Green Funerals Aren’t Black and White

Burial decisions don’t have to be “all or nothing.” 

Purple flowers on a hillside with sunlight streaming through trees

Funerals are a way for family and friends to gather in grief and honor a loved one whose life has ended. But they can also be a powerful final act and statement of values. If you’ve lived with concern for the environment, it makes sense to want a more eco-conscious funeral. If you feel a strong affinity for nature, the idea of returning to the earth after death can be greatly comforting.

You don’t have to commit fully to a green cemetery to incorporate more eco-conscious options into your funeral plans. Even small choices can make a big difference to the environment.

What makes a burial “green?”

The terms “green burial” and “natural burial” are often used interchangeably, but people sometimes draw a technical distinction between them. Some will call any eco-conscious burial practice “green.” Others reserve the term “green burial” only for practices, funeral homes, and cemeteries that have been certified by the Green Burial Council and meet its standards.

However you define it, the principles of green burial are the same: to minimize the ecological impact of laying someone to rest, and return their body naturally to the earth.

In practice, this looks like:

  • Forgoing embalming to prevent the release of harmful chemicals into the environment
  • Choosing biodegradable burial containers rather than treated wood or metal
  • Burial in shallower graves without a concrete vault or liner

Many natural burials are also considerate of the natural environment and seek to create a permanent resting place without disturbing the nearby habitat. This might affect the way a grave is opened and closed, whether memorial markers are used, whether decorations are allowed at the grave site, and other ways the land is used. The most dramatic example of this is a conservation cemetery, which is a natural burial ground on land protected by a trust and is often on or near a nature reserve. Fees paid to a conservation cemetery are applied toward local nature conservation efforts.

Can you have a green burial in a traditional cemetery?

As more people have become interested in green funerals, many traditional cemeteries have begun to adopt more eco-conscious practices. Some have started setting aside a portion of their grounds for natural burials. Others can accommodate a family’s request to forgo the use of a grave liner or to use an alternative style of liner that does not inhibit natural decay.

If you are preplanning your own green funeral or making arrangements for a loved one, you can reach out to the cemetery to ask about their eco-friendly accommodations. If you’ve been reluctant to consider green burial because you wanted to be buried where family could visit, or because your loved one wanted to be buried in the same cemetery as their relatives, it’s worth asking. You might be surprised at how willing to accommodate you the cemetery can be.

Green practices come in many shades

Our lives affect the earth in a myriad of ways. Even small changes can add up to a big impact over a lifetime: eating less meat, recycling, walking to the store instead of driving. Some people choose to have a home funeral or arrange burial in a conservation cemetery. But even a small choice, like opting for an untreated pine casket rather than one made from steel, can have a lasting positive impact. Your comfort level, budget, values, and desires are the most important considerations.

If you need help understanding all of the options available to you or just want some guidance in planning an eco-friendly funeral, the staff of French Funerals & Cremations can help. Call us at 505-275-7200, or visit the French location nearest you.

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