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Cemetery/starting a green burial business


I am interested in starting a green burial business in Georgia. What is your advice on how to start?

Hi Dana,

There's no short answer for this question - it's a bit like asking how to start any other business, and may be out of the ask-an-expert league. I'll list some bullet points, however, and you can try them on for size:

1) There's no such thing as a 'green burial business' - at least not that I can see. "Green" or not, it's either a funeral service business, where funeral events and after-death body-management services are sold, or it's a cemetery, where burials are done and people are remembered - or it's both at the same time. And either the funeral service, or the cemetery, OR another private party can make and sell the biodegradable coffins and urns that would normally be used in completing that process.

2) "Green" is a whole other story completely. The FTC has rules about how to use the word "green" when marketing anything, and so far it doesn't appear to me that "green burial" conforms - not saying I agree with the FTC having rules about how to use a word, but they're there, and the FTC regulates marketing in the funeral industry, so that's just one for the "take note" file.

3) Just like any other business, you'll need to know how to run one well in order to have any chance of long term success - that means building and zoning and facility management and regulations and personnel and marketing and bookkeeping and contracts and all the rest of it. And because a cemetery is a cemetery forever, and can't really switch to anything else if being a cemetery doesn't work, you'd better be prepared to run it for that long, whether it works or not - or lose a lot (and leave others holding the bag) if you have to walk away.

4) Again, as with any other business, you'll need to have the right demographics. Just because you're the only business offering whatever it is you're going to be selling (funerals? interment rights? biodegradable coffins?) when you start up doesn't mean it's going to stay that way. If you're successful, and if it's easy for you, then it will be easy for others - lots of others - especially all those others who already have cemeteries up and running, and they'll be competing with you. The first 5 years may be great. The next 5 years so-so. 5 years after that, and maybe not so good at all... and it's not like the market grows because people suddenly decide they like natural burial so much they decide to do it again! At that point, you'd better be located in an area with enough people (and a mortality rate) to support your business no matter how many other cemeteries nearby you are offering the same thing as you are. There are locations like that, and you'd want to be sure you had one.

5) You could take my online class - Introduction to Sustainable Cemetery Management -  - it's not about creating a "green burial site"; it's about running a cemetery sustainably, because no matter what, in the long run, any place that buries people is still a cemetery; it will always be a cemetery, it competes with other cemeteries, and any cemetery has to be managed sustainably in order to last.

Hope that helps! Good luck.



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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Sustainable Cemetery Management Group. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and 9 years running the Natural Burial Company. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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