This 12-week comprehensive course will focus on the tools, techniques, and technology used in operating a natural cemetery. Students will learn about natural cemetery: organization options; property management; grave operations; site design; documentation platforms; records and data management programs; money management, including endowments; marketing; differences between laws, bylaws, regulations, policies; writing guidebooks and guidelines; communication necessities; and sales, products and services. We will also explore best practices as informed by science, the conservation community, and cemetery operator experience, plus religious and cultural needs and the ethics of environmental justice within the context of demand for more eco-friendly, affordable, and authentic disposition options. Successful completion will earn CEUs.
- One-hour per week for 12 weeks
- Optional office hours every Tuesday
- Online, real-time instructor
- Guest experts/video presentations
- Readings and video assignments
- Independent research
- Interactive discussion
- Access to instructor between sessions
- Access to broad range of resource lists and links
- Two assigned assessment projects
Module 1: The Cultural and Environmental Call for Natural Burial Practices
How did we get here and how are we going to change funeral practices to be more responsive to our needs? This is the fundamental question we will take on in this first module. We’ll discuss the historical impact of decisions made and innovations implemented over the last century that have led us full circle to embracing natural burial in the US. We’ll begin laying the groundwork for our course of study by defining terms, discussing public health reasoning, stating our ecological and societal goals for greater involvement in death processes and their safety measures, and exploring religious and environmental influences on the field of natural burial.
Module 2: Legal Matters
Funeral law is a multilayered morass that befuddles the best of us. There are federal, state and local requirements, but there are also historic precedents that inform our behavior and opinions regarding issues that are essential to the ethos of natural burial. We will discuss the legal framework for thinking about sustainability and perpetuity, get a feel for the documented systems we use for enforcing laws, rules, and regulations, go over waivers and protections, and learn more about how preneed and at-need requirements work in the running of a natural cemetery.
Module 3: Technology
Things have changed in cemeteries that have everything to do with improving efficiency and accuracy. Like any business, we need to acquire tools and the knowledge to utilize them, including recordkeeping, accounting, and invoicing software; annual reports; office management tools; CRM; project management tools; property mapping; historical data management; property monitoring technology; GIS and GPS systems; grave mapping; site design tools, and much more. The goal is to expose ourselves to as many options as there are out there and develop the skills to know which ones will meet our specific needs.
Module 4: Environmental Documentation
Natural Resource Inventories, Ecological Impact Assessments (EcIAs), Integrated Pest Management Plans (IPMs), Conservation Plans, Forestry Plans — so much goes into soil protection, development, restoration and other initiatives on natural burial cemetery land. We’ll hear from the experts on some of these key documents, learn what they are and what they are used for, and listen to some personal stories and advice for making these documents and their processes support our mission and monitor for accountability.
Module 5: Communications
Perhaps the single most important constituency in natural burial operation is the family. Over the years, families have become accustomed to a system that green burial is turning on its head. Families, communities, professionals, volunteers, and employees need guidance to feel safe and confident, in order to be truly present for their own unique experience. We’ll talk about writing effective, easy-to-read guidebooks that outline policies and guidelines for things like pet and animal visitation, flowers and plantings, where to stand, and lay out what is expected of all parties during the service and beyond. We’ll also talk about some tools for online grave selection and signage design in the natural cemetery.
Module 6: Memorialization
Natural burial is expanding the ways we think about memorialization to include digital processes and programs for interactive experiences, using hardscapes and vegetation to create mood that is in keeping with land best practices, and designing temporary and permanent art installations. How else can we create experiences for mourners that withstands time and brings the comfort and healing we hope for through this aspect of the funeral experience? We’ll also talk about cenotaphs and types of appropriate grave markers and develop compatible grave decor rules.
Module 7: Grave Operations
But how do you actually do it? Let’s get down in the dirt to find out how to prepare, fill, and maintain the natural burial grave and keep visitors, volunteers, and staff safe. And while we’re at it, let’s record it so we have it in writing. There’s more to a burial than people just showing up — we all have to know our jobs and how we can all work together seamlessly.
Module 8: Environmental Impact
It’s not the whole natural burial story, but it’s a major influencer in why people are choosing to go out green. We’ll take a deep dive into the environmental impetus for change, and about some of the elements of best practice and the standards that are making it possible. While we’re here, we’ll stop to smell the flowers and shrubs, and take a look at the relationships that set the table for systems that promote a well-balanced ecosystem in the cemetery.
Module 9: Green Products
What constitutes “green” in a global marketplace? The world of funeral containers is getting pretty exciting, with cottage industries springing up to support local economies and the people who live and die there. We’ll go over the materials and designs coming onto the market, plus delve into greenwashing, the carbon footprint of transported goods, and finding sustainably harvested, biodegradable materials. We’ll also take a quick peek at embalming and how that is changing as a result of natural burial demands for clean products and noninvasive preservative procedures.
Module 10: Starting a New Cemetery
If you woke up at 3 am with the great idea of starting or acquiring a natural burial cemetery, you’re not alone. But where to start? There are a lot of moving parts, and where you live will help determine the systems and processes you’ll have to navigate. We’ll take a long look at the finances of taking on a project meant to last for eternity, trust fund management, how to best organize and sustain your business or nonprofit, how to negotiate applications and filings, and how to raise funds and friends so you can plan for success from Day 1. We’ll discuss that long-range vision to help get there from here—building it so they will come…and stay.
Module 11: Best Business Practices
Cemeteries aren’t all roses and sunshine, even for green burial advocates. They are businesses and need to be operated with some of the same rules and best practices you would any other. We’ll follow some breadcrumbs to answering your questions about things like: perpetual and endowment funds management; sourcing green products; what else you can plan to do on the property; supplementing and expanding revenue centers; marketing green burial and consumer education; providing green products and services to special needs; offering services for military, infant or child, ethnic or religious families and redefined communities; pricing; cultivating community relationships; building partnerships; and the Big One, succession planning.
Module 12: Ethics
Circling back around to where we started, we’ll take some time to think over what we’ve learned and begin to situate that knowledge in the context of day-to-day and ideals, including access, honoring of individuals, indigenous communities, and our obligation to our “residents” and their greater community in perpetuity. We’ll focus on environmental and social justice issues that require financial and regional access and share our thoughts on professionalism and managing conflict to help us firm up our foundation that will provide quality care to those we serve.
"Holly Blue and Lee are incredible, thoughtful mentors with the technical chops to deliver advanced training."
how and why of increasing demand
technical skill areas
health & safety facts
standard practices and procedures