What is a Green Burial?

What makes green burial different than a traditional one? I long for a day where there will be a simple answer, but I fear that day will not arrive.  Those of us that are helping to facilitate the green burial movement are also the ones that are creating our own biggest roadblocks.  The terminology we use and our eagerness to include any funeral and cemetery practice that doesn’t fit into mainstream funeral business have brought us to a place where no one really knows what constitutes eco-friendly services and products.

What makes a burial green?: Where you bury them and how you wrap them up.

Where you bury them is easily described and researched at The Green Burial Council. They have divided the types of cemeteries that offer green burial into three categories:


  • Conservation Burial Ground – super green [my emphasis]
  • Natural Burial Ground – pretty green
  • Hybrid Burial Ground – green area carved out in a traditional cemetery

How you wrap them up is a little more complicated because there are more variables. 

  • Embalming is the universal taboo in the green movement. Everyone has an opinion about it, and virtually no one thinks that it has a place.  It’s true that it isn’t good for the environment, but some traditions require it. 
  • Caskets should be carefully considered to identify how and where they are made.  Find one that is made nearby and from sustainably harvested products. Pine, willow, and bamboo are safer choices.
  • Vaults, also called liners, are the outer burial container that maintains the integrity of the grave. These are almost as loathed as embalming in the movement, but are likely to be required in a hybrid cemetery.  My suggestion is to go to the lowest cost concrete liner because it won’t contain the plastics and steel of the higher end vaults. 

What is notable within these two categories of wrapping and burying is that reducing the impact that we have on the local ecology is incredibly simple to achieve with minimal effort. Green burial, in whatever form you choose, is a keenly personal decision.  When you are researching green burial for you or a loved one, look close to home first. Is there someone in your family that has a passion for sewing to make a burial shroud? A woodworker that would make a casket? When you involve your family, you involve people in the healing and grieving process.  Being part of something significant brings more meaning than just buying what’s easiest.

As this movement grows in interest and support, we will see that the acceptance and understanding will create its own standards, terms, and definitions.  You may need to work through the terminology in your research, but that research will give the process more meaning and will help you to work through the process knowing that you are doing it thoughtfully.

Jeff Jorgenson, LFD/Founder

Elemental Cremation & Burial, Seattle, WA


Elemental Cremation & Burial is a green provider dedicated to creating memories for families that are something to be cherished. Our attention to local needs, customs and ecology means that we are committed to creating a sustainable and sensitive partnership with the people around us.


02 Dec 2017

By Jeff Jorgenson