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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2014 / 03 

Film and panel to explore green burial movement

March 3, 2014

Dying Green film poster
The documentary film 'Dying Green' will be shown in Blacksburg on March 20.

As people look for ways to practice green living, there is a growing movement to extend recycling to one final act: natural burial.

The documentary film “Dying Green” explores eco-friendly burial through the story of Dr. Billy Campbell, a pioneer in the movement. Campbell will be in Blacksburg on Thursday, March 20 for a screening of the documentary at the Lyric Theatre, followed by a panel discussion of environmentally sound end-of-life practices.

The event will begin with a 6 p.m. screening of “Dying Green,” followed by the panel discussion at 6:45 p.m. and an open question and session from 7:45 to 8 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Campbell, a family practice and hospice physician, says in the film that his longtime interest in green burial came into sharper focus when his father died. Campbell saw firsthand the cost of conventional interment, not only as a family expense but also as an impact on the environment.

The event is being organized by Philip R. Olson, assistant professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society at Virginia Tech.

Olson has a personal interest in the topic — he comes from a line of funeral professionals. His great-grandfather established a funeral home in Duluth, Minn., leaving the business to Olson’s grandfather and uncle, who passed it along to Olson’s father. Typical in a family business, the Olsons often discussed the industry in general, its trends and technological changes.

While researching alkaline hydrolysis, a chemical alternative to cremation for disposing of remains, Olson discovered the green burial movement. “This is not just about disposing of the body,” he said. “These conservation preserves for burial are not like traditional cemeteries. They are woods — you can go there and have a picnic.”

He noted that green burial is not new. The Jewish and Muslim faiths historically have not used embalming. Rather, the deceased are wrapped in a shroud and burial in a simple wooden casket.

Olson said he organized the film screening and panel discussion to benefit the local community. “I wanted to give folks in our area some information about this movement and to let them know what their rights and options are,” he said. Olson contacted Campbell in South Carolina. “I just asked him to come.”

Serving on the panel with Campbell are:

  • Josh Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit organization that educates consumers on their legal rights and acts as a watchdog on the burial industry.
  • Isabel Berney, retired from Pulaski County Public Schools, where she was the director of technology. Active in community affairs for more than 40 years, she has served on the Virginia State Cemetery Board and represents the Blacksburg-based Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge.
  • Samuel Perry, a licensed mortician and volunteer compliance and education specialist for the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization whose stated mission includes reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat.

“These options to traditional burial are becoming increasingly available here,” Olson said. “I think folks in our community — not just the Virginia Tech community — will find this information interesting and desirable.”

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