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									 GREEN TRENDS

Green Perspectives
The green movement has become a hotbed of controversy in the death-care industry. It’s a topic that should be on the
minds of all funeral directors, whether you agree with its practices or not. The following are two essays from Joe Sehee
and Don Morris, representatives of the Green Burial Council, providing their opinions on issues the green industry is facing.

                                              Sensing changing concerns, primarily        Similar to what the Environmental
                                           among eco-conscious consumers who           Protection Agency has done through
                                           are demanding authenticity and clarity      its EnergyStar Program, the GBC is
                                           as much as transparency and account-        creating a tiered program where a
                                           ability, the Green Burial Council will be   casket earns a particular rating of
                                           revising its standards for approved         “one leaf,” “two leaf” or three leaf,”
                                           burial containers. While earlier guide-     depending on such things as whether
                                           lines placed an emphasis on a fairly        a burial container uses a shell
                                           limited number of issues, the new ones      composed of sustainable harvest
Perspective 1:                             will enable consumers to better under-      materials, contains materials that
Can a Green Casket Make a                  stand the effect a product can have on      would never impede the process of
Better World? By Joe Sehee                 an expanded set of environmental            decay and regeneration or is not
                                           issues, including:                          manufactured too far from where it’s
  Increasing numbers of manufacturers         • Elimination of toxic materials         made available to the public.
are producing “green” caskets. But how        • Conservation of energy                    All GBC-approved burial products
can families truly be made to under-          • Reduction of carbon emissions          will still be required to be constructed
stand (and often be asked to pay a            • Preservation and restoration           from plant-derived or un red earthen
premium for) the environmental                  of habitat                             materials and none that are toxic or
purposes these caskets claim to further?      • Protection of worker health            would release toxic byproducts during

16                                                                                        American Funeral Director • April 2010
manufacture, in use or through               Conservation burial grounds,                        intended to accommodate gradations
expected processes of breakdown.          which are cemeteries that facilitate                   of green. It will also make it easier
  Veri cation will be done by an          ecological restoration and/or                          for the GBC to manage green-
independent third party, which will       landscape-level conservation, involve                  washing. While some in this nascent
provide to the GBC all corresponding      a steward such as a land trust, whose                    eld prefer to view things as either
analysis and documentation. This          primary responsibility is to monitor                   green or not green, it’s increasingly
will also bring about a much-needed       and enforce the standards of the GBC                   dif cult for an eco-certi cation out t
system of checks and balances, and        that are usually embedded in a                         to give a thumbs up or down about
shift a great deal of burden off of the   conservation easement. Since these                     anything.
GBC. Other trust providers will also      organizations are not doing graveside                     For example, toxicity is often quite
be involved, such as Forest Steward       checks, how are they able to know,                     easy to understand, but determining
Council, which will verify, for           for example, whether a cemetery                        the embodied energy of a product
example, that timber has been             operator may be violating the terms                    can be an enormously complicated
harvested in an environmentally           of the conditions of the easement by                   matter. Too often, it means dealing
sustainable manner.                       allowing for the burial of caskets that                with moving targets while aiming
  Casket certi cation was not             contain materials that are toxic and                   with instruments that are far from
something that the Green Burial           will not readily degrade? These                        precise.
Council had originally intended to        entities have begun to realize that                       At some point in the not-too-
get into. But as funeral directors        without a way of vouching for burial                   distant future, the GBC hopes to
began having misgivings about repre-      products, they’ll be taking on some                    integrate life cycle assessments,
sentations being made by various          potential headaches as well as a lot of                sometimes also referred to as “cradle-
manufacturers,         many     began     unnecessary liability.                                 to-grave” analysis, but only when it
approaching the GBC about helping            The GBC’s updated approach,                         becomes economically viable to do
set the bar, vet products and allow       which is similar to what it did with                   so. Until then, the GBC – with
families to feel con dent about the       its burial ground standards, is                        limited resources, a mostly volunteer
legitimacy of a product’s environ-
mental aims. Green cemeterians are
                                          Photos (from left to right): 1) A funeral ceremony at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve in New York.
also getting on board, particularly       (Photo courtesy of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve) 2) Scenes of a family painting a loved one’s
those involved in facilities requiring    casket. (Photo courtesy of Jerrigrace Lyons) 3) Family members lay flowers on a grave of a loved one at
more environmental stewardship.           Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve)

