Green Funerals in Greater Boston and New England

One Boston funeral director put it this way: "There's no green burial here so why offer green funerals?"

While Boston remains a city of conservative views and traditional practices when it comes to funerals, the notion is taking hold that funerals can be accomplished without the use of environmentally damaging materials even if a definition of ideal green is still a tad nebulous. The phrase on Bostonian lips is "shades of green."

First to go in a green funeral is embalming. Formaldehyde, the basis of embalming fluid, has been identified by world health groups as a carcinogen, dangerous to embalmers. People familiar with the specifics of embalming object to how it is accomplished. Embalming is rarely legally required, although some instances call for it. Embalming is usually urged by funeral directors whose clients want viewings as part of funeral proceedings. Embalming slightly slows degradation. Embalming products without formaldehyde are becoming available.

Alternatives to embalming include dry ice and ice packs to keep the body cool through a service. This approach doesn't lend itself to a lengthy interval between death and disposition.

Many funeral directors will skip embalming if you ask. Most funeral directors want to provide the service you desire, so ask, ask, ask.

How else can you go green? Many environmentally friendly ideas apply to burial, such as eliminating substances in caskets that don't break down underground. Think steel or plastics made to look like wood of which caskets are constructed.

Keohane Funeral and Cremation Service of Quincy took a holistic look at green. Besides switching to 50-percent recycled and 15 percent postconsumer recycled materials for card stock used in prayer or memory cards, the company uses wooden caskets manufactured in the area, a move that saves fuel use associated with long-distance transport. Additionally, Keohane switched to LED lighting and is considering installing solar panels.

The company participates in a tree-planting scheme through Massachusetts Memorial Tree Program and is behind the New England Green Burial Society, a resource for individuals wanting more information on using sustainable materials and keeping disposition toxinfree. Keohane is the only Massachusetts funeral provider listed by the Green Burial Council, a group working to standardize the meaning of green in deathcare.