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How To “Die Green”: Why You Should Consider A Green Burial

April 22, 2021
As society becomes more environmentally conscious, "green burials" are growing in popularity. Read on to learn more!
Written By Catriona HearnApril 22, 2021

Let’s face it, no one likes to think about death. From the first time we encounter it, the entire concept of death and dying is fraught with fear and discomfort. It’s hard to understand and even harder to accept, especially the notion that it’s also inevitable. For everyone.

If we’re lucky, that’s not a big problem. We can steer around it with little consequence. So we put off even thinking about death, especially our own, for as long as possible. By the time we accept that we need to get our affairs in order, including preparing a Will, most of us have given little thought to what we would like to see happen with our physical body after we die.

Traditional forms of disposition

Disposition is a term we use to refer to what happens to your body after you die. For the members of some cultures and religions, tradition can offer guidance when it comes to disposition. Religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism strongly encourage cremation; other religions such as Islam, Orthodox Judaism, and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism strongly discourage cremation and require full-body burial.

For those not guided by spiritual traditions, the default choice is increasingly cremation. As a form of disposition in Canada, the preference for cremation has grown from about 3% in the 1960s to about 75% today. But those who choose cremation may not have questioned whether this is the option they feel most comfortable with.

One option making headlines around the world is green burial. Also known as natural burial, this option is “new” only in that the green burial movement is experiencing significant renewed interest based on it offering a simple, environmental means of disposition.

Why green burial is growing in popularity

For a growing number of people, the appeal of green burial is that it makes more sense in an increasingly secular and environmentally conscious society.

The bottom line with green burial is that the body does not undergo cremation.

This means that fossil fuels are not required to reduce the remains to ash, and large amounts of carbon dioxide (among other gases) are not released.

Instead, the body is buried in the ground with the intent that it will be reduced by natural processes, enabling its constituent elements to gradually be returned to the earth.

How a green burial works

To enable natural decomposition, the body is not embalmed. Instead, it is placed in a biodegradable casket or shroud to allow it to come into direct contact with the earth. This way the body is unimpeded by outer containers such as engineered caskets and vaults, which are typically designed to do the opposite, and “protect” the body.

For a true green burial, the gravesite is not clearly identified with an individual headstone. Instead, any memorialization of the deceased is inconspicuous. The name may be engraved on a simple slab of flagstone or on a communal memorial, such as a natural boulder.

The underlying intent is to minimize the use of nonrenewable energy and resources.

Likewise, the burial area is typically restored to a more natural condition in keeping with the local environment, with native plants to support the broader ecosystem. Instead of manicured lawns, the burial area is managed to enable the overall area to gradually be restored to look like a natural park. Pathways and benches are often added to encourage families to visit, just as they would after a traditional casket burial in a traditional cemetery.

Green burials can offer family members a sense of peace

Throughout the green burial process, family members are encouraged to be engaged with decision-making. In some cases, they may even choose to assume tasks that funeral homes usually take care of.

For those left behind, the effect is often a greater sense of peace and consolation, based on confirming the continued relationship between the bereaved and the deceased. And a reduction in the sense of loss, fear, and discomfort that surrounds what we ultimately understand is just a natural process.

To learn more about Green Burials and which cemeteries are certified across Canada, visit The Green Burial Society of Canada.

Written By Catriona Hearn
Catriona is a committed taphophile, having become intrigued with burial grounds over her years as a cemetery planner and designer at LEES+Associates Landscape Architects. She is passionate about the diverse nature of cemeteries and excited by their potential to function as uniquely sustainable places by connecting people with landscapes as well as with each other. A founding member of the Green Burial Society of Canada, Catriona is now in her second term as President.