Cemetery goes green

[attach]4266[/attach]York Cemetery is proving that even the rituals of cremation and burial can be environmentally friendly.

On April 21, The Willowdale area cemetery, operated by Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries opened the doors of its first green columbarium.

The building is one of the city’s 12 geothermal buildings currently being used for commercial purposes.

Society’s shift toward going green has been a key part to the development of the columbarium, said Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries president Glen McClary.

“We recognize our responsibility and we understand that we have an impact on the earth.”

Geothermal heating is the use of natural heat from the earth, McClary said. The system works effectively because of the relatively consistent underground temperatures of the earth.

The building’s system works by circulating fluid, which absorbs heat from the earth to heat the facility.

The process is reversed in the summer, when warmer air will be drawn from the building and placed into the cooler earth. The system will be recycling air from the building, through the ground, and back into the building.

Along with the geothermal heating, rooftop solar panels are used to produce power for the system’s indoor heat pump, lighting and other electrical features of the building.

The idea for a geothermal building came about when customers began requesting glass-fronted niches. The niches hold the cinerary urn, which in turn contain a deceased person’s remains.

“It’s a place where people can tell a story, they can personalize it,” McClary said of the demand for glass-fronted niches.

But McClary explained that the problem with the glass niche is its need to be stored in a climate-controlled facility, which requires higher costs and higher energy consumption. The answer was geo-thermal heating.

So far, the columbarium seems to be well-received. About 60 out of the 440 available spots have been sold. Although the building is not completely off the energy grid, the company has noted that 70 percent of the building’s energy was generated from the geothermal system.

The company is also currently in the midst of developing the first-ever natural burial section in the GTA. The area will only have biodegradable caskets and natural grasses and plants will be kept in their natural state.

“We’re not perfect by any means, but we’re trying to be a little friendlier to the environment,” McClary said.

“It’s just the right thing to do.”