Trends and Statistics for Green Burial in the U.S.
After learning about the history of green burial, most people realize it isn’t a radical concept or even a new idea. Humans have been buried using natural practices since long before written language existed. That’s why green burial is often referred to as natural burial.
Many people are surprised at how simple and relaxed a green burial can be. Once they have a better understanding of what it entails most people are much more open to the idea.
The latest statistics and research suggests that’s the point we’re at in the U.S. Of late, the idea of green burial has become much more acceptable in society, which is impacting the entire funeral industry.
The Latest Green Burial Stats
In 2015, the Green Burial Council’s Education Committee conducted a survey involving green cemeteries around the country. What they found was clear interest in green burial that didn’t exist just a few years before. The Green Burial Council is currently conducting a follow-up 2020 survey that will provide insight into how these trends are moving.
Other organizations have completed surveys and studies in the last few years that support the Green Burial Council’s findings.
Despite a growing amount of data, it’s difficult to estimate exactly how many green burials are performed each year. What’s considered a green burial varies significantly, and green burials can occur in a conventional cemetery alongside traditional burials.
One of the best estimates for the current rate of green burial is Choice Mutual. A survey of theirs released in 2020 showed 4% of respondents that had made funeral plans choose natural burials. While that seems small, it’s actually a huge increase given that a little more than a decade ago green burials were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. The number of people who choose green burial is expected to go up noticeably in the coming years.
Number of Green Cemeteries
The number of green cemeteries continues to grow in the U.S. As of June 2020, there were 287 registered green cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada. However, the Green Burial Council acknowledges there are many more cemeteries that now offer modified burials without concrete vaults and other green features. There are also hybrid cemeteries that offer green burials in part of the cemetery and traditional burials in others.
Projections for the Future
All of the statistics, surveys and public sentiment suggest that green burial will become increasingly more common in the coming years. In the National Funeral Director Association (NFDA) 2019 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study, respondents said they preferred green burial over traditional religious ceremonies.
51.6% of respondents said they are open to exploring green funeral options. (National Funeral Directors Association)
Results from a Funeral and Memorial Information Council study were even more encouraging:
64% of people 40 and older would consider green burial in 2015, up from 43% in 2010. (Funeral and Memorial Information Council)
In 1960, over 9 in 10 people had a traditional burial. The fact over half of Americans are considering green burial is a huge shift that is certain to impact the funeral industry in the next few decades as funeral homes expand the number of green funeral services they provide..
State Cemetery Laws Could Hinder Green Burials
One issue that could hinder green burial is local laws. The Pew Charitable Trust found that while there aren’t laws that prohibit green burial practices, green cemeteries are running into red tape.
Many states have outdated laws that specify requirements such as cemetery grounds must be maintained and there must be paved roads leading to graves – activities that go against the natural state of things in most green cemeteries. Basically, green cemeteries have to operate under the standards set for traditional cemeteries, which doesn’t fit the purpose of green burial. Property owners that are trying to establish a green cemetery are finding that the process is very slow-going because rules have to be put in place.
As demand grows for green burial, more local municipalities and state governments are going to begin addressing these issues. It’s very likely that green cemeteries will get their own classification so that there’s less difficulty creating these types of spaces.
Factors That Are Increasing Interest in Green Burial
Study after study has shown that there are several primary reasons people choose green burial. The top five reasons according to the Green Burial Council are:
- Minimizing impact on the environment
- Want to get back to old traditions
- Spiritual or religious reasons
- Do-It-Yourself ethic
Other motivators have come to light in recent years, which provides a clearer picture on general sentiment towards green burial and why it’s changing.
Decline in Religious Identification
One of the most significant changes that has slowly occurred over time is the decline of religious identification. Religion is very closely tied to traditional burial. So much so, revolutionaries during the French Revolution promoted cremation over burial because the Catholic Church was so involved in the latter.
NFDA research has found that religion doesn’t play as large a role in selecting end of life services as it once did. Not surprisingly, the majority of people who say they plan to use green burial identify as spiritual but not religious.
