The green corner: how green is thy pasture?

It's hard to pick up an industry publication these days without reading some mention of "Green Burial." A lot has been said about it recently but from my chair, the idea and terminology may be confusing to some. Because it is, presumably, a relatively new idea in this country, let's explore what green burial is all about, and why it's important that we are well versed on the subject to best assist our clients and families.

Green burial is, simply put, an earth-friendly alternative to traditional burial practices and to cremation. The body is interred in a biodegradable casket or shroud, and buried in an eco-cemetery, a natural burial preserve, where the body is "returned to the earth" to decompose and recycle naturally. As much as we think this is a revolutionary idea, it isn't. For thousands of years, mankind has buried loved ones in much the same manner; caskets and vaults are concepts of the modern era.

How popular is green burial?, a non-profit organization that promotes green burials, lists five U.S. cemeteries, which have set aside area for, or are exclusively set aside for green burials. GreenSprings Natural Cemetery in New York opened in 2006 and has 93 acres dedicated to green burial. Forever Fernwood in California opened in 2004 and has 32 acres. There is an 81-acre tract in Texas called Ethician Family Cemetery, and in South Carolina, the Ramsey Creek Preserve and Memorial Ecosystem has 32 acres and opened in 1996.

I recently had dinner with an old friend who had just returned from a visit to the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve, a 350–acre green burial preserve in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, about halfway between Mobile and Tallahassee. My friend, who is not an industry provider, was with some friends, visiting the park. He was literally swept away with the beauty and serenity of the grounds, and of the dramatic variation in landscaping present. Lakes, streams, massive trees and vast expanses of brush and lawns... he said that it was breathtaking.

Clearly, the green burial alternative has aesthetic attraction, and admittedly, that there are positive environmental considerations. But will green burial transcend the rich heritage of traditional burial? Are we collectively watching the beginning of a trend? If you ask the Green Burial Council, a non-profit that is one of the voices behind environmentally sustainable deathcare practices, the answer is "yes". Among other activities, GBC offers a certification program that "guarantees transparency and accountability on the part of deathcare providers, along with a commitment that they operate in an ecologically sound manner."

Have many people chosen green burial? It's difficult to say, as there are no hard statistics because the idea is relatively new. However, a recent poll on the AARP website indicated that 70.4% of those polled chose green burial. Considering the Baby Boomers' generational mass of influence, it's a safe bet that we'll continue to hear and read about the practices of green burial.

In talking with cemetery owners and managers, objections to and concern about green burial are understandably prevalent. But if you think about it, green burial doesn't have to be "the competition" to traditional cemetery practices... it's an alternative that cemetery owners and operators should consider.

Legal considerations notwithstanding, setting aside areas within existing memorial parks, and creating new ones with the sole purpose of providing green burials strikes me as the best way for traditionals to embrace the new age, because from my chair, fsit's here.

The trend towards green burial is not unlike what we experienced when cremation began to gain popularity. While there are certainly some in our industry who have, for whatever reason, resisted that evolution of our services, the number of funeral homes and deathcare providers who have embraced cremation is encouraging, and I suspect that over time, we will all embrace green burial as well... and whatever comes next.

Rest assured, I'll be here to tell you all about it.

Andrew Whitaker is the vice president of Great Burial Reef, Inc. and holds an MBA from the University of Central Florida, and the coveted Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence from the American Society for Quality. He is a lifelong environmentalist, and can be reached at

Great Burial Reef, Inc., based in Sarasota, and founded by visionary entrepreneur Jason Rew, builds living ocean reefs and honors our loved ones by permanently placing sealed urns containing their cremated remains within the reef structures.