Green burial is a simple and natural alternative to resource-intensive contemporary burial or cremation. The deceased is laid to rest in the earth using only biodegradable materials and without a vault or toxic embalming, in a woodland or other natural setting, often with a fieldstone or indigenous plant marking the grave. This practice can be used as a conservation tool, enabling the acquisition, restoration, and stewardship of natural areas. Simple natural burials were prevalent for thousands of years (and still are in many parts of the world, including in traditional Muslim and Jewish burials) before the contemporary funeral industry propagated the standard of expensive and elaborate funerals divorced from natural processes.
GREEN BURIAL AND THE FUNERAL INDUSTRY
As the world has become increasingly concerned with climate change and environmental degradation, the role that our funeral and burial practices play in these matters has gone largely unaddressed.
The typical American-style funeral — with a casket made of precious wood or metal, a concrete vault, a large marble or granite monument, and embalming — is incredibly resource-intensive, and it has become common in much of the world. In the U.S. alone, approximately 33 million board feet of mostly virgin wood, 60,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 5 million gallons of toxic embalming fluid are put into the ground every year. Further, the large tracts of land that conventional cemeteries occupy are typically covered in turf grass in need of constant maintenance in the form of mowing, watering, and the application of chemicals. Cremation, sometimes misconstrued as a green alternative to conventional burial, consumes a large amount of fossil and other fuels, and as the body is burned at high temperatures, particulate pollution, CO2 (approximately 110 pounds per cremation, on average), and toxins such as dioxins, furans, and mercury are released into the atmosphere.
The burgeoning green burial movement seeks to change these conventions — not only by greatly reducing resource use and pollution, but also by using burial as a conservation strategy to protect and restore natural areas. In addition to these environmental benefits, the cost of a green burial is often much less than that of a conventional one. Furthermore, green burial offers many the solace of knowing that they will remain within the cycle of life.
Created over the course of four years, A Will for the Woods documents the movement’s progress by focusing on some of its key figures, including Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council; Kimberley and Dr. Billy Campbell, founders of the nation’s first conservation burial ground; and Dyanne Matzkevich, who is saving a tract of forest within her conventional cemetery by turning it into a green burial ground. The film’s main focus, however, is the story of Clark Wang and Jane Ezzard. Faced with the possibility of Clark's imminent death, they find beauty and comfort in the environmental and spiritual significance of green burial.