Protecting the environment, the preservation of natural resources, energy conservation, and the authenticity of green marketing claims are a few of the “green" issues in today’s headlines that may affect consumer choices about green funerals. Because consumer values and lifestyles are reflected in their attitudes and decision-making about products and services in the marketplace – including their approach to death and funerals – the popularity of green funerals will likely increase.
You need to be aware of green funeral and burial practices in order to serve environmentally conscious families who may ask if your funeral home offers green funerals. Green practices include offering alternatives to chemical embalming, local green burial options, eco-friendly products, such as biodegradable caskets and urns, and other services and products that appeal to the environmentally-conscious consumer. You also need to be aware of local cemetery green burial policies, if any, and to make certain you’re in compliance with any state or local burial restrictions.
There are several "shades" of green possible when planning an eco-friendly funeral. The range of green funeral options your firm provides will be based on consumer preferences, funeral home capabilities, local cemetery practices and regulations, the availability of green products in your market, and other factors.
This resource provides basic information about green funeral options to help you understand and explain what "green" funeral service is to funeral home employees, the families you serve, and your market. Suggestions for some simple "green" alternatives for families who choose this type of funeral are also included.
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As with the concept of "green" in general, green in funeral service means practicing environmental consciousness and being eco-friendly.
Going green in funeral service is a natural consequence of today's eco-consciousness. Any funeral home can offer green a range of products and services to families and implement green business practices.
A green funeral incorporates environmentally-friendly options to meet the needs of a family requesting green products, services or burial.
A green funeral may include any or all of the following: no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products; the use of sustainable biodegradable clothing, shroud or burial container; using recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers or food; carpooling; arranging a small memorial gathering in a natural setting; natural or green burial.
In a "purist" natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming or a vault, using biodegradable, natural materials, in a natural setting.
Any shrouds or caskets used are biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. With this type of burial, memorial markers are usually limited in type, size, and visibility. For example, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers; some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites.
To some families, a “natural or green burial" may simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.
Generally speaking, a green cemetery is a burial site that does not permit vaults, non-biodegradable caskets or the use of embalming chemicals.
Many conventional cemeteries offer green burial options and features, such as sustainable landscape design and natural memorialization, in addition to traditional burial practices. Some green cemeteries are considered natural burial grounds, meaning that outer burial containers, toxic chemicals, and non-natural burial containers are altogether prohibited. Conservation burial grounds are run by government agencies in accordance with specific state laws or by non-profit conservation organizations that may or may not be dedicated to eco-friendly practices. Definitions of “green cemetery” vary.
The first green burial in the modern sense took place in England in 1993 (since then the number of natural burial sites in the UK has grown to over 250). In the United States, one of the first natural burial grounds was opened in 1996 in western South Carolina. There are now green cemeteries in at least 10 states, with more under development. A number of Internet sites list the location of green cemeteries
Yes. A green funeral incorporates available green options.
Research green options that local or other state cemeteries may offer.
Note: while the use vaults (outer burial containers) is not required by federal law, it is in practice required by many cemeteries. Find out if any cemeteries in your area have begun to offer green burial sections that do not require vaults (in rural areas, vaults or grave liners are usually not required).
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.
In general, cremation is not considered "green" because the cremation process uses nonrenewable fossil fuels, even though a funeral including cremation may 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.
- Dry ice. Note: there are well-established safety guidelines for handling, storage, and ventilation when using dry ice as a preservative.
- Formaldehyde-free embalming products. Many embalming product suppliers now offer formaldehyde-free products.
Be ahead of the curve in your community by educating yourself now about the options available to you and to your families.
Be prepared to discuss the array of green funeral options that your funeral home offers to meet the family's needs! Help the family create a funeral that is as green as possible.
A green funeral home not only benefits the environment through operating in an environmentally-responsible manner, including the implementation of green business practices, but also use green business practices as a means to market its products and services.
A green funeral home is a healthy place to work that is oriented to the quality of life of its employees and to the greater community in which the funeral home operates. It is committed to environmental stewardship, waste reduction, energy use reduction and efficiency, water conservation, and using environmentally preferable products, among other practices. Its practices attract positive attention in the community as well as draw eco-minded consumers.
Every funeral home should be in compliance with environmental protection, health, and safety laws and regulations, and follow NFDA's environmental, health, and safety best practices.
First do the research. Investigate green resources in your city, community, and state when you begin to consider adopting green funeral and business practices. Educate and involve your staff
- Explore environmentally sound business programs and options at https://www.sba.gov/content/earth-day/.
- Learn about your firm’s environmental compliance responsibilities by exploring info and links to federal and state resources regarding environmental laws and regulations, as well as federal green guides, at http://business.usa.gov/search/site/Green.
- Follow NFDA’s Environmental Best Practices; post NFDA Best Environmental, Health, and Safety Practices in your prep room; download NFDA Environmental Fact Sheets from http://nfda.org/tools-for-your-business/environmental-compliance.html.
- Explore the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site for green resources including technical support, “how-to” guides, public relations materials for promotional purposes, and links to financial resources such as state and local government grants, loans, and rebate programs, at https://www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/health-topics.
- Use of alternative energy sources for energy efficiency and conservation
- Environmentally preferable purchasing
- Green construction and remodeling
- Green office/workplace practices
- Green landscaping
- Public advocacy for healthier environment
- Energy-saving transportation/fleet practices
- Waste prevention, reduction, and recycling
- Water conservation/efficiency/quality