There are many “shades” of green possible when planning a green funeral or natural burial, based on your preferences, available funeral home services, cemetery capabilities, and local rules and regulations.
A green funeral incorporates environment-friendly options, and may include any or all of the following: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or casket; using recycled paper products; serving organic food (if food may be served in a funeral home in your state); locally-grown organic flowers; funeral guest carpooling; 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 burial without the use of a vault or outer burial container on their premises. Many natural or green cemeteries feature sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization.
The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993; in 2012, there were more than 250 green burial sites in operation in the UK. 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.
If there is not a green cemetery in your area, you may still be able to have a green funeral and possibly a burial in a traditional cemetery that incorporates many green elements. The use of outer burial containers or vaults is not required by federal or state law, but is required by many cemeteries. Your local cemetery may have begun to offer green burial sections that do not require vaults or may offer solutions that will allow the casket to be in direct contact with the earth, while still fulfilling cemetery requirements for an outer burial container. In many rural areas, vaults or grave liners are usually not required.
Your NFDA funeral director can provide you assistance in determining green or natural burial options in your community.
Green Business Practices
As with the concept of “green” in general, green in funeral service means practicing environmental consciousness and being eco-friendly. While many funeral homes are offering green funeral options, they are also making an effort to incorporate green strategies into their business practices.
Some NFDA member funeral homes choose to participate in the NFDA Green Funeral Practices™ Certificate Program. Exclusive to qualifying NFDA members, this award program recognizes exceptional NFDA funeral homes that have adopted and implemented ethical, sustainable green funeral and business practices in order to become more environmentally responsible to client families, employees, and their communities.