At the most basic level, planning a green funeral is like planning any funeral: if the to-be-deceased doesn’t make his or her wishes known in writing, a haphazard and unsatisfying memorial is likely to ensue. Most standard estate planning approaches, including popular software like Quicken WillMaker Plus, build in memorial planning. Simply specify your green wishes—like a desire to forgo embalming and use an environmentally friendly casket—in those plans.
Portland is home to what claims to be the nation’s foremost distributor of biodegradable coffins. The Natural Burial Company (3954 N Williams Ave, 503-493-9258, naturalburialcompany.com) stocks a wide variety of green caskets and cremation urns (see “Six Feet Under”) and offers workshops and private consultations. Owner Cynthia Beal got her start in the natural-foods industry and brings an inclusive attitude to the enviro-death issue. “After seeing how divisive natural foods could be,” she says, “the last thing I want is a bunch of green-burial righteousness.” The company’s website and Beal’s own Be a Tree site (beatree.com), which excerpts her forthcoming book on green burial, provide a wealth of links to green-burial organizations. Be a Tree’s open comments thread also hosts a lively discussion on many aspects of estate planning and funeral arrangements.
As far as service providers are concerned, Portland’s funeral homes are becoming increasingly sensitive to worries about carbon footprints and chemical use. “In the last year or two, more and more people have been asking those questions,” says Erin Phelps of Portland’s Omega Funeral & Cremation Service (223 SE 122nd Ave, 503-231-6030, omegaservices.com). “Families are purchasing biodegradable urns and asking about burials that are a little more natural.” Phelps points out that, in most cases, the law does not require embalmment, which means funeral homes should be willing to work with families who prefer chemical-free undertaking. Funeral homes also are required to accept caskets purchased elsewhere, or even homemade receptacles—meaning there’s no need for the deceased’s loved ones to page through catalogs of the kind of overpriced, sealed-steel monstrosities the American funeral industry is notorious for favoring. “You can wrap the body in a sheet,” Phelps says. He adds that prospective customers also can seek out funeral homes that work with Islamic and Jewish communities—those faiths require quick, embalmment-free funerals and simple caskets or shrouds.