Green burial cemetery — what is it?

green burial cemeterySo what is a green burial cemetery?

It’s come up in conversation lately because I’ve been asking family members, How do you want to be buried? Trying, as I should, to walk the talk of a green burial advocate — and plan ahead! One relative said he’d prefer to be buried in a green burial cemetery.

A green burial cemetery aims for the the body’s natural return to earth. Dust to dust, so to speak. Anything that inhibits this return is discouraged or prohibited — especially preservative chemicals, metal coffins, and concrete vaults. A green burial cemetery’s holy trinity of values, by contrast, is

  • no embalming
  • biodegradable shrouds and caskets
  • direct contact with the ground

For our Muslim and Jewish readers, yes, it is permitted here to yawn and roll your eyes. Yes, these three points are and have been hallmarks of your burial traditions for, oh, going on centuries now. Please allow the rest of us to progress, or, more precisely, regress to how we used to do things before the rise of the putting-green perpetual care standards of modern cemeteries.

Three green burial cemetery types

A green burial cemetery falls into one of three categories: hybrid, dedicated, and conservation. A hybrid green burial cemetery is a cemetery with a special green burial area set aside within it. Here’s a good example of a hybrid cemetery in Wisconsin. A dedicated green burial cemetery is one in which all burials are green. A new cemetery, for example, might decide to go all in, dedicated green. A conservation green burial cemetery takes the extra step of seeking to preserve a tract of land as undeveloped, natural space in perpetuity by the inclusion of a cemetery within its bounds. Graves in such a cemetery are marked with minimally-obtrusive flat stones, and the natural landscape remains more or less undisturbed. In theory you could walk through a conservation cemetery without knowing you were in a cemetery at all. It just looks like a good hike.

The Green Burial Council maintains a current green burial cemetery list. The Council is the main certifying organization in the United States for green burial cemeteries and products. (Our coffins here at Piedmont Pine Coffins would, we reckon, earn their highest “three leaf” certification, should we decide to go through their somewhat expensive application process.)