When Marie Alcorn first mentioned the idea of having a green burial when she dies, her family had a hard time taking her seriously. "I've been thrifty all my life.
My family is used to my 'thinking outside the box' when it comes to ways to cut costs," says Alcorn, who lives in downtown Knoxville. Her family teased her about the idea, but for Alcorn, the joke soon became serious.
"The more I looked at it, I realized that it would be a good option. The whole focus is on being good stewards of the Earth," says Alcorn. "Now I'm seriously thinking about this alternative, although my children are having a hard time talking about anything relating to my death."
Alcorn's interest in economical and environmentally friendly burial options is not unique. With the rising interest in living green these days, a growing segment of the population is considering alternatives for dying green as well.
"Green burial is a broad term. You've got the actual burial - where the bones end up - but you've also got the funeral. A simple green funeral means no embalming, a biodegradable casket or shroud, and no vault," explains Kimberley Campbell, vice president of Memorial Ecosystems, a company in Westminster, S.C., that specializes in conservation burials.
Campbell also is the manager for Ramsey Creek Preserve (www.ramseycreekpreserve.com), also in Westminster. When she and her husband, Dr. Billy Campbell, founded the memorial nature park in 1998, it was the first "green cemetery" in the United States. The Campbells also helped found Honey Creek Woodlands (www.honeycreekwoodlands.com), a conservation burial ground owned and operated by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga. Ramsey Creek Preserve and Honey Creek Woodlands are the closest natural burial grounds to Knoxville.
"Simple green burials have taken place in small church and family cemeteries for many years. The difference between what we do at Ramsey Creek is that it takes the process one step forward and places a higher conservation value on the place where people are buried," says Campbell.
A current trend for traditional cemeteries is to designate a portion of the land for green burials. Campbell contends the motivation is not to save the land, but to provide what eco-conscious clients want. In contrast, conservation burial grounds exist when a not-for-profit group holds the conservation easement, ensuring the land will always be used as a burial ground. Burial fees provide funding for the group to protect and restore the land to its natural state.
Ramsey Creek is managed as a nature preserve, with hiking trails that are open daily to the public. Graves are dug by hand, and only native plants are planted on the mounds. Local stones serve as grave markers and can be engraved if the family wishes. GPS (global positioning system), GIS (geographic information systems), and compass and tape measure readings are used to map out burials.
"The average price for a funeral and burial in this country ranges between $11,000-17,000," Campbell says. "Burial at Ramsey Creek is between $4,400-$6,500, depending on the options and services chosen." These prices do not include the cost of transporting the body to Ramsey Creek facilities. After burial, there are no additional fees for grounds maintenance and upkeep.
"Conservation burial shifts the focus of where the money is spent," explains Campbell. "Rather than spending money on expensive vaults, caskets, and grave markers, the money is spent on protecting land and restoring it."
Nancy Twigg is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.
In East Tennessee
Click Funeral Home is the only facility in Tennessee to be listed as an approved provider by the Green Burial Council. With its five locations in the greater Knox area, Click Funeral Home offers a variety of options for end-of-life rituals that have minimal impact on the environment:
Refrigeration: Embalming is not required by law in Tennessee. Click Funeral Home offers refrigeration which enables the body to be kept for several days without embalming. In some cases, a viewing of the body is possible without embalming when refrigeration is used.
Bio-degradable caskets: Click Funeral Home offers caskets made without metal from biodegradable materials. The options range from simple pine caskets to those made of more exotic materials such as wicker, sea grass, banana sheaves, and bamboo.
Burial without a casket or vault: Click Funeral Home also offers burial shrouds. When using a shroud, the wrapped body is placed directly in the open grave without any other container or liner. Click works with cemeteries in the area that allow burial without a grave liner or outer burial container.