San Diego, California

Green Cemeteries and Green Burial in San Diego

In character with San Diego's conservative outlook, green burial has not exactly been, seen and conquered. Despite that, East San Diego County was the scene of an effort to establish a burial nature preserve. Earlier this century, Billy Campbell, a South Carolina doctor who runs a medical practice and a burial service in adjacent offices, staked out an acreage around appropriately named Descanso, Spanish for place of rest. The little, unincorporated town is near the south entrance of Cuyamaca State Park and borders the Cleveland National Forest. Land-use rules gave the neighbors a say. They said no. So, like many others seeking contact with the land and a return to nature without chemicals or concrete, San Diegans can find themselves frustrated.

Campbell's vision of green burial involves land conservation. Minimal standards of green or natural burial involve native flora and fauna, upkeep and trails. Some folks would be happy to go to their graves without taking embalming fluid and several hundred pounds of concrete with them. But so far, funeral directors aren't hearing the questions asked.

Making minimal environmental impact then means working for it. Thresholds, a Lakeside funeral business that arranges home funerals, offers green caskets, made without harmful glues or other contaminants. But most cemetery owners insist graves have concrete liners to uphold grave integrity, that is, to avoid cave-ins.

No green or natural burial grounds in Southern California 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.

No green or natural burial grounds are in development in Southern California. California's only entry in the category is Forever Fernwood in Mill Valley.