By Gail Rubin

A staggering amount of resources are spent annually on traditional funerals, with a huge environmental impact. Every year, conventional burials utilize more than 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid, putting toxins and carcinogens into the earth, over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete for vaults, more than 90,000 tons of steel and 27 hundred tons of copper and bronze for caskets, and 14,000 tons of steel for underground vaults.

That’s enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge each year, and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit, according to Joe Sehee, Executive Director of the nonprofit Green Burial Council.

The rising interest in green burial is in fact a return to the practices that our forebears used prior to the rise of the modern funeral industry. Green burial fosters returning to the earth as naturally as possible and eschews embalming, sealed caskets to shield the body from the earth, and cemeteries of unnaturally sculpted acres.

Providers are rising to address this interest, committed to reducing toxins, waste, and carbon emissions associated with conventional end-of-life rituals. The Green Burial Council provides an eco-certification program for those in the funeral industry who wish to embrace it.

Sehee said, “Our mantra is we want to make burial sustainable for the planet, meaningful for the family, and economically viable for the provider.”

Green burial grounds can also serve as wildlife sanctuaries and nature preserves that restore and protect ecosystems. The organization has certified over a dozen burial grounds around the country. When a green cemetery is operated as a nature conservancy, purchasing a burial plot can be a tax-deductible contribution.

Sehee speaks to funeral directors nationwide on the growing trend. “We’ve harnessed a lot of consumer demand, created awareness for this idea, and we’re increasingly getting funeral homes and cemeteries to get on board,” said Sehee. As of 2009, the Green Burial Council had certified at least 65 funeral homes.

“My feeling is the real driver is connected to spiritual issues,” said Sehee. “I think our culture’s inclination to deny death is more associated with some of the ickier aspects of conventional death care that you don’t want to think about.”

“Consumers should know they do have options, no matter what end-of-life ritual or disposition choice appeals to them,” said Sehee. “And they can find providers who will accommodate them – that’s going to be increasingly easier to do.”

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Gail Rubin is the author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die Visit her blog, The Family Plot, at

A Good Goodbye