Webster’s online dictionary defines the word “green” (as it pertains to products and services) as “not harmful to the environment.” A green funeral (also known as a natural funeral, eco-funeral or environmentally-friendly funeral) is generally any end-of-life ritual that is as harmless as possible for the environment. This can include burial in a green or “natural” cemetery.
At death—the final rite of passage—we use ritual to celebrate, honor and preserve the memory of a life. Many environmentally-conscious families today seek a mix of traditional and green funeral options. aGreenerFuneral.org was created to help you learn more about the subject, and if you choose, help you to plan a greener funeral for yourself or a loved one.
Modern eco-funerals are old and new at the same time. End-of-life rituals, including funerals and memorial services, are among the most significant practices of every culture on earth. These rituals have evolved over thousands of years of human history. Many of the practices associated with greener funerals, such as shrouding, have long been in use by some groups for centuries.
Greener funeral practices are often compatible with the traditions of the major religions. Judaism and Islam, for example, have traditionally called for shrouds or simple wooden caskets and no embalming. Hinduism and Buddhism allow cremation, while traditional Catholicism, Judaism and Islam do not. Consult with your spiritual leader to see which greener or eco-funeral rituals honor your religious tradition.
The essence of a greener funeral is reducing its environmental impact. Many people find that in doing so they also make the funeral more natural and meaningful for the mourners. Among the options for a greener funeral are:
Direct Burial – A quick or “direct” burial without a viewing or visitation service. A quick burial, which is the norm in many cultures, eliminates the need for preserving the body, but the burial may still be accompanied by a funeral or memorial service. If you wish a viewing, the body can be refrigerated instead of embalmed with toxic chemicals. If refrigeration isn’t available, ice or dry ice can be used to preserve the body until burial.
Biodegradable Funeral Products – Use biodegradable funeral products (caskets, shrouds, urns) made of sustainable, eco-friendly materials.
Carpool – Reduce carbon emissions by driving fewer cars to the funeral. Many cemeteries, especially suburban ones, are only accessible by car. Consider shuttling the mourners to the graveside service in passenger vans, or suggest that families and friends carpool.
Donations – Encourage donations to charity in lieu of flowers. If you do display a few arrangements, choose locally-produced, organically-raised flowers. A high percentage of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported; buying locally also reduces the carbon footprint of the funeral.
Funeral Home – The choice of funeral home can make a difference. Select a funeral home that is taking steps to become more eco-conscious. Does the funeral home recycle? Do they have energy efficient (Energy Star) appliances, methods of heating, cooling and lighting?
Many people pre-plan a funeral so that their family will know their final wishes ahead of time. With a little additional planning, that funeral can be a greener eco-funeral as well.