Greenwashing in the Cremation Industry

The cremator, where bodies are cremated in the Western world.

The cremator, where bodies are cremated in the Western world.

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) is a Chicago-based industry group that has projected that 38 percent of all deaths this year will finalize in cremation. This is a 12 percent increase since 2000. Additionally, cremation rates are expected to rise to 50 percent over the next fifteen years.This news may prompt many funeral directors to expand their cremation services for those individuals who seek a simpler death care process that is less expensive than a traditional burial. But, for those funeral directors to tout this death care service as ‘green’ is – to put it bluntly – “greenwashing.”

Jay Westerveld coined the term, “Greenwashing,” in a 1986 essay that focused on the hotel industry. In this essay, Westerveld pointed to the hotel industry’s practice of placing green placards in each room that promoted reuse of guest-towels, ostensibly to save the environment. Instead, the hotels avoided recycling and used this green marketing to increase profits.

“Greenwashing” is a term that combines the words, “green” and “whitewash,” or a term used to describe the corporate practice of spinning products, services and policies as environmentally friendly when, in reality, that marketing is a veneer designed to fool consumers.

Cremation is a way to conserve land use, as some cemeteries will allow two bodies in one space when both are cremated. Or, the cremated remains can be placed in a building on cemetery property. Finally, the survivors of the deceased may take the deceased’s cremains to conserve them in a home, in a family garden or to scatter the cremains. Cremation also eliminates other, more traditional burial items that have been tagged as contaminants. These items may include caskets, vaults and the act of embalming.

Additionally, cremation allows for future conservation to a degree. Centennial Cemetery chief executive Bryan Elliott explains:

“This is because we must look after the gravesite for a number of years by watering and mowing the surrounding lawn area and maintaining the concrete beam on which the headstone is placed,” Elliott said. “Burial is a more labor and resource intensive process, consumes more fuels and produces larger quantities of waste than cremation” added Elliott.

But, the cremation process is not totally environmentally friendly, as crematory emissions include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, hydrofluoric acid, hydrochloric acid and some persistent organic pollutants. These emissions are created by three major sources – combustion, incomplete combustion and the volatilization of metals in the human body.

Nicholas Albery, Natural Death Centre director and an editor of The New Natural Death Handbook, wrote, “Anyone with green pretensions should think twice about cremation.” A portion of the air pollution created during cremation comes from the foam rubber mattress, polyester fabric, urethane finish and composite wood of conventional caskets.

With all this said, there are options that anyone can choose help to eliminate some of this pollution if cremation is the individual’s funeral option. Stay tuned over the next few days to learn more about how you can choose a more environmentally-friendly cremation option for your funeral. When you know your options, your chances of being “greenwashed” can become more limited.

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