Introduction: History of the Green Movement in the US.
The transcendental philosophies celebrating the natural world in the early 1800’s came just in time to witness the pillaging brought by the Industrial Revolution. Natural forests began to disappear under the axes of lumbering moguls and coal had now become a popular energy source causing tremendous air pollution in large cities such as Paris, London and Philadelphia.
As these trends continued, people began to realize that industrialization was wiping out natural forests, endangering human health and polluting the environment. This resulted in early efforts to manage natural resources, and the first national park, the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, America was created in 1872. That was among America's most brilliant ideas, and the park was first among a series of national parks strictly off limits to any kind of exploitation.
Early green ideas were a series of mixed feelings about human civilization and Henry David Thoreau, an 18th Century American author wrote a book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods in 1854 telling of his experience while tucked away in a cabin in the woods away from civilization. He is one of the early environmentalists and a proponent for the spiritual benefits of living in nature as opposed to the materialism of the civilized society. His thoughts were later adopted by the hippie movement in the 1960’s. Both of these are classic examples of America’s romanticism efforts to idealize the relationship between man and nature.
Early efforts to promote environmental awareness were often crisis driven and alienation from civilization was often by man-made crises. In the 1950’s during the Cold War, the fear of the atomic bomb’s ability to wipe out humanity spurred a widespread pessimistic culture. Rachel Carson, an American author published a book, Silent Spring in 1964, raising alarm on the hazardous effects of using man-made chemicals on nature. In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote the book, The Population Bomb, theorizing on the threats to human existence posed by exponential population growth.
US Senator Gaylord Nelson, motivated by the 1960’s Peace Movement conferences proposed a countrywide demonstration on the environment. This led to the birth of an event known as Earth Day, first celebrated on the 22nd of April 1970. The day is now a global event held annually on 22nd April to promote responsible environmental stewardship.
The Green Movement in the 21st Century has now switched focus from crisis to environmental sustainability, where the world is adapting, designing and innovating to survive. Key areas of concern are climate change and global warming, preservation of wetlands, proliferation of nuclear weapons, depletion of fisheries, preservation of species and other crucial environmental concerns.
Environmental sustainability has taken various forms which include: recycling and re-use, green products, biofuels, green building, organic farming, biodiversity, fair trade, Eco-villages among other issues.
Impact of the green movement on various aspects of our lives today:
The green movement has since gone international and is pushing the industrial society to go green. In fact, industrialists view the green movement as placing little value on their efforts to improve economic prosperity, human rights, health care and living standards.
According to the Green Agenda, the green movement is against capitalism and has practically been against multi-national corporations since the 1960’s. The energy industry, an important part in the sustenance of modern society, is perhaps the most affected, with fossil fuels and nuclear energy industries being prime targets. While fossil fuels are known for their massive Carbon (IV) Oxide emissions resulting to global warming, nuclear energy does not have these emissions yet is still reviled. Hydro-power generation is another key area, with a lot of opposition being placed new proposals to build hydro-electric power dams on the perception of adverse environmental effects. The same happens to oil mining, and the only sources of energy that seem to be favored by the green movement are solar and wind energy.
While this is a noble motive for the green movement, the repercussions are ambivalent and without fossil fuel energy the agriculture industry would collapse, so would food manufacturing industries and automobile manufacturers who would be out of business. Others would soon follow including building and construction industries, mining, real estate etc. As it goes, all aspects of daily life would be significantly altered.
On the consumer front, decision making on what products to buy and what not to, is now based on a product’s impact on the environment. Consumers now opt for recycled products or those manufactured from sustainable materials. They are also putting pressure on businesses and governments to avail alternative sources of energy. While consumers who go green have to meet extra costs associated with green products and services, the green movement is continuing forward with awareness campaigns and lobbying. As more consumers go green, the prices of green products will lower resulting in more green products and services. This will boost the global economy and support the growth of the green movement.
However, all is not lost since companies that adopt environmentally friendly methods of production stand to benefit from the market changes. Past focus has been on technological innovation and industrial development, but now focus is on sustainability. Going green means companies will become more ecologically aware and develop greener manufacturing, energy and transport services. As green production methods are developed, there will be a need for qualified professionals to work on these clean energy and production projects thus leading to job creation. The need for training and education on green methods of production will also support jobs and improve careers.
In the global economy, world leaders are aware of urgency for environmental awareness in terms of global business practices, waste disposal and daily product usage. As individual nations seek ways to implement green solutions, there is an opportunity for nations to cooperate and work together in sharing innovation and knowledge. They can also pool funds and invest in ways to develop innovative ways of generating clean energy, agricultural sustainability and proper waste management. Green solutions developed in various parts of the world can also be sold to other nations for a profit. Methods that save on operational and energy costs can create income which can be injected into other projects or the global economy.
Impact of the Green Movement on the funeral service:
The green movement has spread its wings far and wide and going green has ceased to be only about choices made in daily life but also those made about the afterlife. Environmental conscious people today are now seeking alternative burials methods which they believe are more environmental friendly.
