Building a Sustainable Death

[TW: Death, Burial, Cremation, Embalming]

In a world where we are fighting climate change with sustainable design, we neglect to address some areas that have just as much a carbon footprint as others. The death industry and the pollution that goes along with it is a clear example. My project seeks to raise awareness in the western world for alternative burial methods — sometimes called “green burial” alternatives — and illustrates the value of these less-common ways to deal with the natural process of transitioning the body afterlife.

My project is a storybook, or in other words a zine, that takes the reader through the basics of a traditional western burial, both current and historical, and the effects or aftermath of western burial traditions on our environment. My book then introduces alternative burial practices that are available to those who seek to make death less harmful to our ongoing natural world.


Design Ideation

My initial thoughts and ideas about how to approach this concept.
These blocks provided space for me to think about and consider compositions and how to best approach the story telling process for this topic. This particular one let me work out a basic overview of what this project was working towards and let me start thinking about graphics (although, initially I was planning on creating a large scroll like info-graphic!)
This page marked my first draft and idea of how I wanted the “story” to flow, and also included some notes about further research into sustainable burial practices around the world.
A few quick notes about how to deal with timing.
First idealization of a cradle to cradle inspired product! I looked extensively into the environments most suited to grow fungus and if I could potentially embed fungus spores into paper for the reader to grow after…..
Quick talking notes as I was deciding how I wanted to present my project.
Another page for the incorporation of cradle to cradle in the book! After going through a number of funeral related flowers, I decided red poppy seeds would be best to embed in the book paper, due to their associations, growing patterns and beauty.


Miranda:  What are your thoughts about sustainable or green burial, from my presentation and how I’ve talked about it?

Jeff: Well, like most people, I don’t necessarily think about death that much because frankly, we all want to live a full life.  But unfortunately, we all have to deal with death. In theory, I think it’s a wonderful idea. The idea of taking care of our planet for future generations is important. As a culture, we’re still trying to figure out convenience and money. There are corporate desires that will stop green burial.

Miranda: How would you want to be buried?

Jeff:  I don’t know.  I see how my mom was buried, and I think that’s how I’ll be buried.  If I don’t, it’ll be up to my wife and daughter.

Miranda:  What are your thoughts about sustainable or green burial, from my presentation and how I’ve talked about it?     

Susan:  It’s interesting.  I believe in ashes to ashes/dust to dust.  I believe that our souls are separate from our bodies, so the idea of our bodies returning to become a sustainable part of the natural world seems rational, even desirable, to me.  I’ve never understood the desire to preserve the dead body, which seems to me just an empty vessel without the human spirit, in some unending way. I’ve watched family members desperate to delay decomposition, and I’ve thought their approach seemed futile and sad.

Miranda: How do you feel about human composting?

Susan: I’m not sure what that exactly means.  Is not in effect human composting when a body is placed (without embalming) in a wooden coffin directly into the ground?  

Miranda:  It’s more akin to a burial shroud, so no coffin.

Susan:  Well, I’m not sure.  I do think that there’s a lot around the traditions of death in a culture that is far more relevant to those who survive than to those who are already deceased.  There’s a peacefulness in watching a coffin lowered into a grave and the soft plopping of dirt on top. It’s a way of saying goodbye. Perhaps the same would apply to a burial shroud, but culturally there are a lot of people who grieve when someone dies — and it’s important to take into account the broader community of mourners.  But, that said, I also believe that the details of funeral services should be left to our descendants more than to ourselves.


Final Proposal

The cover uses soft tones and light colors to evoke a peaceful feeling, which is a key element in how I designed the graphics.

A page by page look at the specific topics I will cover in the book, and at the planned graphics I designed.

The text of the book will lead the reader carefully through definitions and get them up to speed on modern western burial practices, and then will take them through the environmental impact of the current typical burial. After this point, so the reader knows why exactly sustainable burial is important, it will introduce the reader to various innovations in the funerary world, and give basic overviews as to how they are being used today. For example, On the fungus page, I have planned to discuss Coeio’s Infinity Burial Suit and Shania Garfield’s sustainable coffin.

Cradle to Cradle

An important aspect of this planned book is the cradle to cradle inspired design of the book itself. Cradle to cradle is the idea of rebirth and reuse of an object into something else, hopefully in infinite cycles. Since my book will talk about building a more sustainable future, I thought it would be very important to let the book be able to be used for something else beyond its use to provide information. The book when printed would use a plantable seed paper, with soy ink as to provide the least impact on the environment, and to give the reader a chance to reflect and not let their book go to waste.

Call to Action

Now it’s your turn to take this information out into the world.

If you’re just a little bit curious about the future of sustainable death, you have options!

Please click here and post your thoughts and feedback!

Click here and follow @sustainableburial for updates and articles that will help you stay informed about how people are helping change the death industry

Further Resources

The Green Burial Council

The Green Burial Council is a non-profit organization that advocates and spreads knowledge of green burial alternatives. Check out their website to find studies, recommended reading as well as a comprehensive list of all of funeral homes near you which meet their certification standards.



Caitlin Doughty

Doughty is a mortician, funeral director, and advocate in the world of sustainable burial. Through social media, she raises awareness and works to destigmatize death and funerary practices in the public eye. She has two books and a Youtube channel I would recommend checking out if you are interested in learning more about alternative burial methods.





The Order of the Good Death

An organization founded in 2010 by Caitlin Doughty encompassing further funeral homes and advocates. Through their website, outreach and individual work they seek to bring light to burial alternatives and bring a more “death positive” outlook to the larger public.



Please Click for Works Cited

Share this project
  1. April 26, 2019 by Juliana.Shank

    Beautifully formatted page! I’ve heard of being buried with a tree sampling so that a new life grows from your nutrients, but this page helped me to understand a lot more about the topic of sustainable death! This is another cool option:

  2. April 27, 2019 by Veronica Kruschel

    First, I have to say that your project has a wonderful title and that that’s what made me chose your Catalyst Conference page to look at. Second, the way you intertwined helping the environment and working against climate change and death/burial is beautiful to me. I’m not sure exactly how to explain why, but they’re both topics that are universal and also deeply personal, and you managed to be incredibly respectful and sincere throughout. Third, I think that you did a very good job organizing your page and combining visual elements with the text. The entirety of your project is well formatted and because of that, the information is easy to consume and easy to understand. (I’ll stop counting…) Your interview excerpts were seamlessly integrated into your page and they added another dimension to your work. The topic of sustainable burial methods was presented in an interesting and engaging way, and even though I typically think about death and burial as something dark and kind of creepy, you managed to put a more positive spin on it without taking away any of the seriousness and still being respectful of traditions people have surrounding death and burial. The sources you included are a good way to end the presentation as they allow the reader to learn more on their own time in their own way after you’ve already covered the basics, and the fact that you included a variety of sources is helpful. This doesn’t really have to do with your project (and sorry if it’s kinda weird), but I really like your voice. I also really like your art! it’s soft and pretty without being cartoonish, and it’s simple–you didn’t overdo anything or try to cram too much in. Overall, I think you have a wonderful and unique presentation.

    • April 29, 2019 by Miranda Cancelosi

      Oh my goodness thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed my conference and were able to learn and the things I was worried about wound up being conveyed in the way I wanted them to be! Thank you so much for your kind comments about my art as well, and taking the time to write this comment– you made my day.

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