Green burials

colorfulcasket.jpgAlmost ten years ago now Bruce Sterling was talking about the green movement in design. Not many people were listening then, but he started Viridian and kept at it. I don’t always like his bombastic approach but I do admire him for his tenacity. Now every time you turn on the tv there is talk of the greening of America. Green burial is not design in the strict sense we’re used to, but it is a part of designing our environment responsibly and contributing to those ideals even in death. At the end of February KQED did a beautiful video segment on green burials and the effects of embalming. Their report reveals that due to our “casket consumption,” we bury more metal each year than what was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge along with 1.6 million tons of concrete that would pave a double lane highway from California to Phoenix. Wow. Each year. There’s another audio report here, on Good Dirt Radio which mentions land conservation, the legalities of home burial, and finding a green cemetery near you. Both sites contain links to green burial resources locally and around the country. Very handy stuff to bookmark. Trust me, we all will need it someday.

Cremation is also mentioned and they highlight the same spot that my friend John said I should visit, Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes. “The columbarium was designed by Julia Morgan and is open to the public. It consists of a labyrinth of little galleries and open air gardens. But the best part are the “library” rooms full of shelves full of urns shaped like books! What an amazing idea. I love sitting in rooms surrounded by books. But in these rooms, every book was a human life. While there I pondered what kind of book urn I might want to rest in. I think maybe an unassuming little volume tucked away in a corner near a cozy chair.” Another link between libraries and cemeteries. Now I know I said I like tiny spaces, but when it comes to books, I think I’d like to be the size of the OED on one of those fancy stands! How grand would that be? (Thanks John! Photo credit: KQED QUEST Flickr set)



  1. Green burials do represent an eco-friendly alternative to “traditional” burial rites. They also are a cheaper alternative, with costs averaging between $1,800 – $2,000. A burial with embalming, casket headstone, etc. can range from $3,000 – $9,000.

    A recent AARP survey of their members showed that roughly 70% would be open to a green burial. So, the demand would appear to be there. It’s just a matter of getting the funeral industry to support (although given the cost estimates above, the likelihood of a rapid adoption seems remote).

  2. I think there are incentives beyond the financial gain that will propel more people towards green burials. I was talking with a funeral director recently about how cemeteries are funded and grants that are often required to keep them from falling into disrepair. If the long view is kept in sight it will be better for everyone concerned if more green practices are incorporated for the life and health of the cemetery itself, and I have faith that the generation of boomers whose parents are passing away will do their homework.

    By the way Sam, very nice series of articles here You are obviously providing a very useful service. I think what will take a while to catch on is for the public to understand and appreciate there are places online where their memories can live on after the burial itself. I think you and I instinctively turn to technology because we are intimately familiar with it and the people online are almost an extended family. But promoting and marketing services like and will have a bit of a challenge waiting for the next generation of users who automatically turn to social networks for solace.

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