use the Funerals360 Search Feature and Refine Results using "Green Burial" option.
You can further narrow down your options by using the zip-code feature to Refine Search Results. Keep in mind, these are providers that claim to offer “green options”. The only way to be sure they have been recently vetted is to review the GBC’s “leaf” eco-certification rating, which offers the most current list of certified green-burial providers, grounds, and product manufactures.
The GBC’s eco-certification program set forth the world’s first standards for green burial- created with input from scientists, environmentalists, lawyers, and funeral service industry providers in an effort to provide consumers with the peace of mind that providers offering “green” services have been thoroughly vetted. You can find an up-to-date list of funeral homes, cemeteries, and products in North America that have been certified by the council by visiting the GBC “Find a Provider” page.
As with "traditional" funeral planning, the first step that you should take when researching burial options is to know your legal rights when it comes to green burials: Green burial is legal in all 50 states! There are three parts to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule” that are of particular interest to anyone planning a natural burial:
You may provide a funeral home with a casket or urn purchased elsewhere, and may not be charged a fee to do so, and may not be obligated to be present when the casket or urn is delivered to the funeral home.
Federal law does not legally require embalming, and no state law requires embalming either- only select states require that embalming be used if a body is not buried (or cremated) within a specific timeframe.
In fact, if you opt for immediate burial or direct cremation, no form of preservation is legally necessary. If it is needed, refrigeration is typically available upon request. Finally, be sure to download the Green Burial Council Green Burial Planner to assist you with planning your green burial. This document provides a checklist of everything you need to do in order to arrange a green burial. It can help facilitate the planning process and can serve as a detailed description of your funeral arrangement wishes for your family and loved ones, funeral home, cemetery, and/or attorney to fulfill. Be proactive and share your desires while pre-planning since wills and other legal documents are often not attended to until days after a funeral has already occurred.
About the Author and The Green Burial Council
Monica Varona is the Communications Manager at the Green Burial Council.
The Green Burial Council is an independent, tax-exempt, nonprofit organization working to encourage environmentally sustainable death care and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas. The GBC’s eco-certification program set forth the world’s first standards for green natural burial grounds, green funeral homes and green burial products to provide consumers with the peace of mind that providers offering “green” services have been thoroughly vetted. Their “leaf” rating system indicates the level of eco-consciousness that each provider has achieved so you can select a funeral service provider or products that meet your personal green criteria.