Emily Maroni is always thinking about death. No, not in an emo sort of way—a profound and curious one. Emily's approach seeks to change perspectives surrounding traditional funerals by advocating for natural burial practices.

What even is a ‘natural burial’? As Emily, a third year Masters Student in Environmental Studies, defines it, “Natural burial is basically going back to how we used to do things 150 years ago.” It is the practice of burial that avoids embalming and makes use of biodegradable caskets that eventually decompose in the ground.

“I first heard about [natural burial] from a YouTuber called ‘Ask a Mortician’,” Emily says. Through watching this channel’s videos and doing her own personal research for her Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) courses, the concept of natural burial sparked her curiosity. Years later, this interest remains near and dear to Emily’s heart as she has centered her capstone project around public awareness and attitudes towards green burial.

Natural burial has birthed new life into Emily’s research at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, while also giving rise to more widely accepted ideas about death.

A lot of her inspiration for this project is mainly rooted in her passion for environmental advocacy.  Emily originally got involved in the zero waste movement online, which sought to reduce personal environmental impact. Her work inspired her to pursue an MES. Along this path, she asked herself, “What can I do to kind of learn more about the bigger picture solutions, and be a part of the solution?” Emily was able to find her niche in the fight against climate change through her research dedicated to green burial.

Along with raising environmental awareness, Emily hopes to use her work with natural burials to break down the stigma that surrounds discussions about death through her research. “In the United States, we don't really like to talk about death. We would like to pretend it doesn't really exist,” she says. But Emily believes that concepts revolving around death should not be taboo and that awareness of natural burial methods is a great outlet to start the conversation.

In fact, her involvement with green burial outside of Penn has already helped her dismantle the challenge of encouraging individuals to speak and think more freely about death. When she’s not working on her capstone, Emily enjoys volunteering with an organization called ‘Friends of Green Burial PA.’ A lot of the organization’s work is dedicated to raising awareness of natural burial techniques through a variety of methods. 

From tabling at markets and agricultural conferences to speaking at senior homes, Emily has seen some impact through her first–hand experiences. “People definitely seem to be really interested,” Emily says. 

She brought her message to Penn this past Friday when she was selected to speak on College Green for Climate Week. Climate Week at Penn is an opportunity for the school’s community to get involved with environmental advocacy by involving themselves with activities that have been planned by students and faculty. These activities all have the intention of raising awareness of environmentally-friendly practices.

Emily spoke during the 1.5 Minute Student Climate Lectures which consists of speeches about environmentalism from undergraduate and graduate students. “I think it’s really cool, because you get to see how many different departments are doing stuff with climate,” she says. 

According to Emily, the sheer amount of departments and individuals at Penn that are promoting environmental change through Climate Week makes a statement in and of itself. From undergraduates, to MES students like her, to even professors at Penn’s dental school, Emily thinks the inherent diversity in thought surrounding climate change is “impactful in and of itself.” She states that, “I'm not sure they're aware of it, but I think that different folks at hand are definitely doing work in the community; and with community members that I think has more of an impact.”

One of Emily’s joys of being involved in the climate sector is getting the opportunity to meet these “different folks” in a variety of unique spaces. Through her environmental advocacy, she has met a myriad of individuals who she believes “are doing really cool and important work.” She says that she enjoys seeing the passion nestled in their work. Emily also loves the process of speaking to everyday people and getting them “more and more interested in sustainability,” because it reminds us that there is always something we can do for the environment.

Through her research in natural burial methods and involvement in organizations and events that promote environmentally friendly practices, Emily is always attempting to resurrect nature from its casket. She believes that it is her efforts and the endeavors of others that will spark long–term impacts that alleviate climate change. “We can all do something to try and stop climate change, every little bit is great,” she says.