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Green Graves 

Can a burial business still be eco-friendly if its new biodegradable caskets are brought in on cargo ships from China?

Wednesday, Aug 22 2007
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People have doubted Six Feet Under consultant Tyler Cassity's environmentalist credentials ever since he broke into the green burial business a few years ago and opened the Forever Fernwood cemetery in Mill Valley. A 2005 New Yorker profile quoted former business partners who grew disillusioned with Cassity when they discovered he was, among other things, planning to allow embalmed bodies — preserved with very unnatural formaldehyde — to be buried on the periphery of the original century-old cemetery.

The idea behind green burials is to return bodies to the earth without disrupting or harming the land; the deceased are typically interred in a pine or cardboard box or burial shroud, without a concrete vault under the ground or a gravestone above. And, of course, without embalming fluid.

Before he got into the green burial biz, Cassity was best known in the death industry for turning a run-down cemetery in L.A. into a sort of eternal theme park, called Hollywood Forever, where movies are screened on the side of a mausoleum and a Rolls-Royce hearse transports the dead.

If enviros didn't doubt Cassity's sincerity before, they may now with his latest venture: Triad Caskets. The business sells traditional metal caskets — definitely not green — although it is starting to market new caskets made of biodegradable paper and bamboo. Cassity says he will test the biodegradable caskets at Fernwood, and hopes to eventually offer them nationwide.

But there's a catch with those new eco-friendly death boxes: They're being imported all the way from Chinese factories (which we suspect aren't on the cutting edge of sustainability) on cargo ships (which probably aren't running on biodiesel.) Once they reach the Southern California ports, the caskets are then transported to the Bay Area.

"How you can claim to be doing anything green when you have that kind of [carbon] imprint and are importing from China — who knows what's going on with the manufacturing there — it's just preposterous," says Joe Sehee, a former consultant to Cassity who has parted ways with him to found the Green Burial Council.

Cassity scoffs at criticism from those who think he prefers a green dollar to a green Earth: "It's kind of hard to make me comment on if I think I'm in it for the money — certainly not. That's insulting to me."

Still, Cassity says he won't abandon the non-green burial market to exclusively cater to the Earth-conscious one in Marin County. "I'm not going to ever advertise myself to you as a purist," Cassity allows. "I understand business and that you need to make a concept viable. And that's a struggle, especially [with] a new one."

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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