In 2002, Juliette and Joe Sehee moved to the Mojave Desert with a vision of opening an eco-retreat. Influenced by early Christian monastics who made pilgrimages to the desert in order to “befriend death,” they hoped to invite others to find solace in the fierce landscape that is Joshua Tree, California.
One of the groups the couple hoped to serve were those suffering from loss, which led the Sehees to explore end-of-life rituals they might accommodate. They also wanted to find a way to protect the thousands of empty acres at the edge of their retreat. These interests led them to learn about the green burial movement that had begun to take shape in England, as well as the first exclusively green cemetery in the United States, which had recently been launched by Dr. William and Kimberly Campbell.
A dialogue among them eventually led to their joint involvement in a project they believed could be a model for a new kind of burial ground with the potential to demonstrate how interment could facilitate ecological restoration and landscape-level conservation. It was to be the first cemetery in the world that would involve a conservation organization as steward.
The project did not manifest as envisioned. But what did was a keen understanding that green burial would not gain traction unless there was a way to guarantee that those involved with this concept were willing to embrace a new ethic. It became clear that there needed to be a credible entity that provided third-party oversight and encouraged the sharing of open source information to evolve the science behind green burial. And there needed to be certifiable standards, as well as legally enforceable mechanisms, to ensure to the public that these burial grounds would always further the ecological and aesthetic promises made by their operators.
In the early spring of 2005, the Sehees sold their high desert retreat and used the proceeds to found the organization today known as the Green Burial Council. With input from an organizing board comprised of leading experts from the fields of sustainable landscape design, restoration ecology, conservation management, consumer affairs, and law, the GBC established the first set of standards for eco-friendly burial grounds.
They soon concluded that the green burial movement would not move forward without involving the traditional funeral service industry. The Council established standards for funeral homes willing to offer eco-friendly deathcare, as well as for manufacturers of green burial products and supplies.
The GBC then launched an extensive outreach campaign to create awareness and demand for deathcare that better serves people and the planet. It also helped bring together a diverse, often disparate, group of people who had never before come together, including land trusts, park service agencies, religious organizations, educational institutions, governmental entities, and deathcare providers.
Most recently, the Council has leveraged its success to help foster a number of public-private partnerships wherein burial/scattering will provide a new means of connecting multi-generational constituencies to the land and to the cause of land conservation.