Greening the office

Not dead yet? There’s still hope for a green funeral.

There’s no getting around it: One day, we’re all gonna die. And while most of us won’t have much control over the circumstances of our deaths, there are things you can do before you go to ensure that your funeral and earthly remains are as light on the planet as you’ve tried to be in life.

If you think about it, there are almost as many ways to green your funeral as there are ways to meet your end. (OK, maybe not that many, but there are quite a few.) And since you never truly know when you’re going to kick the compost bucket or start pushing up the organic daisies, it’s best to consider your options sooner rather than later.

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Here’s how to start.

Level One: The Baby Step

Let’s talk about specs, baby. The single most important thing you can do to ensure that your funeral is as green as you are is to talk over your wishes with your loved ones before your time is up. Whether you’ve grand green burial plans, a simple list of ideas to green your wake, or the faint hope that your mourners will consider carpooling where practical, making your wishes known is key. If your last wishes aren’t clearly expressed, it’s easy for loved ones to just do what seems easiest — a phenomenon you might call Leave It to Bereav-er. And golly, Wally, you wouldn’t want that.

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Level Two: The Next Steps

The cremains of the day. Part of greening your funeral means deciding what to do with your mortal leftovers. Surprisingly, one of the most popular body-disposal options is also among the greenest: cremation. Going up in smoke does have its downside, since part of your charred remains will pollute the air, but having your mercury fillings removed before or after death and choosing a funeral home with a modern crematory built sometime this decade will greatly reduce your harmful emissions, as furnaces have become more efficient over the years.

Bury your eco-woes in a biodegradable coffin.

Six feet understood. If you don’t have a burning desire to, well, burn, consider requesting or even prearranging a green burial as an alternative to conventional burial. Green burials aim to eschew the environment-harming practices that are the hallmark of most funeral homes in the United States, such as embalming with toxic chemicals, using non-biodegradable caskets (often inside a concrete vault), and interring in cemeteries with heavily pesticided lawns and other high-maintenance landscaping. The green burial business is tiny so far, though it is growing. For now, check with the Green Burial Council, or ask your local funeral director for places and services closer to home.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Other green funeral options, such as giving loved ones explicit hints, tips, and instructions about how to green your memorial service or wake via your will, can seem like micromanaging from the grave — but if you don’t mind giving a little direction, you can expand your eco-legacy even while shrinking your rapidly fading environmental footprint. Everything from using recycled paper plates to insisting on local wines and microbrews is fair game. Just be sure to stress simple ideas and make sure to spell out how important it is to you. You might also consider some eco-charitable works as part of your last will and testament. Bequeathing at least a portion of your estate to green groups or eco-activist friends and relatives will help keep environmentalism alive and kickin’ even after you’re not.

Level Three: The Big Step

Who woulda guest? Perhaps the greenest thing your loved ones can do to limit the impact of your funeral is hold your memorial service near where most of the likely attendees already are. This limits the overall amount of air travel your mourners will undertake on your behalf, and as an added bonus it also increases the chances of a better turnout. However, to attract an even larger crowd while staying true to your eco-beliefs, consider requesting that a tech-savvy friend turn your memorial into a tasteful webcast or teleconference for those in far-flung locales who otherwise might not be able to attend.

Now that you know how easy greening your funeral can be, you’re probably dying to get started. Check out the resources below for more inspiration.


Green Burial Council
Natural Burial Company
The Green Funeral Site
Memorial Ecosystems
Forever Fernwood
Ask Umbra on corpses
A Grist feature on the green-burial movement