The most obvious reason people choose green burial is environmental concerns. Americans are much more conscious today about how our choices impact the environment both now and years down the road. The more people learn about the repercussions of traditional burial (toxic chemicals, non-biodegradable materials and the land conservation issues to name a few) the less appealing the option tends to be. Many people are shocked to discover traditional burials involve 4.3 million gallons of highly-toxic embalming fluid every year.
Today, families enjoy knowing that their loved one’s funeral is going to nurture the earth rather than harm it.
Recently, many Americans have noted that they feel traditional burial doesn’t provide as much of an emotional connection as they were hoping. It’s a feeling that is leading more people to choose green burial. Survey respondents have consistently said they feel green burial has the same or more emotional involvement than traditional burial.
As noted above, the idea that green burial nurtures nature is another positive emotional connection. Unlike many traditional cemeteries, green cemeteries have a park-like setting that’s inviting. Rather than being somber, green cemeteries are known for being peaceful places that leave people feeling uplifted about the funeral experience.
Desire for More Personalization
Green burials have a number of regulations in terms of what can and can’t be put in the ground, but all the other aspects are very customizable. As a non-traditional option, green cemeteries are open to people of all beliefs and faiths. They are very accommodating if you want to have a gravesite ceremony, even if it’s more of an informal gathering for family and friends.
Cost is another factor that was cited in the NFDA’s 2019 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study. Research shows that green burial is often half the cost of a traditional burial or less.
Increase in Cremations
The rise in green burials has corresponded with a dramatic increase in the number of cremations that are performed in the U.S. Cremation is now the most common end of life service for many of the same reasons that people prefer green burial, particularly the environmental and cost benefits. Given that about a third of families choose to bury cremated remains, the surge in cremations has undoubtedly helped green cemeteries.
How Green Burial Compares to Traditional Burial
If traditional burials are declining and green burials are increasing it raises the question of what makes these two end of life options different to the point they are trending in opposite directions. There are two aspects of burial that clearly differentiate between the two.
Cost of Green Burial vs Traditional Burial
The latest data from the NFDA puts the median cost of a traditional burial at $7,640. That figure doesn’t include the cost of a burial plot, cemetery fees or a grave marker. When the additional costs are factored in traditional burial often exceeds $10,000.
Green burial, on the other hand, typically costs anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance and up to $5,000 based on estimates from the Green Burial Council. Burying cremated remains at a green cemetery is generally around $200-$1,000.
Environmental Impact of Burials
The Green Burial Council has some eye-opening statistics about how impactful traditional burial is compared to natural burial options. The carbon dioxide production alone is a stark contrast:
Traditional burial – produces approximately 250 pounds of carbon.
Green burial – reduces carbon by 25 pounds.
Traditional burial also:
- Requires 20 million feet of hardwood for caskets.
- Puts 1.6 million tons of concrete in the ground.
- Causes heavy metals like lead, iron and zinc to leach into the ground.
Green burial is clearly much more environmentally-friendly than traditional services. Another consideration is that at conservation green cemeteries the money received for burial plots is used to fund conservation of more land. So instead of adding pollution and taking away land, a green burial goes even farther to preserve nature.
Green Cremation Texas works directly with green cemeteries across the state to help families get the funeral services they envisioned for their loved one. If you would like to know more about green cremation or burying cremated remains at a green cemetery, please give us a call. We’re available to answer your questions 24/7.
2015 Green Cemetery Survey. Green Burial Council. https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/gbc_survey_results.html
New Study Shows Americans Recognize the Role of Memorialization in Healthy Healing Following the Death of a Loved One. Funeral and Memorial Information Council. https://www.famic.org/famic-study/
More People Want a Green Burial, but Cemetery Law Hasn’t Caught Up. November 20, 2019. The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Consumers Moving Past Tradition For Funerals, Survey Says. October 15, 2019. National Funeral Director Association. https://www.nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases/id/4703/consumers-moving-past-tradition-for-funerals-survey-says
Statistics. July 18, 2019. National Funeral Director Association. https://www.nfda.org/news/statistics
Green Burial Council. https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/media_packet.html
Funeral Consumers Alliance https://funerals.org/greenburial/