The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

By Elizabeth Fournier. New World Library, 2018. 208 pages. $15.95/paperback; $12.76/eBook.

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I’ve been interested in the idea of a green burial for a number of years, ever since reading about its availability in various sites around the country. This book is essential reading for anyone considering alternatives to a traditional burial or cremation. According to the author, “The basic tenets of environmentally friendly living are now being posed for environmentally friendly dying. Green burial is all about sustainability and developing funeral practices that support and heal nature rather than disrupt and harm it.”

Elizabeth Fournier writes with compassion, creativity, humor, and a great deal of knowledge. She is the owner and operator of Cornerstone Funeral Services in Boring, Ore., the first green funeral home in the Portland metropolitan area. There are many stories, as examples of creative funerals, sprinkled through the book, which are informative and even surprising.

Fournier begins with an explanation of what a green burial is and isn’t. And the reader learns about the various environmental impacts of end-of-life decisions. You will learn that cremation has many negative impacts on the environment. The main reason is because of the energy it takes. According to Fournier, “Typically, cremation ovens use fossil fuels, and they must maintain a temperature of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, which burns a lot of fuel.” Cremation emits toxic elements into the air and water, plus it produces 250 pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition, the “cremains” are toxic to varying degrees.

For a green burial, a body is not embalmed, nor buried in a hermetically sealed coffin. Alternative ways to cover the body include a shroud, a simple pine box, or a woven mat. The materials need to be organic and biodegradable, such as organic cotton. You’ll learn how to dig the grave, how to shroud the body, how to build a coffin or other burial container, and how to preserve the body until loved ones can arrive for the funeral.

Beyond all the specifics, the book is about planning in both spiritual and practical ways. There are suggestions about how to ask yourself what is important to you for the service and burial and how to include your family in the planning. There are amazing stories of the creativity with which people are buried. And there are resources to find a cemetery that allows green burials or how to find out if your state allows a green burial on your own land. Fournier also guides you in making the decision of whether to hire a funeral planner or go it on your own.

I was very moved by the author’s gentleness and spiritual grounding. She is a caregiver who shepherds people through a difficult process. This book will prompt some important conversations in our Friends meetings about a topic we often don’t want to discuss.

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