The Last Act - Green Burial

[This is a guest post by Neil Chambers. -Ed.]You've decided to live in harmony with the earth. It's easier than it use to be, but not the easiest thing in the world. And if you lived forever, the planet would be forever grateful. Of course, eternal life on this planet isn't an option. Now that society at large has figured out how to live better with nature, the question has become: how do we die better with nature?

Enter Joe Sehee . Joe's mission is to offer everyone a way to die in harmony with the environment. He can talk in detail about the negative effects of conventional deathcare. Joe is the founder and acting executive director of the Green Burial Council. He has worked in the green burial field for four years and the deathcare industry for seven.


Joe wants to make green burial a national standard. Green burial bans the use of embalming, vaults, conventional markers, and metal caskets. I thought you had to be embalmed and put in a metal box with concrete wrapped around it. "It's not true, it's just a myth started around the Civil War," Joe explains dispelling the falsehood.

Then I asked about cremation. I told him that my grandma was cremated. She didn't see any reason to take up space in the ground with a body that wasn't being used anymore. Again, Joe corrected me, "Cremation isn't that sustainable either. They don't remove fillings for your teeth which emits mercury into the environment, not to mention the energy used is most likely fossil fuels." Oh, really…damn, sorry grandma.

For the last ten years, sustainable burial has been making strides. The trend began in 1991 in Britain with the launch of The Natural Death Centre and quickly moved to the United States.

There are two ways to be green about death. One is "Conservation Burial Ground" and the other is "Natural Burial Ground."

"The only way to have green burial work is to have enforceable standards," Joe explained as we discussed the announcement about the United State 's first standards and certification program in the deathcare industry. These standards will stop unnecessary pollution from being put in the ground and prevent countless tons of concrete and steel for caskets.

From a global warming perspective, for every ton of concrete and steel there's approximately a ton of carbon emitted. Non-sustainable cemeteries have a density of a 1000 whole-body burials per acre using nearly a ton of concrete and half a ton of steel. Even a conventional 10 acre cemetery could have a Carbon Emission Reduction value of 15000 or more by simply using biodegradable coffins.

The density of sustainable burial grounds are cut back to 100 to 300 an acre. These practices take on added benefits when coupled with efforts to conserve wildlands. "The challenge of protecting endangered landscapes in America is enormous," said Ernest Cook, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land. "We need to develop innovative ways to finance restoration and conservation of these lands. Finding common ground with cemetery operators has great potential." The usage of stones, trees or other natural markers are more appropriate than the more traditional large tombstones. There's a nice ring to the idea that an oak tree would grow above a plot as memory of life.

The cost of upkeep for the sustainable burial sites would provide the needed funds to maintain the ecological quality of conservation lands. "We are seeing a great need for market-based solutions with environmental issues. Green burial is one that will mature in the coming years," Joe explains. It is nice to see a connection between the land of the dead and the Trust for Public Land. Everyday it's getting easier to live a green life, thanks to Joe you can have a green last act too.

See also: ::Green Burials, ::Eco-Friendly Burial lets you be Green Forever, ::The Shroud of Marin- the New Yorker on Eco-Burial, ::Ecopod: Green Coffins -- Bling Optional, ::Promessa Organic AB's Sustainable Burial, ::Green Till the End, ::Death Be Not Proud, ::COOL BUT UGLY: Biodegradable Scattering Urn, ::Real Ecourns by Econatur, ::Design Graduates 2006: Carbon Copies by Nadine Jarvis

[This has been a guest post by Neil Chambers. -Ed]