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Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

Who shall guard the guards themselves?

Who shall guard the guards themselves? This is a question that arises in many walks of life and applies not just to soldiers and police officers, but to any regulatory body. It is something that is of particular concern with new industries and services which may only be self-regulating or not regulated in any way at all. People start off with an idea or a new way of doing things and, before you know it, a huge movement has developed and everyone is jumping onto the bandwagon.

This was an issue that came up in Naturensbalm’s CEO Charles Street’s interview with Funeral Radio recently. Charles and Joe Shehee agreed that the Green and Natural funeral industry is a very broad one with very little regulation. One of the reasons for this is that the words ‘green’ and ‘natural’ are generic rather than legal terms. Anything can be described thus, with only tiny alterations to what most people would call ‘manufactured’ or ‘industrial’. Indeed, Green or Natural things may well be manufactured or industrial, whilst also being what they claim.

There is no definition because these are just words and it is our interpretation of them that gives them meaning.

In our view, Green and Natural things are ones that do the minimum of harm both in their use and their production. We can’t say zero harm – our world is full of naturally harmful things – but we can say that a Green or Natural product will have virtually no lasting impact on the environment. So, for example, a Natural Burial site will have a short-term impact; the soil will be disturbed, a body will be placed there and bare earth pushed back over. But in the long term very little will change and there will be no adverse effects. Of course, if you wrap the body in linen, you will slightly increase the level of change. A wicker coffin, perhaps more so. A headstone – the impact is becoming more substantial, though not harmful.

So how to regulate? And who should do it? Is it necessary? Customers need to feel confident that they are getting what they are paying for and the funeral industry needs to be clear about its terms. Industry standards need to be manageable for family firms as well as big corporations. Regulation might help with aspects of this, but there remain a lot of questions about how to achieve it. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

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