Can more cemeteries offer green burial?


In a recent article in the Kokomo Perspective, two area funeral directors in Kokomo, Indiana who have worked with families on the green burial option say the paucity of local cemeteries that allow it dampens interest. 

“It’s one of those things where if there was a closer option, people would be more interested. Having to go an hour away where your loved one is buried is an obstacle,” said Matt Grecu. “With it being something that hasn’t really taken hold in central Indiana, cemeteries are pretty leery about dedicating and making a commitment to taking a piece of land and saying, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’ Because once you put one person there and it doesn’t take off, then you’ve got an area of land that isn’t any more accessible to the cemetery.”

Four cemeteries in Indiana offer green/natural burial: Kessler Woods at Washington Park North Cemetery in Indianapolis; Spring Vale in Lafayette; Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville; and White Oak Cemetery in Bloomington. This is a relatively high density--some states (Wyoming, Rhode Island, Louisiana to name a few) have none--but it still means that few Indianans would consider them local.

I also heard recently from two people trying to get green burial off the ground in their communities who were reaching out for advice/information/advocacy. 

What can be done to make green burial local? It helps to show interest by asking for it when you approach a funeral director, but how many times in your lifetime are you likely to do that? Increasing the number of cemeteries would be more effective. It's really a push me-pull you situation: if you have the cemeteries people are likely to be exposed to the option, and if people are exposed to the option, they are likely to ask for it. And cemeteries, as Grecu says, are more likely to invest in green burial if they know people will use the option.

The Green Burial Council offers an educational sheet called 10 Things You Can Do or Say to Promote Green Burial. Number 5 under starting a green burial cemetery in your community is "Get your state Attorney General to write a letter confirming the legality of dispensing with concrete and plastic vaults." It would seem obvious that cemeteries would know this, but businesses can run on assumption and custom and it's easy to just assume that vaults are required. I would add embalming and burial containers into the equation. Customers need to ask and funeral professionals need to know what is required under law.

Another idea is to help an existing local cemetery cost out a hybrid green burial for their operation. This requires knowing what is involved yourself. The potentially higher cost to consumers of hand-dug graves and other non-mechanized operations is usually offset by eliminating embalming, fancy caskets and vaults. However, as these are areas where funeral directors and cemeteries make money it's important that cemeterians understand they can profit from increasing interest in green burial. It's the way of our country; you can't expect professionals to give away their services when they have lives to support.

If green burial is not to be just a flash in the pan, it needs to really take root. Educate yourself and be prepared to promote green burial when next someone asks what you know about cemeteries and funerals.