The need to set green standards for the funeral industry made Joe Sehee sell his home and launch the Green Burial Council in 2005. The non-profit organization is tax exempt, encourages environmental sustainability in death care and use of burials to protect natural areas. A survey conducted in March 2010 by the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association revealed that 25 percent of respondents liked the concept of a green burial. Several options were available; the first one happens to be a hybrid cemetery that is a burial ground offering traditional but environmentally friendly options. The other option is natural burial grounds where only bio-degradable materials and chemicals are used; while the last one is a conservation burial facility ran by a nature conservancy and managed by a partnership of non-profit organizations focused on environmental conservancy.
Green burials are designed to have minimal disturbance of the earth and instead of using the usual casket, a person is laid to rest in a basic casket made of wood or some other bio-degradable material. This casket does not have any metal or concrete parts and instead, the dowels are wooden. Others opt to avoid the casket altogether and go for burial shrouds manufactured from natural fiber. The grave site is also not marked by a monument or a headstone since this becomes a permanent part of the environment.
Cremation is also another popular option for green funerals and for complete loyalty to the green burial requirements, urns for the ashes are made from bio-degradable materials such as plant fiber, sand, recycled paper or gelatin. For the process of embalming, traditional embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde which are toxic have been replaced with organic solutions that are eco-friendly. Burial without embalming is practically possible and logistical, and while it is established practice in America, it is not a requirement of the state or federal governments.
All these green burials practices have altered the traditional way in which people are laid to rest and altered the industry especially with continuous sensitization on environmental awareness and the continuous rise in number of environmental conservationists. Funeral service providers are therefore under great challenge to provide eco-friendly funeral services. However, the green movement’s impact on funeral operations can be said to be positive to the funeral service providers since how one is buried is totally their choice and no law governs that one has to have an eco-friendly burial. Eco-friendly funeral services are offered and mostly at premium rates or very cheaply depending on the plan chosen. A good example is cremation which is cheaper than a conventional burial. Either way, funeral directors are coming up with innovative ways to conduct green burials and lay people to rest peacefully and the way they want.
Funeral directors and the green movement:
The Green Burial Council is an advocacy group for the green burial movement, a part of the green movement. The council’s mission is to encourage environmental sustainability in death care and use of burials to protect natural areas. To encourage these funeral service providers to adopt these eco-friendly services and avoid malpractices, the council formulated a certification program to assure people and groups that were concerned about ‘green-washing’ in funeral operations. This simply meant that there were some methods and practices presented as being environmentally friendly but were not better than traditional methods.
A survey conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association showed that over 12 percent of members offered green funeral services. Funeral directors were particularly interested in the economic downturn where conducting green burials is much cheaper than traditional funerals. According to the same survey, the average cost of a conventional burial in the United States was about $6,560 in the year 2009 while today the cost of a green burial runs to about half of that (roughly $3000). This is mainly because of the money saved on embalming, caskets, headstones and body preparation.
However, according to Sehee, incorporating environmental ethics into the funeral industry is challenging and there are many issues to be considered. According to him, bridging the gap between the 20 billion dollar funeral industry and environmental conservation groups was a tough, but he also acknowledged that progress was being made.
In 2010, a public survey was held by the Funeral and Memorialization Information Council to find out the public’s awareness about the green funeral services. 66 percent of the respondents were unaware of such services and when asked if they would be interested in them, 47 percent agreed to a consideration.
However, at the "It Isn’t Easy Being Green” seminar at National Funeral Directors Council seminar in 2008, Sehee told funeral directors to be keen and not just get involved with green funerals as a marketing ploy but should approach the whole issue as an open business opportunity and embrace it for the long term.
How funeral directors provide green funerals to consumers:
Funeral directors are already providing green funerals to consumers and offering various options and packages depending on the needs and cost. Aside from fire cremation, use of bio- degradable materials such as wooden caskets in the burial, shrouds made from natural fiber and burial in natural grounds without using embalming chemicals, funeral directors have come up with innovative ways to offer green burials
Apopka, Fla, a funeral-equipment company, offers bio-cremation which is one of the latest additions to green funeral initiatives. It involves dissolving the body in a heated, chemical solution leaving a lesser carbon footprint than would have been left if the body underwent natural decomposition. Apopka is a division of a funeral services company, Matthews International, and it provides funeral equipment to Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, Florida. The company’s president Bill McQueen says that the process is friendlier and gentler than fire cremation and costs the same at $2,800. The official term for the process is alkaline hydrolysis, and it involves immersing the body in an alkaline solution and heating it to temperatures of up to 350 degrees causing the body to dissolve. It takes about 2-3 hours and later the bones are removed, ground and placed in urns.
Other services offered by funeral directors include funeral consultancy services and awareness about green burials.
The effects of the green movement have been felt by various industries, not only in America but globally, and the funeral operations industry has not been spared either. However, it is worthy to note that environmental sustenance practices are worth considering for the long run prosperity of our planet and choosing eco-friendly ways to move on to the afterlife might be a good course of action. After all, there are no adverse negative implications of green funerals on the funeral services industry. In fact, it is more of a boon than bane since one is offered what they actually want, depending on cost and needs. In the end, the green movement can be seen to have a monumental impact in ensuring a greener environment for future generations.
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