Why I Build Green Caskets
Customs around death have always varied widely based on people’s religion and culture. In today’s world as we are witness to the impact of the human population on our planet’s environment and climate—polluting the air, water, land and resources—many people are looking for funeral alternatives to honor their dead without damaging the environment.
A bit about myself…
I spent my early childhood living on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. Our family’s life centered on the joy of being surrounded by rolling land, gardens, and animals. We moved away from our iconic farmhouse when I was still quite young, following my father’s career path north to support our family with engineering jobs in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and finally New Hampshire. The simple and natural beauty of the land and life I knew in Pennsylvania helped shape my outlook on life and my choices and values as an adult.
After college at the University of NH, I entered the world of full-time work with a degree in Plant Science and soon discovered new interests while working as a carpenter, and fully embraced woodworking as an art. Cabinetry offered creative opportunities to design and build fine furniture pieces, work on period restoration of classic old New England homes, and to design and build my own “old” saltbox home and woodworking shop—creating a homestead where my wife and I raised our children and now enjoy a semi-retired life with Porter our third, and current favorite, Labrador Retriever.
Cabinetry and Caskets
Restoring old homes, I came to appreciate antique furniture, period styles, and the wide variety of beauty in fine wood grains. My eyes were also opened to the roles craftsmen played in early New England communities which included building caskets for local families.
Prior to the Civil War most funerals and burials were family affairs. Family members cared for their own dead, handling the preparation of bodies, set-up, wakes, and funerals in their family homes. People in earlier times lived with an acceptance of death; it was known and understood to be a natural and inevitable part of life. Houses had “parlors” to display bodies so family and friends could pay respects and say goodbye. In the woods and fields throughout New England today one often discovers family burial plots set off by stonewalls—a legacy of those days.
Funerals in America changed significantly during and after the Civil War and in the early 1900s with the acceptance of embalming to preserve bodies for viewing and the emergence of the “profession” of funeral directors. Home parlors became “living rooms” and funeral “homes“ became the norm for dealing with death and burial. In society today the funeral process has become ever more institutionalized. Local community-based funeral homes are being bought out by large corporations driven by the profits of the “business” of death. Cemeteries require caskets to be placed in cement vaults, keeping the lawns flat and level and using up the land forever. These days it is not unusual to see families turn to GoFundMe and other social media to raise money to pay for the process, which often leaves them feeling distanced, broke, and empty in their grief.
As a cabinetmaker concerned about the environment, I started a new venture building hand-crafted, solid wood “green caskets.” Green caskets/burials are an option that makes sense to me. It is a tie to our past, honors our loved ones, and is sustainable and kind to the environment by avoiding adding chemicals to the land or air. It is more personal and affordable than paying for embalming services, vaults, expensive caskets, and plots. It is a personal choice to consider for those who want to take charge of the process—a choice my wife and I have made and are reminded of daily, as we park next to our green caskets in our garage—every day is a gift!
George Lang is a casket and cabinetmaker located in Strafford, NH. Find George’s contact information and other green burial products and services on our resource page.