Los Angeles (Orange County), California

Green Burial in Los Angeles

The reason Los Angeles appears as a sheet of gray from space? No green burials.

"This is Southern California," a cemetery insider said. "We're sophisticated. We don't wrap up in buffalo robes and lie down in the dirt. Maybe in Montana."

That might have been a tongue-in-cheek remark. Or not. But Angelenos have been slow to pick up on the green movement in disposition. No grounds have yet to meet guidelines for any of three cemetery types set forth by the Green Burial Council. Per the council:

  • Hybrid burial grounds combine conventional practices with green aspirations. In some instances, this means something as basic as vaultless burials. In other cases, land-use principles come into play.
  • Natural burial grounds are green cemeteries that must engage in restoration planning and land stewardship. They need not hold conservation easements but must use deed restrictions or covenants that keep the land as green cemeteries.
  • Conservation burial grounds are green cemeteries that partner with an established conservation group, hold conservation easements on the property, and operate on principles of restoration ecology.

LA institutions such as Forest Lawn, which opened its first cemetery more than a century ago, haven't rushed to conform with GBC guidelines. Forest Lawn offers a line of "environmental" products including unstained wood caskets made with water-based glue and no plastics, is adamant about concrete grave liners called vaults.

"We still require vaults for burial to maintain the integrity of the (cemetery lawn) surface," communications manager William Martin said. The chain attempts to accommodate the green crowd -- or religious traditionalists among Jews and Muslims -- with holes in the liners to expose the casket to earth.

Although directors at Forest Lawn don't chart the percentage of customers asking for green burial, Martin said he sees the green movement as growing. "To ignore the environmental faction would be foolhardy for a service industry," he said. "It's prudent to meet the needs."

Of course, green concepts have always been in play at the four traditional, Jewish cemeteries run by Chevra Kadisha Mortuary. The concept is to decompose as soon as possible "and that's it," a spokesman said. At those cemeteries, the kosher casket is placed directly into the ground. A kosher casket has no metal, no steel, and no plastics to interfere with speedy decomposition. Space in the cemeteries, Agudath Achim, Beth Israel, Mount Carmel and Young Israel, is limited.