Grave Matters is critical of many of our modern funeral customs, from the use of bulletproof metal caskets and concrete burial vaults to the practice of embalming (whose step-by-step procedure I lay bare, it all its glory, in chapter one).
The book's kinder to funeral directors. In large part, that's because I met too many caring, decent and dedicated directors in the course of my research to warrant a wholesale bashing of the dismal trade. Like the ones in Texas who waive their cremation fee because of the hassle a client family goes through to obtain a death certificate in the midst of holding a home funeral. Or the funeral director in my own hometown who, not knowing I was writing a book, told me that buying a fancy wood casket for a cremation was just a waste and that a simple card- or particleboard container more than sufficed.
To my surprise, frankly, I also turned up quite a number of funeral directors who approved of the green burial concept and could understand its appeal to the communities they served. The challenge, they told me, was to make the leaner, simpler sendoff work for bottom lines already pressured by the growing cremation rate, increased competition from big funeral firms, and the like. But, still, they were willing to consider it.
Since the book's publication last year, green burial has morphed into a mainstream phenomenon that even wary members of the funeral industry now recognize they can't ignore. Funeral directors who show up at my presentations tell me they're adding green burial goods and services to their General Price Lists in order to accommodate the growing, green demographic in deathcare (to wit: this 2007 survey by AARP). I take their information and direct families to them when I'm asked for referrals for earth-friendly funeral directors in the area.
Now, the Green Burial Council has made them even easier to find. A couple of weeks ago, the Council posted this list of funeral homes in nearly a dozen states across the United States that have earned the Council's eco-certification.
To gain a place on the list, the funeral homes must agree to provide families with "services/products that do not involve the use of toxins or materials that are not biodegradable." For families, that means they can walk into any Council-certified funeral home and know the directors there understand not only what green burial represents but how to accommodate it. More specifically, it indicates that the funeral home will use refrigeration or dry ice to preserve the deceased in lieu of embalming, and also offer caskets that break down readily in the environs of the grave.
To date, some fifty funeral homes have earned the Council's green seal of approval and a spot on the Approved Providers list. Joe Sehee, the executive director, tells me another hundred will soon join them.
The Council's certification is a clear win-win for all involved. For consumers, it directs them to the nearest eco- and family-friendly funeral home, with click of a mouse. For funeral directors, certification -- which runs $250 -- gains them families that are likely to employ their services.
Directors benefit in other ways, as well. Once they're certified, funeral directors get free technical assistance from the Council (on best techniques for using dry ice, for example) and access to on-line courses and webinars on green burial methods. And, of course, funeral homes can then advertise themselves as eco-friendly to their communities, getting a leg-up on the competition.
Next Friday's post: An interview with Joe Sehee.
Mark Harris Author, Grave Matters (www.gravematters.us)