First Green Burial Conference: A Lively Affair in Boulder
Last week's first-ever green burial conference, in Boulder, Colorado, brought together the broad, eclectic mix of adherents that continue to bear out my long-standing belief that natural burial has the legs to go mainstream.
There were students and septuagenarians. Hospice workers. Vegetarians and MBAers. Cemetery operators and celebrants. A couple of funeral directors and many more home funeral advocates. A few gutsy souls who had the moxie to take the deathcare of their deceased into their own hands, not because they knew it was legal but because they felt it the right thing to do. Even a couple of attendees who'd never heard of natural burial but thought it sounded interesting enough to invest a day learning about.
I gave a version of my ever-changing presentation on the current lay of the green burial landscape, with a history of death in early America and how it evolved into the more elaborate funerals of today. Joe Sehee, of the Green Burial Council, provided an update on the natural cemeteries across the country he has helped start.
The Q&A sessions and open forums that followed provided an interesting window into how some are viewing the green burial movement and what issues the movement does and may face.
• Green in green burial? A pair of businessmen wondered how to make green burial pay out. Up to now, the natural cemetery has largely provided a strategy that offers not just a dust-to-dust burial but a way to preserve land from being developed. Profit margins, to the extent there are any, are thin. To increase them, the MBAers talked of burying more bodies per acre than is currently the case, partnering with conservation organizations, growing natural cemeteries on or near the urban cores where large populations dwell. The challenge, as they acknowledged, is to do that and stay true to real-green conservation principles.
• Natural cemeteries may draw too many visitors. One of the goals of the natural cemetery is to reconnect people with the land, by inviting them to see it less as a graveyard than as nature preserve to delight in. So it's possible, one cemeterian noted, that locals might overtax their natural cemeteries, arriving in huge numbers and despoiling the land in the process.
• Ensuring that green cemeteries remain green. A great question from one of the green burial neophytes: what's to prevent the future owner of a green cemetery from deciding to, say, allow for the burial of embalmed bodies or metal caskets? For Joe Sehee the answer is in making sure that green cemeteries partner with reputable conservation organizations, which act as ecological stewards of the land. That's just the kind of arrangement he sets up with the conservation burial grounds he helps establish.
Not surprisingly, the Boulder gathering was friendly to natural burial. I'll report next week on the response I get from a tougher and, perhaps, more suspect audience I’m addressing on Monday: the funeral directors who are attending the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors Association in Orlando.