Green is not just the color of money, it is the color of social-responsibility

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Natural Return To The Earth

‘Green burials’ eliminate toxins and non-biodegradable material from end-of-life rituals — and the movement is gaining ground.
 When J.P. Patterson grasped a strap and helped lower the untreated pine casket holding his wife’s linen-wrapped body into the ground on a clear January day in Georgetown, he felt it was a fitting send-off for a woman of strong faith and simple tastes.
Rita Patterson took joy in the pleasures of participating in Bible study groups and cooking for her family. She never made a fuss about herself.
So when the mother of six died in her sleep after a long bout with colon cancer, her husband knew she’d have no use for a tombstone towering over a pricey casket entombed in a cement vault.
“Even before we knew what it was called, she wanted a simple service,” Patterson said.
It’s called a “green burial,” and it’s part of a growing movement to eliminate toxic chemicals or non-biodegradable materials from end-of-life rituals by forgoing embalming, vaults, tombstones and metal caskets.
Green services cost an average of $4,900, about one-third the price of more traditional options.
Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery near Austin is Texas’ only cemetery to be recognized so far by the emerging industry’s leading organization.
As the environmentally friendly burial movement grows, others, including a Houston land developer who recently bought a picturesque piece of land outside Brenham, are aiming to capitalize on the demand.
The movement’s popularity has increased in the past decade as aging baby boomers — who grew up challenging social norms and examining their relationships to religion, family and the environment — consider their mortality, according to the nonprofit Green Burial Council.
“This concept resonates with Texans more than any other state,” the council’s founder, Joe Sehee, said. Those favoring the green option here often are not doing it as a final act of environmental activism, he said, but out of a desire to be close to the land, to return to biblical practices or as an alternative to embalming without choosing cremation.

Industry on the fence

No statistics are kept on the number of green burials, but their popularity has increased from not being a mainstream option in the 1990s to 21 percent of Americans older than 50 stating they would prefer an eco-friendly end-of-life ritual, according to a 2007 AARP survey.
Gilda Hart is among the supporters. She was turned off from more traditional options when she saw the embalming process up close and when she experienced her mother’s funeral.
When she learned about green burials last year, she gobbled up every morsel of information.
The 58-year-old Houston resident likes the religious concept of “dust to dust” and the environmental benefits of not burying non-biodegradable metals, treated wood and concrete.
“I’m not saying I’m an environmentalist, I can’t say that, but whatever we give back is greater than what we receive,” Hart said.
Others, including the National Funeral Directors Association, are still on the fence about green burials. Though the organization doesn’t discourage the practice, it cautions families not to get caught up in the hype.
“Because green funerals are an emerging alternative to traditional funeral practices, some questions have not yet been answered, such as whether there  See Full Story

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