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Implementing Aldo Leopold’s ideas through the socio-ecological practice of green burial: Ramsey creek preserve in South Carolina, USA


Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster, SC has successfully implemented Aldo Leopold’s ideas of conservation through the socio-ecological practice of green burial. This article showcases Ramsey Creek Preserve’s green burial standards, born from Leopold’s ideas, and the practical and scholarly inspiration that they have yielded.

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  1. Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) was a conservationist, forester, educator, and is known to many as the father of wildlife ecology. Several SEPR articles have elucidated on Leopold’s contribution to socio-ecological practice and research (Lin 2020a; Lin 2020b; Lin 2020c; Van Auken 2020; Meine 20,202). A special section in SEPR was dedicated to Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac in March 2020, Issue 1. Land, according to Leopold, is the link between human and natural systems (Meine 2020, p.31); Leopold’s perspective on this link has made him a forerunner in defining what a socio-ecological system is (Meine 2020, p.31) and has inspired much scholarship in ecology, wildlife management, land ethics, and individual responsibility toward conservation, among other things (Meine 2020, p.12–18).

  2. The inaugural Green Burial Council Conference was held virtually on October 12–23, 2020. Plenary speakers and workshops were targeted toward funeral industry professionals and the general public who might be interested in learning more about the option of green burial. More information and video recordings can be found at The next Green Burial Council conference, titled Green Life, Death, and Future will be held virtually on October 21–28, 2021.

  3. These figures are corroborated by the National Home Funeral Alliance, who state that contemporary funerals use 73,000 km of hardwood, 58,500 metric tons of steel, 1.5 million metric tons of concrete, and 16.3 million liters of embalming fluid per year (Coutts et al. 2018, p.5).

  4. Death care is a phrase used to describe the goods and services related to funeral directing, preparing the body for disposal, memorializing the body, and hosting funeral services (Smith, 1996 p. 5). A number of professions make up the death care industry, which includes three phases: 1) pre-death and during the dying process, 2) post-death and pre-funeral, and 3) funeral preparation.

  5. For more information about Passages International, please see

  6. Embalming, or chemical preservation of the body after death, became common practice during and after the American Civil War (1861–1865). Being a particularly bloody war, an estimated 620,000 people died (Department of Veterans Affairs 2019; Strochlic et al. 2020). There were limited options for caring for soldiers who died on the battlefield, which meant that many people were buried where they died (Beard & Burger 2017). However, embalming was a technological innovation that allowed bodies (particularly of soldiers and officers of higher standing) to be preserved and transported back to their families (Beard & Burger 2017; Trompette & Lemonnier, 2009). Contemporary American death care processes have been documented as hazardous to both the environment and to death care workers (NIOSH. 2018). The contaminants that are associated with traditional burial practices include “poisonous chemicals, such as arsenic and mercury, which were used in past embalming and burial practices; formaldehyde from current embalming practices; varnishes, sealers, and preservatives used on wood coffins; and lead, zinc, copper, and steel from metal coffins” (Spongberg & Becks, 2000 p. 313).

  7. For a complete list of GBC standards, please see

  8. Carl Leopold (1919–2009) was the son of Aldo Leopold. Carl was a plant physiologist with a diverse academic and scientific career. He was a founder and director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation and carried on his father’s legacy of conservation in many capacities (Lymn 2009). To read more about Carl Leopold’s life, please see

  9. Xiang (2019b, p.1) defines useful as “directly relevant, immediately actionable, and foreseeably efficacious.”.


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I am indebted to the Green Burial Council for inspiring and informing this research. Many thanks to Darrell Hill (Former President, GBC), Susan Green (Former Board Member, GBC) and all the current directors for their support and participation. I am greatly appreciative of Kimberley Campbell, co-founder of Ramsey Creek Preserve, who graciously shared her photos taken in the preserve and gave permission for their use in this publication. Finally, I thank my advisor and mentor, Wei-Ning Xiang (Professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte & Founding Editor-in-Chief of SEPR) for his guidance and wisdom.

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Correspondence to Hannah Catherine Palko.

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Palko, H.C. Implementing Aldo Leopold’s ideas through the socio-ecological practice of green burial: Ramsey creek preserve in South Carolina, USA. Socio Ecol Pract Res 3, 441–450 (2021).

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  • Socio-ecological practice
  • Green burial
  • Conservation
  • Aldo Leopold
  • Ecopracticology