These days, it seems like everyone is investing in ways to “go green” – including the funeral business. Across the funeral industry, firms are developing new, environmentally-conscious means of laying the deceased to rest. These include skipping embalming and using burial methods that more purposefully benefit trees and plants, as well as caskets that biodegrade more rapidly into the ground.
But what constitutes a “green funeral” is still very much a matter of debate. In fact, some of these green options aren’t what they seem and others simply aren’t that viable.
All this makes defining “green funerals” a tricky endeavor.
So What Qualifies as “Going Green” in the Funeral Industry?
In short: it depends.
Many of the green alternatives currently being offered by funeral homes and death care professionals are not all that eco-friendly, at least not by the standards we apply to other industries.
Cremation, for example, burns fossil fuels. Embalming chemicals used to prepare a body for a funeral service inevitably end up in the ground. And all caskets, no matter how well they’re designed, take up a lot of room.
And, sure, burying an un-embalmed body in a biodegradable casket might be a greener, more natural option than traditional burial methods but not by much.
Which begs the question: can something that’s only a slightly lesser evil be considered better?
Still, Some Emerging Burial Options Are Truly “Green
Despite the ambiguity concerning official definitions of what makes for a green funeral, there are some practices that are undeniably better for the environment.
Take, for example, the evolving practice of burying remains in cocoon-like sacks beneath newly-planted trees wherein the deceased becomes sustenance for the tree. Or the alkaline hydrolysis process (also known as bio-cremation, resomation, flameless cremation, or water cremation), in which remains are cremated using water and chemicals instead of heat and flame. This produces bone fragments which are further processed into cremated ashes.
These new methods and technologies are admirable for their ambition and, yes, they are eco-friendly. But they also require an outsized amount of effort and time, which raises a different question: do green alternatives matter if their widespread adoption amounts to nothing more than an environmentalist’s pipe dream?
Alkaline hydrolysis, for example, is currently legal in only 18 states.
The Bottom Line: The Vast Majority of Funerals Today Are Not “Green” and Cremation Still Remains the Most Popular Option
All in all, green funerals remain a fascination of the fringe.
In the US, 86% of funeral homes are mom and pop shops that have been operating in the same way for decades. And most people who hire their funeral services aren’t interested in being environmentally-conscious – they are seeking closure and comfort in their time of need.
What that typically means is burying their loved ones in a family plot or increasingly opting for cremation.
In fact, cremation has become the most popular funeral choice overall because it is the lower cost option, and also due to the geographically fractured nature of American families, traditional funeral services are no longer logistically easy.
It’s a trend that’s going to last. Right now, 51% of funerals are conducted by way of cremation and in another 10 years, that number will be closer to 60/70%.
Will flame-less cremation catch on? Will people become more interested in green burial? Perhaps. But given how much cheaper and easier cremation is compared to the other options, it doesn’t seem likely.
So What Should We Make of the Green Funeral Movement?
At the end of the day, it’s not much of a movement. What qualifies as a green funeral remains up for debate, and the options that definitively do qualify as “green” aren’t popular enough to make any kind of cultural impact.
But just in case you and your loved ones are interested in these natural funeral and burial methods, you can take solace in the fact that they do exist if you’re willing to look.
And who knows? This discussion has only just begun. The future of funerals may turn out to be green, after all.Back to Knowledge Center