Funeral director Nathan Butler expects to finalize paperwork this October on the new Evergreen Forest Cemetery, which won’t have matching headstones in neat, evenly spaced rows. Rather, he pictures “a forest preserve.”
“A green cemetery isn’t going to look like a park,” said the Kelley School of Business alumnus.
Instead, the graves in the new cemetery, to be located a few miles west of Bloomington, will be marked only by small field stones and GPS coordinates.
“This is nothing new really,” he said of the simple burial sites.
The “green” burial is becoming a mainstream phenomenon, said Mark Harris, blogger and author of “Grave Matters – A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.”
Harris said there are about 20 green cemeteries around the country and another 20 in planning. He predicts another 200 to open in the next five years, including established cemeteries that will allow for green burials.
“One returns one’s remains to the environment as simply and directly as possible,” Harris said about green burials.
The traditional modern cemetery, he said, “functions less as a bucolic resting place but as a landfill.”
Rather than allowing decay, the conventional burial tries to preserve the body. Typically the body is chemically treated, or embalmed, and then the body is placed in a coffin made of heavy wood and metal.
“We divert enough metal to fully rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge in one year and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York City to Detroit,” Harris said.
At most cemeteries, a cement vault or lining is required to keep the ground from caving in, but it’s not required by law.
Harris said three-quarters of all caskets are made of metal and put into cement vaults.
However, these steps only delay the inevitable: “The natural end of life is composition and decay,” he said.
Joe Sehee, executive director of the Green Burial Council, said he has seen increasing interest in green burials since the organization began in 2005.
“People don’t want their last act to be one of pollution,” he said.
To help the public, the council has developed standards for cemeteries, burial products and funeral directors, according to its Web site. The standards for conservation burial grounds do not permit embalming or cement vaults, and they require biodegradable caskets and the use of native plants, along with other criteria. The less-green certification, or the hybrid burial ground, allows for both green and conventional burials.
While many environmentalists are attracted to the idea of green burials, Harris said others like that “it’s natural, it’s in a natural setting,” and because green burials “speak to old-fashioned values,” such as thrift, family and self-sufficiency.
Green burials also tend to be cheaper than modern burials. Butler said the average modern funeral ranges in price from $8,000 to $12,000, whereas a green burial will cost about $2,000.
In addition to offering a cheaper pricetag, green burials allow for increased family participation. Green services “tend to be family-conducted, highly personal and much more reflecting of one’s life,” Harris said.
“Eight or nine years ago, there wasn’t quite the interest,” said Carol Seaman, president of Funeral Consumers Alliance of Bloomington, part of the National Funeral Consumers Alliance, an organization that aims to educate people about funeral planning and understanding burial laws.
“Green burial is not that bizarre,” she said. “It’s what we did for centuries. It’s a very different way of expressing yourself.”
She said that now there is interest to set up a green public cemetery in Monroe County, in addition to Butler’s Evergreen Forest.
By choosing green burials, families help preserve land and the environment.
“That’s a pretty powerful legacy,” Harris said.