Relaunching the Green Burial Council’s “Certificate of Proficiency in Green Funeral Services”
by Brian Hayden
March 7, 2023

We’re partnering with the Green Burial Council to provide the Certificate of Proficiency in Green Funeral Services. This 13 module program is designed for practitioners interested in environmentally sustainable funeral services. This two-part program is the first of its kind in the nation and gives students a dynamic foundation for offering green alternatives in their community. Obtaining the Certificate of Proficiency in Green Funeral Service consists of two parts- passing the course Green Funeral Services and passing the GBC’s Proficiency Exam.

Green Funeral Services” is a 13 module course is designed to teach funeral professionals how to curate environmentally sustainable business practices. The course covers family and professionally directed home vigils, disposition options, innovations in funeral service, and adaptations funeral professionals can make to meet the changing environmental and cultural expectations of the families they serve.

The course is developed at taught by Sam Perry and Lee Webster, with help from many industry experts. We’ve asked Sam to answer some questions about the course so you can learn more about the program. His answers are below.

Who is Sam Perry? How did he get into this?

Sam: I actually started as a lawn maintenance kid at a funeral home in my town.

That was what I did in high school, lawn maintenance, and just sort of randomly got into funeral service. And as I worked through mortuary college, I realized that it didn’t quite fit who I was, didn’t quite align with what I wanted in my life as far as being connected to nature and being in the outdoors.

I stumbled upon the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Green Burial Council and really found my people in those two groups, and have really ever since worked with them to, try to do what I want to do in the world, which is, just be connected to the environment, but also, learning through death and dying and death education.

I’ve been in the industry for, for over 10 years, closer to 15 years and licensed for over 10 years. And have worked with the Green Burial Council since 2010, and they have been my biggest advocate, honestly. I’ve worked through the beginning of the Green Burial Council until now, and they’ve really turned into, a really big, and supportive group for the nation and, and green burials.

This is education that I didn’t get as a mortuary student and always wanted. So I f I feel really aligned with it, and really proud of this work, because it’s exactly what I wish someone taught me when I was a student and never got.

I’m a Midwesterner , a little more conservative, but this is where my family is, and I’m very connected to my family. And so I’ve really struggled to make this happen here in the Midwest. And I think through teaching, I can help teach the future so that they can make this happen here. And it’s become a really, comfortable and, exciting place for me to work. Even though I don’t get to do as many green services as I’d like personally, I can, teach, the future of the industry to do this and hopefully,make this happen for, for my community.

How did the Green Funeral Services course begin?

Sam: The course started as an idea with Lee Webster who created Changing Landscapes. She published the book and hoped to teach the class to funeral directors and created this alliance with a mortuary school. And they asked for a funeral director to teach the class. And she and I had been working together a little bit on the book so she asked if I would step in and teach the course, which was really, again, exciting for me because this was something that aligned with what I wanted to do. And then from there I took the foundation that she created the book and the curriculum, foundation and, created lectures and assignments.

And also tried to visualize the class through my own funeral director eyes. My original idea was to walk through the class as if you were walking through a green funeral. From beginning to end. So all of the things you would need to know about Green funeral service from the beginning to the end, and has sort of evolved into sort of that idea plus Lee’s, structure.

And, you get history in the course. You get cultural perspectives in the course, but also this beginning to end with green funeral service and you learn body care in green funeral service, which can be a little different for funeral directors, can be a little counterintuitive for a funeral director.

You learn about products which aren’t always familiar, and with funeral directors and as far as being green products, and you get to learn about business operations as well. So operating a business in a more green environment, something that, that reduces its impact on the environment.

Who is the Green Funeral Services Course for?

Sam: Definitely service providers would benefit the most from the class. And I say service funeral service providers, would benefit the most from this class because I definitely envision funeral directors benefiting quite a bit from this, but also death doulas or aspiring death doulas, and even, family members who are willing to take on those types of services, funeral services. I am looking at it through the lens of an industry member, but there’s a lot of, knowledge there that will benefit the consumer and peripheral, service providers as well.

There’s also a certificate of proficiency from the Green Burial Council.

Brian: Do you mind just kind of like explaining what that is and, I guess the process for getting it?

Sam: Sure. So the, certificate of proficiency from the Green Burial Council is, a certificate that was put together through Lee Webster and a committee of folks from the Green Burial Council. They continue to help update and maintain a high standard for green funeral services, and to get that, you do have to take the course, green Funeral Services through this platform, and then you have to take the exam. The exam is $150. So outside of this course, you do have to pay $150 to the Green Burial Council to take that exam. But that that money does go to support, the Green Burial Council and future educational, activities. And then once you have passed the course, passed the exam, you will receive your certificate and be able to frame it, show it to your community,which allows them to understand your commitment to this ethic.

