What is a green funeral?
A green funeral incorporates environmentally-friendly options to meet the needs of a family requesting a green service. A green funeral may include any or all of the following basic options: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or casket; using recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers, organic food; carpooling; arranging a small memorial gathering in a natural setting; natural or green burial.
What is natural or green burial?
In a “purist” natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. Any shroud or casket that is used must be biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers; some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites. A “natural or green burial” may also simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.
What is a green cemetery?
A green cemetery is a burial site that does not permit vaults, non-biodegradable caskets or embalming chemicals. It uses no herbicides, pesticides or irrigation for maintenance of the cemetery grounds. Any material used at a green cemetery must meet the goal of replenishing the earth. There are cemeteries in the U.S. that accommodate both conventional burial practices and vaultless burial on their premises; others incorporate some features of a green cemetery such as sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization.
The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993; in the ensuing 15 years, the number of green burial grounds in the UK has grown to nearly 40. In the United States, one of the first natural burial grounds was opened in 1996 in western South Carolina. Some green cemeteries are established as conservation areas in accordance with specific state laws. There are now green cemeteries in 10 states – California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Utah – with more under development. The resource section at the end of this Q&A provides a link to U.S. green burial information.
When a cemetery does require a vault, do I have “green” alternatives?
Check first with the cemetery to determine what is allowed, such as:
- Casket protectors or grave liners that are open on the bottom, such as those used in Orthodox Jewish funerals, so that the body comes into contact with the earth.
- Using a regular vault that is turned upside-down.
What about cremation? Is it considered “green”?
In general, cremation is not considered “green” because the cremation process uses nonrenewable fossil fuels, even though cremation does use fewer resources than conventional forms of disposition. Cremation also produces airborne emissions. However, cremated remains do not need to be interred in a cemetery, which reduces land use.
What is a green funeral home?
A green funeral home is a business that operates in an environmentally-responsible manner. Owners and staff comply with environmental protection, health, and safety laws and regulations, and follow NFDA’s environmental, health, and safety best practices. Green funeral homes are energy-efficient and follow resource-saving practices, operating in a manner that is sustainable. Sustainable in this sense means business practices that do not deplete resources and that only will have minimal impact on the environment.