When it comes to planning a funeral, today's options are no longer limited to caskets and cremation. Some earth-conscious folks are eschewing toxic embalming fluid and hardwood coffins for a natural burial -- just the body, maybe in a shroud or pine box. Writing for Grist, Gregory Dicum reports that while green funerals are the buzz -- the mortuary drama Six Feet Under featured two of them -- the demand for such services is still very low. '[T]he two most prominent green cemeteries -- Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina and Fernwood in Northern California -- have performed fewer than 200 green burials between them in the past five years,' writes Dicum. The Green Burial Council is hoping to change that.
The outfit has drawn up the first US certification guidelines for eco-burial grounds in two categories, natural and conservation. The former bans embalming fluids, vaults, and earth-unfriendly grave markers. The latter couples green burial facilities with land trusts -- land for eco-burials would be designated for preservation.
Green Burial Council executive director Joe Sehee is optimistic that the new standards will be to death-care what organic and fair-trade standards are for food. 'Allowing people to feel as though their last act on earth contributes to a positive purpose connects them in an almost religious way to this concept,' explains Sehee. He predicts that several California facilities will be certified by the fall, and, after a year, there will be dozens of certified facilities across the country. Sehee says that the challenge will be getting word out about the services. 'We have these standards,' he says, 'and we have a very credible entity that's put them forth, but no one knows about them.' Dicum points out that even with the new certification program, the services might not take off. Mortuary facilities are wary of investing in a 'cottage industry,' and they won't do so until consumers demand it. But that demand would rely on customers confronting their own demise early enough to plan a natural burial -- something that many Americans avoid.
Time will tell if the new certification program can bring to fruition the natural burials that some people have been hearing about for years. With many people aiming to live lightly on the earth, they may want their death to be conscientious as well. -- Rachel Anderson
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