When Solina Kennedy ’19 lay on the ground at Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, she thought it was indeed a place that could “cradle her bones.” So did Jane-Marie Law, her professor, who each year takes members of her Religion and Ecological Sustainability class to visit the cemetery as part of their research on the environmental impacts of burial practices.
Kennedy’s experience in that class, as well as others she took in environment, religion and food systems, prompted her to work with friend Sutton Rapheal to produce a video on the topic of green burial for his Wormhole video series. The video was released last month and features Law and others speaking about the environmental benefits of green burial as opposed to traditional casket burials or cremation.
“We’re encouraging people to think about this now when they have the time, have conversations with their families and then to take actionable steps such as filling out the body disposition form that’s on the video link,” Kennedy said.
By melding facts with creative storytelling techniques, the video presents numerous reasons for green burial.
“How we dispose of our corpse can actually be one of the most toxic things we do,” the video creators say. “Each year, American funerals put over 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid and 30 million board feet of casket wood into the ground.”
Rapheal said he created the Wormhole series and encouraged friends to submit story ideas for environmental issues that need more attention.
“Solina is one of the most natural on-camera hosts I've ever worked with, and I can't wait to keep digging into more climate solutions with her moving forward,” he said. “Jane-Marie's research exploring our cultural practices around death opened my eyes to a field of study I never even knew existed.” Law is an associate professor in the departments of Asian studies and religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Kennedy is committed to environmental issues not only through work on this video – her current position at Grounded Capital Partners helps support investments in purpose-driven food and agriculture companies. Before that position, she spent two years with the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment as a program associate, legal researcher and writer.
She’s also one of the creators of 31 Days of Climate Action, a website offering simple and effective actions people can take each day to help solve the climate crisis.
“The professors and experiences I had at Cornell were literally foundational to the way I exist I the world today,” Kennedy said. Entering Cornell as a transfer student interested in studying neuroscience and mindfulness (with a focus on bees), Kennedy took a class with Law and engaged with the idea of considering environmental sustainability through a lens of cultural ritual and religious tradition. She majored in religious studies with a focus on the environment.
“Within Arts & Sciences, the breadth of courses I was able to partake in was instrumental in forming the nuances and critical lens that I use to make decisions around my career.”
Even after graduation, Kennedy said she continues to seek advice from her professors – on everything from careers to relationships.
“The extent to which these professors are willing to give and listen and support and advise is beyond what I could have comprehended, really more than I would expect even from a good friend,” she said.