At a time when the environment is influencing so many of our everyday choices, interest in green funerals has never been higher. Whether you are arranging someone’s funeral or leaving wishes for your own, there are plenty of simple ways to make it more environmentally friendly.
What is a green funeral?
Green funerals are those where the environment has been considered in the choices that have been made. You may want to have a completely “green” funeral or it might be important to you to include some environmentally friendly elements without unduly restricting your options.
Some funeral choices are generally regarded as being better for the environment than others but there also remain many questions still unanswered. For example, natural burial is widely accepted as being more environmentally friendly than flame cremation, but the carbon footprint of individual coffins is less well understood (particularly if you consider the entire process from raw materials to their final disposal).
Why choose a green funeral?
There are three main reasons why you might want to consider the environment in the funeral choices that you make:
- A funeral can reflect the beliefs, values and individuality of the person who has died. If the environment has been important to someone during their lives, then it could be meaningful for this to be reflected in their funeral.
- A funeral is often a time for reflection and including “greener” options can be a powerful signal to those present – it might even feel like leaving a legacy.
- It is now widely accepted that we have a responsibility as individuals and as a society to minimise the detrimental impact that we have on the environment – a great number of small changes could add up to a truly significant contribution.
How to I make sure that I have a ‘green funeral’?
If you would like to make sure that your funeral is as green as possible then we would strongly encourage you to express your wishes (verbally or in writing) to the people who are most likely to be making your funeral arrangements. Although these wishes are not legally binding, in most circumstances they are likely to be adhered to. You will find some information about greener choices for you to consider below.
The process of fulfilling funeral wishes is often very consoling when people are arranging a funeral. Making sure that your green funeral wishes are acted upon is likely to feel like a gift and this may have a meaningful and positive impact on the wellbeing of those people who are arranging the funeral.
Burial or cremation?
Burial, compared to flame cremation, is a greener choice (as it avoids the mercury, dioxin and carbon monoxide emissions associated with cremation). Furthermore, burial closer to the surface (such as in a natural burial ground) means that decomposition becomes aerobic and is more beneficial. Although exact figures are hard to come by – the best information that I can find is that burial results in 100kg CO2 and flame cremation result in 200kg of CO2.
There are some alternatives to burial and flame cremation which are now available in other countries. Water cremation (or “Resomation”) is a process whereby a body undergoes alkaline hydrolysis and is broken down into amino acids, which are passed through the water system. After Resomation, ashes are available (although they look whiter than those that result from flame cremation). Interestingly, many Resomators are manufactured in Yorkshire but they are not yet approved for use in the UK (although this is likely to change in the next few years).
Human composting was recently made available in Washington State. Mixed with wood chips and alfalfa, a human body can be converted into compost in 30 days. Again, this is not yet available in the UK but who knows what the future might hold!
What is the “greenest” coffin?
Choosing a coffin made from biodegradable materials (such as cardboard, willow or bamboo) is a common way to minimise your impact on the environment. However, it is also important to know how far these coffins have travelled as more locally grown and manufactured options may be preferable.
If you would prefer a wooden (or wood effect) coffin, then there are still greener choices such as locally sourced hardwoods like oak or cherry and softwoods like pine. Manufacturers will be able to advise where the wood has been grown and whether it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) registered.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to use a coffin at all. Alternatives, such as a material shroud are an increasingly popular and green choice.
What is the best way to travel?
You may wish to consider how far the body and the mourners travel and the type of fuel used in transportation. Choosing a local burial ground and having the service in the same location may be possible and people can be encouraged to travel together.
Funeral Directors are notorious for being proud of their large fleets of diesel-guzzling, enormous vehicles but times are changing, and more hybrid and 100% electric options are available. This is our 100% electric Nissan Leaf eco-hearse, which has proven to be very popular since we brought it to Yorkshire in 2016.
It is also worth bearing in mind that you can transport a coffin in your own vehicle (if it is big enough).
What else is there to consider?
There are several other things to consider when making greener choices:
- Avoid embalming to ensure that formaldehyde does not leak into the ground after burial
- Ensure flowers are sourced locally, or handpicked from your own garden
- Avoid use of cellophane and only use natural materials in floral arrangements
- Minimise the use of funeral stationery and ensure that any paper used is recycled
- Choose a memorial location which you can visit without having to travel far by car
- It is estimated that a single tree sequestrates 3,500kg CO2 over its lifetime. Planting one tree should therefore offset the CO2 emissions associated with any funeral – and we shouldn’t forget that trees are brilliant for nature, offer habitat and supporting biodiversity
The aim of this blog is to help you to feel more informed and confident about green funerals and some of the choices available to you. We hope that is has also inspired you to consider the environment in your own funeral wishes, and the choices you make if you are ever arranging a funeral.
We have included some links below – you might find interesting if you would like to know more. We are also always happy to answer any questions that you may have (and be challenged on anything that we have said).
Together we can make a meaningful difference to the world that we live in.
Full Circle is a modern, independent funeral director based in Yorkshire. Their founder, Sarah Jones, became a funeral director because she wanted to take her professional experience within health and social care and use this to support the wellbeing of every bereaved individual. They have won industry and international awards and work hard to share information about funerals and bereavement support so that people can receive the best possible care.