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Green to the very end

By Kevin Hartley - posted Wednesday, 11 February 2009

If you’ve ever been attracted to the idea of a natural burial or “green” funeral as it’s called, you might be interested to know that you’re not alone! Research has shown that between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of people will opt for a green funeral if appropriate products and services are available at the time of need.

New Zealand based URM Research was commissioned to conduct a survey of 800 respondents to determine public demand for natural burials. Thirteen per cent of those interviewed definitely wanted a natural burial, 18 per cent said they would probably choose a natural burial, and a further 22 per cent were interested but as yet undecided.

Dr Vanda Rounsefell, President of the Natural Earth Burial Society of Australia says:


These results very much confirm our own experience … Natural burials have wide appeal because they just make perfect sense on every level, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even more people choose natural burial as awareness of green options increases.

The Natural Earth Burial Society was formed in March 2008, signalling the emergence of a new community interest in choosing a sustainable and useful way of dealing with one’s mortal remains.

One of the main objectives of the society is to encourage the establishment of dedicated natural burial grounds in Australia. These are ideally previously cleared areas, where “green” burials are followed by a restoration of the local vegetation - plantings instead of monuments. Dr Rounsefell explains:

In a natural burial ground, the body is not embalmed nor boxed up in forest-consuming, plastic-lined coffins. It is returned to the earth in a shroud or bio-degradable coffin to decompose naturally, and over time, becomes part of a living landscape … With the terrible loss of our native vegetation through indiscriminate clearing, it’s an opportunity to leave a really meaningful legacy in perpetuity. It’s a beautiful concept, and an option I wish had been available when my mother died a few years ago.

But there’s more to a green funeral than just the burial ground. There many ways to ensure a greener funeral. For instance burial is a better choice than cremation because of the use of fossil fuels and production of carbon dioxide and toxic air pollution; choosing a shroud or bio-degradable coffin saves valuable resources (and money) and you should think carefully about the eco-cost of the types of flowers and memorialisation chosen.

Dr Rounsefell concludes:


In the big picture, the environmental impact of funerals isn’t as significant as pollution from cars or electricity generation, but choosing a green funeral does make a difference collectively. As the late Robert Theobald used to say “Change happens when many people do one thing a little bit differently”. It’s a considerate parting gesture for your children that sets an example for them to follow and a place to be proud of.

In the United Kingdom where natural burial has been embraced, there are some who are taking it to the next level by handling the entire funeral without a funeral director. While the idea of DIY funerals has an appeal to some, most of us will choose to have a funeral director to assist us, and here in Australia, there are a few progressive funeral directors who are embracing the green future with open arms.

For example, an Adelaide based company has recently introduced the “bio-pod™”; a modern, green alternative to traditional coffins. Made with low environmental impact fibres, such as jute and hemp, both the inner shroud and protective outer “pod” are 100 per cent bio-degradable. A specially designed “church bearer” allows the bio-pod to be used in place of a traditional coffin in any situation. It is, according to the funeral director, “visually pleasing, totally practical and completely in line with best environmental practice”.

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About the Author

Kevin Hartley is Director of Natural Shroud Burials (Inc White Knight Funerals) and a Committee Member of Natural Earth Burial Society of Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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