What Changes Do You Hope For in the Funeral Industry?

Sam: The two biggest things I was most disappointed with, with funeral service, which I do think are changing quite a bit already in the time that I’ve been in the industry, are just the disconnect between the industry and the families. So that disconnect from death in general, but also the service of embalming. once I understood what that was, I was pretty disappointed by that whole service. So I want to talk about both of those. With community and death work and being disconnected from death, I think part of what brought me into the field was this curiosity about death, that I didn’t understand.

We don’t see the dead. We don’t participate in services with our own dead. They sort of get whisked away into, these different industries and we find them again once they’re in this, I guess lack of better words, perfect shape. And, and it really makes it difficult to understand the reality and transition that death really is.

And so I found a real, a lot of comfort in the industry, by understanding what death looks like. And so that kind of brings me into embalming, which is definitely a necessary and appreciated service for some people in some communities. And so I’m not discrediting it in any way. I’m not, I’m not, necessarily an embalming expert, but I can embalm and I understand the science and how it works.

I wouldn’t say I’m an embalming advocate either, but I appreciate that art and that science and I think what has bothered me for myself is that, I wouldn’t want embalming for myself. It just, because it is a pretty invasive process. It’s not something that I feel like is necessary for me in death.

Iit kind of depends on how I die, of course. But, I just don’t like the chemicals that are involved in that process. I don’t like the medical process that it is for my own body.But again, it is a process that I think it benefits, some people in certain situations, because, you know, it is an art that can restore the body in a way that helps with unusual circumstances like trauma.

What I found through Green Funeral Services is that you can leave the body with a sense of dignity without embalming. And that has, has been a comfort to me personally. And through finding this community, I have found that that there are others like me who find peace and dignity with the body through just washing it through, dressing the body,without that very invasive process of embalming.

What are some encouraging trends that you’re excited about?

Sam: Things are definitely starting to change and people are starting to take hold of green funeral services, from the industry side, which is very exciting. And, more and more funeral directors are actually seeking out this knowledge. And more and more funeral directors are not saying it’s just a fad. I heard that a lot when I was first interested in this, that it’s just a fad that it won’t be around, and they didn’t really take it seriously.

But the National Funeral Directors Association, which is well known in the industry, does surveys every year on what consumers want. And they have found that over 60% of consumers are interested in this idea and interested in moving this direction. And so I think through that, the industry has gotten a lot more serious about this idea.

And in fact, the National Funeral Directors Association is even putting together their own education. And so there’s, a great movement towards this now because they see that there’s a consumer need, and a consumer desire for this type of service. Also, I think people are starting to take, on just a grander scale, the climate crisis more seriously as it pops up more in culture, they are are seeing the dire need to make changes across all industries.

And so I’m really proud of the fact that I can help, you know, curate people to help. Change the funeral industry, change the death care industry, towards a more environmentally sensitive industry that can help offset harms to the climate as well.

Why is the Green Funeral Services course needed?

Sam: I hope that Green Funeral Services becomes another option that’s just as available and known as conventional burial and cremation. Because I think the most frustrating thing right now for me is that every time I talk to new people about green funeral services, they didn’t know it actually existed for them. So I hope that, and as part of why I feel like this is a great place for me because I love talking about this topic and that’s exactly what we need right now is education, making people aware of it. And so I hope that, in the future, hopefully the very near future, this is a very accessible and known option so that people think of it for themselves or their family members.

If somebody’s just learning about this, and they’re maybe not ready to fully commit to it, but they want to learn more instead of, they’re curious. Are there, places they should go or advice you’d give them? Yeah, so a great starting point is getting the book Changing Landscapes by Lee Webster. She curated a whole anthology of articles from people all across the industry And so it has a ton of perspectives on green funeral services, which I think is a great way to get a glimpse at the world of Green Funeral Services. but also I highly recommend going to the Green Burial Council’s website because, the website itself has been developed to a point where it also has, tons of perspectives in it and great articles as well. So there’s videos, there are news articles, but there are also academic articles as well. And so you could dive into that website and learn a ton about green funeral services just by, diving into those two resources.

But I think the benefit of this course is that it ties those resources together into one idea and and flow of green services from from the beginning to the end.