Green is the New Black
The last ten years has seen a huge increase in the number of natural or green funerals, which are seen as a more environmentally friendly way of returning the body to the earth. Woodland burials now account for about 5,000 burials each year and a recent survey from Avalon found that 40% of people would consider a green funeral. Neville Funerals’ General Manager, Charmian Alexander, talks about the rise of eco-friendly funerals and how as a profession we should not only respond to demand but also educate the public on what is available.
In our profession we’ve see many changes over the years as people want more choice and a greater degree of personalisation from a funeral service. The rise in the popularity of eco-friendly, green funerals first began to emerge in the 1990s and is one of the latest evolutions in how people are choosing to say goodbye. No longer just the provision of niche specialist funeral homes, it’s a trend that is here to stay and as in industry we must all adapt to meet demand.
What is a green funeral?
The specifics of a green funeral vary widely and the extent of how green a burial can be is up to the individual.
The aim is to lay a person to rest in the most environmentally friendly way as possible. Burial is usually in a designated natural burial ground, with a biodegradable coffin or burial shroud to minimise any impact on the environment. The grave may be marked by a tree, but often is left to blend into the natural landscape.
Why do people want them?
In the past, funeral practices have been focused on preservation – sealed caskets and burial vaults designed to protect the body of the person who has died for as long as possible and delaying natural changes which occur after death. The green movement is a huge shift away from this to one which embraces the idea of returning to the earth and turns it into a positive thing.
Planning a funeral is deeply personal and the reasons for choosing one type of burial over another are varied. For many people who opt for a green funeral, it can come down to cost, environmental impact and legacy. Eco-friendly funerals give people the option to leave this world in a way that both protects the environment and allows them to become part of nature.
As the name suggests, ecological concerns is the biggest driving factor in a desire for a green funeral. People who sought to reduce their environmental impact in life, are looking to do the same in death. Green funerals do away with embalming chemicals and other non-biodegradable materials conventional burials put into the earth. They also lack the carbon footprint of cremation; which is estimated to be the equivalent of a 500-mile car journey.
But it’s not just environment concerns that are influencing people’s decisions. It’s also a case of consumer choice as people increasingly desire special and unique funerals. Attitudes towards the rituals surrounding death are changing and are not as conservative as they used to with more and more people turning away from the formality of a traditional funeral service.
How can we support someone requesting a green funeral?
The aim is to offer choices at each step of the process to limit waste and reduce the carbon footprint – from the type of coffin and burial ground, through to the memorial choices.
For a green funeral, coffins, caskets and urns are available in a wide range of materials that help minimise the effect on the wider environment. At Neville Funerals, we offer a selection of biodegradable coffins, made from wicker, bamboo or pine. These materials reduce the need for solid timber, safeguarding the future of woodlands and forests.
Natural burial grounds offer an environmentally friendly, cost effective alternative to burials in a cemetery or graveyard, providing a peaceful, tranquil setting amidst the beauty of nature and wildlife. The first one opened at Carlisle Cemetery in 1993 and there are now around 260 across the UK, more than half of which have opened in the last five years, with new sites planned. Natural burial facilities are designed to offer many benefits to the environment and wildlife, whilst also introducing greater choice for the bereaved.
Natural burial plots are set in areas where trees, shrubs and wildflowers grow and families can choose to bury or scatter the cremated remains of a loved one within this peaceful setting. The sites are intended to be not visually recognisable as burial sites and instead to allow the natural beauty of the site to honour the person’s memory. Instead of a traditional permanent memorial, graves are marked by the planting of a tree or the placing of a simple small wood plaque.
Never before have people been so acutely aware of their impact on the planet and that is something that will only increase with each generation. As funeral professionals we are here to help people say goodbye in whatever way they want. While the desire for more eco-friendly funerals is clearly growing, there is still a lack of awareness of what options and resources are actually available to people. Our job is not only to meet this growing demand but also to advise and educate the public on the more sustainable ways in which they can be laid to rest, and help bring green funerals into the mainstream.