What Green Cemeteries Are and How They Benefit the Environment

In 2007 the AARP conducted a survey and discovered that 21 percent of adults aged 50 and over wanted to know about planning environmentally friendly burials. Green burials are becoming a more popular choice for pre-planners as wells as for families making time-of-need arrangements. Also called natural burials, these options typically include the following practices:

  • Interring unembalmed bodies
  • Using biodegradable coffins and/or burial shrouds
  • Eliminating concrete burial vaults and liners

Cemeteries and funeral homes alike are making the transition to greener, more sustainable methods. For instance, green cemeteries are unique because they do not use headstones, markers or mausoleums. Green cemeteries also lack the traditionally well-manicured, fertilized lawns and paved driving paths in exchange for a more natural, native landscape.

The concept of a green burial sounds a little strange to a lot of people today. However, modern funeral and burial practices are a relatively recent tradition. Green burials were the norm throughout most of our history, and in Europe greener funeral practices are used out of necessity due to limited space. In the United States, land for burials has been easy to come by, delaying the need for greener burial traditions.

Benefits of Green Cemeteries

Environmentally friendly cemeteries serve a couple of purposes. They allow people to choose a natural burial option, and they also serve as a way to protect and conserve land. Most green cemeteries form a partnership with land conservation groups.

Green cemeteries are cheaper and more sustainable. They are not as densely packed as regular cemeteries. For instance, at a green cemetery called The Meadow in Ferndale, Washington, graves are a roomier 6 by 12 feet, rather than the traditional 3-by-10-foot space. Instead of traditional headstones, unpolished, locally sourced rocks are sometimes used to identify and remember the dead. Concrete vaults are not used, rather settling and sinking is prevented by mounding dirt at the site.

The landscape of a green cemetery utilizes native species and helps to restore the natural ecosystem of a given location. Many green memorial parks are designed to be multi-use facilities where people can enjoy nature as well as remember those who have died.

Proponents of the green burial movement are excited to see the number of eco-friendly and sustainable cemeteries growing each year. In some cases conventional cemeteries are making the transition one section at a time. In other areas, new spaces are being set aside in an effort to provide green burials space and preserve natural ecosystems. Both are promising for the future of green cemeteries.