In its past two newsletters, my local chapter of the Funeral Consumer Alliance has reported on the difficulties in finding cemeteries that permit natural burials. In the Spring newsletter, the FCA of Greater KC reported on how the Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas was reconsidering natural burials at one of its six cemeteries. In the Fall newsletter, the Alliance expressed disappointment and frustration with the Archdiocese’s failure to act on the growing demand. The article takes the point of view that the lack of profit in a green burial may be what is keeping the area’s established cemeteries from offering green burials. The article also alludes to the ‘banning’ of natural burials. I anticipate that the ‘banning’ alluded to by the article are the cemeteries’ rules and regulations. Those rules and regulations are among several factors that represent hurdles to a cemetery offering green burials.
Cemetery rules and regulations govern interment rights much in the same way that homeowner association rules govern residential properties. Several decades ago, cemeteries began to incorporate vault requirements into the rules and regulations. A set of rules and regulations may govern the whole cemetery, or specific gardens. (Why do cemeteries require vaults?) So, even though there may be a demand for a natural burial (without a vault), the cemetery cannot go against its own rules and regulations. In order to meet the demand for natural burials, the cemetery might have to dedicate a new garden for this purpose. If a cemetery has available land for such purposes, there are legal requirements that must first be satisfied.
In the Kansas City region, use of land for burial purposes requires a special use permit from the proper zoning authority. This can be a lengthy process that is subject to notice requirements to neighboring landowners. A proposed green cemetery in Wisconsin found this requirement to be more troublesome than it originally thought.
A new garden would also require the cemetery to hire engineers to survey and plat the garden for filings required at the local registry/recorder of deeds.
The cemetery will also have to decide whether to be certified by an organization such as the Green Burial Council. While the certification can be valuable for marketing, the Council founder has acknowledged that many green cemeteries fail for financial reasons. (See the Wisconsin story again.)
If the cemetery perceives there is enough demand to warrant these costs, then they will need to consider a different set of rules and regulations (and contract forms) for the green burial garden.
All of this may be too steep a price for established cemetery operators that have substantial investment in gardens that require burial vaults. Unsold spaces in those gardens represent ‘inventory’, and the cemetery will not want to invest in new inventory that involves a completely different business model.
In surfing the Net, we came across this page from a Massachusetts group trying to start their own green cemetery. We wonder whether the local municipal cemetery might be a better option.
Click the following hyperlinks if you would like a full version of the FCA of Greater KC Spring Newsletter or the Fall Newsletter. The Alliance will have its Day of the Dead annual meeting on November 1st, with Josh Slocum as its keynote speaker. To learn more, follow this hyperlink to the FCA of Greater KC website.