American Funeral Director • April 2010                                                                                                          17
staff and a whole lot of bubble gum        Green Eternally,” appeared on the          reasons. Eco-friendly options include
and popsicle sticks – will do what it      front page of USA Today. Positive and      embalming with formaldehyde-free
can to keep a fence around eco-            prominently featured stories on              uids, such as iodine, salt or natural
friendly death care, so that all aspects   funeral service by mainstream media        plant extracts, and the use of dry ice
of it, including the manufacturing of      outlets are few and far between. As a      in place of embalming before a
caskets, continue to serve the             former funeral director, now an            viewing, he says.”
interests of the death-care industry,      advocate for eco-friendly death care          As I reread this section several times,
the environmental/conservation com-        working with the Green Burial              I began to lose it. Let me tell you why.
munity and the general public.             Council, I began reading it with much         This industry spokesperson speci -
                                           anticipation and even a little pride.      cally tells the American public with
                                              James Olson, a licensed funeral         much conviction that embalming is
                                           director      and      the     “green”     required by funeral homes when the
                                           spokesperson for the NFDA was              body will be viewed by the general
                                           quoted early in the piece, saying that     public due to health and/or aesthetic
                                           the day has arrived for green              reasons. Then with another voice he
                                           funerals: “If (consumers) have a true      just as clearly says that consumers do
                                           concern for the environment, we’re         in fact have options to it, acknowl-
                                           going to do all we can to provide as       edging other nontoxic modes of body
                                           much as we can to them.” That              preparation.
Perspective 2:                             sounded great, if not a little lawyerly-      After passing along the article to
Mr. Olson, Tear Down that Wall!            like. Then the article went on: “Olson     several friends and colleagues, I
                                           says embalming is required by              discovered that these statements caused
By Don Morris
                                           funeral homes only when the body           for them a similar kind of cognitive
 Several weeks ago, a story titled         will be viewed by the general public,      dissonance – a condition that psycholo-
“Eco-Conscious Rest Easy Going             because of health and aesthetic            gists tell us can cause confusion within

18                                                                                       American Funeral Director • April 2010
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some, and anger for others.                create in the minds of the public does   that’s not enough.
   What Mr. Olson and the NFDA             our entire eld a huge disservice.          Constructing a device that
seem to be attempting is to construct      What Mr. Olson and the NFDA fail to      purportedly protects the public, which
a wall between two distinct kinds of       take into account is that when           in reality is intended to protect an
funeral service. The rst is practiced      Americans can’t tell which kind of       institution, never works in the long
by those who still very much believe       funeral service they’re going to be      run – neither for the public nor the
in the necessity of embalming and          offered, they may opt for a direct       institution. To Mr. Olson and to the
can’t imagine how a proper funeral         cremation, which allows them to          NFDA, I say, tear down that wall!
can take place without it, even though     avoid the funeral director altogether    And if you won’t, at least take good
a lot of people have gured it out. The     and have an outcome they can             cover as it crumbles. To every funeral
other is the kind offered by men and       control.                                 director, I suggest you begin to
women who want to assist families in         Members of the public do not need      consider whether you’re prepared to
doing whatever they deem appro-            to be made to feel as though they can    defend embalming at all costs or to
priate when it comes to honoring the       get whatever they want from any          offer death care services in line with
dead, healing the living and inviting in   funeral director. What they need is to   the values, attitudes, lifestyles and
the divine, including accomodating         feel that there’s a way to weed out      demands of our changing world. •
more environmentally sustainable           the people who will willingly serve
ways of facilitating sanitation, preser-   them from those who won’t. The
vation and restoration of a decedent.      Green Burial Council has attempted
   While putting up a wall between         to relieve some of this guesswork, at        To find more information and
these two camps may, in the short          least for the growing number of eco-        news on green burial, visit the
run, be a strategic way for the NFDA       conscious consumers, by requiring          Green Burial Council’s Web site
to manage its diverse and often            that GBC-approved providers at least       at
disparate      constituencies,      the    de ne in their General Price Lists
confusion, and even anger, it can          their eco-friendly offerings. Even

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20                                                                                     American Funeral Director • April 2010

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