As we confront the reality of human-driven climate change, it is increasingly common to consider the ecological legacy of our lifetimes here on this earth. Whether you are considering green burial for yourself, or making arrangements for a death that has already occurred, here are several basic elements to consider.
- Tell the funeral home "No embalming." The practice of embalming became commonplace before many funeral homes had the ability to use refrigeration. The chemical treatment was a practical concern for being able to hold the body at room temperature. Today, mortuary firms all have refrigerators available to provide temporary storage to un-embalmed remains and there's no longer a logistical need to use embalming. Most funeral homes include the first few days of refrigeration with the price of their basic service package. In some cases, you can even keep the body at home until it's time to take the trip to the cemetery.
- You have options for services or gatherings. Some families may choose to have a small private visitation with the un-embalmed body, or even a ceremony to assist with the dressing and casketing process. For those that are planning a gathering with a larger group, a closed-casket service can typically be held at the funeral home, house of worship, family home or other location. Some families may choose to keep the burial service to a small group and later hold a big gathering to celebrate the life of their loved one. Funerals take many paths, and some or all of these options may be the right fit for your family.
- Decide what to do about a covering or container. The options range from a minimal shroud to a casket, as long as it meets the requirements to cover the body and aid in transport, and is made of a natural material. The funeral home can assist you in making a selection from a variety of available products, or you can even craft your own. If you are thinking about a shroud burial that will be witnessed in a ceremony, it's best practice to integrate a backboard to support the body during transfer and lowering. Whether your casket is purchased or homemade, some families like to set aside a time to customize the box with decorations or handwritten tributes.
- Look for other ways to "green" your ceremony. Let the community know you'd prefer a donation to an environmental charity in lieu of flowers. Consider if a digital solution can replace printed programs for the service, which are often discarded after only a few hours' use. If many guests will travel long distances to the service, it's possible to purchase carbon credits to offset the emissions of the trip. You can also order a tree planted in memory of your loved one.