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Space Saver

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Living green and saving space is a way of life for Karen Eller ’98 and one that she plans to follow all the way to the grave.

by Donna Parker

"I spend each day thinking about reducing my impact on the planet," states Karen Eller, who received a degree in English from Trinity in 1998.

So, it's not unusual that this conservationist would expand that thinking to the very end of life.

"If I'm hit by a bus tomorrow, the last thing I'd want is to consume resources putting me in the ground.  That's why I'm focused on green and conservation burials."

This adventurer and original thinker says her fledging business is still in the formative stages, but it will eventually align with her conservation efforts.  Karen is researching the market-based mechanisms - and alternative fundraising techniques for public parks and land trusts to come up with a working model that she can replicate.

"When I started looking into this, there were not a lot of options," says Karen, who recently spent time in Austin investigating the first state park system implementing an ash-gathering program.

"The enormous amount of money that we spend on conventional burials could be channeled into actual conservation work to protect the land and maintain what it looked like while we were alive.  This is a concept that could prove to be a revenue stream for farmers and ranchers utilizing a few acres of their land for eco burials or ash scattering, all the way to urban spaces used as dog parks and jogging trails.  There are whole-body green burials with sustainable coffins, no embalming and no concrete vaults.  It really isn't creepy when you understand the benefits."

Karen also studied environmental studies and geology at Trinity and interned with the Nature Conservancy of Texas after graduation. She became the director of philanthropy for Central Texas and then for the California chapter.  Her day job right now is working as a land protection specialist for Tax Credit Connection in Longmont, Colo. 

She says she was never a big risk taker growing up but decided as a young adult to free things up and spent four months traveling internationally as a result.

"I spent time in Europe and North Africa with friends and by myself just roaming about.  We often live at a macro level, trying overly hard to manage everything.  It was a real gift to quit my life at that point and do something I'd wanted to do for so long."

"I found people were always willing to help.  I knew there were all kinds of global crises going on but purposely didn't watch the news for a whole year.  My news was my own personal experience, realizing human compassion and kindness all over the world."

Karen says Trinity prepared her for the real world adventures by its total investment in students.

"I valued professors like Char Miller, department of history, who supported my environmental career path even though I never actually had him for class.  I loved the liberal arts atmosphere and greatly admired Richard Butler, department of economics, who single-handedly changed the way I thought about solving environmental problems.  I still keep in touch with a handful of professors."

"I've found that there are people in the universe to catch you no matter what and that the risk in doing things untraditionally is outweighed by the value and reward."

You may contact Karen at karen.j.eller [at]