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Friday, October 31, 2008

Funeral Directors Conference Gets the Greening

It could be that funeral directors averse to green burial decided to sleep in on the morning that Joe Sehee, Darren Crouch and I hosted a panel on green burial at the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors Association in Orlando earlier this month. (Not that I begrudge them the extra shuteye: we did start at 7:00 am.)

But the seventy or so who did show up – and the larger group that attended our roundtable discussion later that afternoon -- seemed to accept the fact of a green burial movement. At least no one contradicted the Jewish funeral director who, very eloquently, stated that green burial was clearly an idea whose time had come and that his colleagues would do well to get involved.

The questions and comments that followed suggested that many of those funeral directors had moved beyond acceptance and were looking to actually venture into planet-friendly burial. Some of those comments and my replies:

One funeral director told the group that he could refrigerate remains and provide the biodegradable coffin easily enough. What he couldn't offer his natural burial clients was a cemetery that would allow for a vaultless grave.

Supply is an issue -- for now. Green cemeteries are springing up around the county (there are some 20 by my last count). I know another score are in various stages of planning. That does not include the growing number of regular cemeteries that are allowing for vault-free burial or are reserving sections of their grounds for natural burial preserves. We'll see hundreds of these open to burial in the coming years. As demand for natural cemeteries increases, sites will grow.

Is it possible to have a home funeral for remains that had been autopsied or whose organs had been removed?

At the biannual conference of the Funeral Consumers Alliance last June, I'd asked that same question of Jerrigrace Lyons. Jerrigrace, one of the country's leading authorities on home funerals, said that she had held home funerals in such cases, with no issues. Addressing the possibility of fluids leaking from autopsied remains, Darren Crouch said his company was in the process of developing a biodegradable plastic body bag that could be used to capture liquids for the period of a home funeral.

How much are green cemeteries charging?

Prices vary widely from cemetery to cemetery, but most tend to be in the $2,000 to $3,000 range for the plot, plus another $500 for the opening and closing. High? Maybe compared to regular cemeteries. Although I would argue that burial in a green cemetery is a worthy investment in more than just one's interment: the burial not only nourishes soil and pushes up vegetation (rejoining one's remains to the cycle of life that turns to support those we leave behind) but in the best of schemes helps preserve good land from being developed. A powerful legacy, I'd say. Also, in cemeteries that have partnered with land conservation organizations, some of the cost may be tax-deductible.

After the morning session, I walked the huge convention showroom which, as much as anything, proved that the funeral industry is indeed a multi-billion dollar business.

Still, I was pleased to note a number of green enterprises.

One of them is Ecoffins, a British company that's producing coffins made from a biomass of compostable material, like bamboo and the wicker that's woven into the casket pictured above.

I'll report on them and on other green funeral providers in the coming weeks.

Mark Harris
Author, Grave Matters (


Anonymous said...

"It could be that funeral directors averse to green burial decided to sleep in....But the seventy or so who did show up – and the larger group that attended our roundtable discussion later that afternoon -- seemed to accept the fact of a green burial movement."
Though I continue to read this blog with an open mind, it is this type of commentary towards Funeral Service that makes me feel criminal for even trying. Please accept us as we accept you. As I have written for NFDA and other blogs, the younger generation of Funeral Directors see Green Burials becoming the norm and are not hostile towards its advocates (though perhaps some would enjoy that...)

Mark Harris said...

Hi, Sarah,
Thanks for this thought. I do agree that many funeral directors, particularly those of the younger generation, have accepted and in many cases embraced green burial. I've profiled/mentioned a few of them here and in Grave Matters.

That said, there are funeral directors who are averse to green burial. At least, quite a few have let me know that pretty forcefully and directly! Are they in the minority? Probably and, the way I see the green burial movement growing (by leaps and bounds), I think their numbers will shrink even further -- which is good for families, the environment, and funeral directors themselves.


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Grave Matters

Facebook page for the book on green burial, Grave Matters, with updates on the growing movement.