How to Go Green: Weddings
With reporting by Manon Verchot
A wedding is one of the most important days in a couple's life. If you care about the planet, why not integrate your principles into your big day? With the average cost of a US wedding running at around $20,000 it seems obvious that weddings have a huge footprint, both ecological and economical. Going green doesn't mean you have to compromise on your big day, though. By taking a look at the bigger picture, you can move beyond the usual decadence and consumption to create a truly personal, moving, and sustainable celebration that people will remember for years. You may even open a few eyes in the process...
Top Green Wedding Tips
- Watch the numbers
No matter what other choices you make, the biggest factor in the ecological and financial impact of your wedding will be its size. The cold hard fact is that each person you invite means more miles traveled, more food consumed, a bigger venue, and more waste when it's all over. Since this is your big day, invite as many loved ones as you want, but keep an eye on the numbers and be aware that the more the guest list grows, the harder it is to draw the line: "Well, if we've invited cousin Jenni then we really should invite uncle Sami..."
- Source locally
Almost anything can be found locally, but some things are more important than others. Food and drinks are a great place to start. If there's a good micro-brewery down the road, why use up the earth's precious resources trucking in a keg of your favorite organic ale? For finding local food producers, check out networking sites like Local Harvest in the US, or Big Barn in the UK. And while you're at it, take a look at our guide to the 100 mile liquid diet. Flowers are also worth sourcing locally - community gardens such as SEEDS in Durham, NC (which this TreeHugger chose for his upcoming wedding) are a good place to start.
- Source green
Everything you buy or rent for your wedding will have an environmental and social impact, so keep this notion high on the list when planning. Can you encourage caterers to use organic produce? What is your dress made of? How was the gold in the rings mined? Did those tasty little gift bags of chocolate involve slave labor? Even if you can't establish the green credentials of every single supplier, at least by asking questions about such issues you are already making a difference. Remember though, what is green may not always be obvious--while a hemp suit may be a good eco-statement, if it is going to sit in the closet for most of your married life, you could be much better off with a traditional rental service. Similarly, party rentals for things like linens and glasses are a classic example of a product service system--something we are very keen on here at TreeHugger. They provide the perfect means for getting the most use out of minimal resources. And don't forget your local thrift store--ball jars make excellent vases and a pre-loved wedding dress can get you a classic look at a fraction of the price.
- Pick your venue
Choosing a location that is as close to as many of your guests as possible will reduce your wedding's impact in a big way. But once you've done that, you might also want to consider what type of venue you will be using. If you are not tied to a particular church, synagogue, mosque, or rammed-earth eco-dome, why not consider supporting your local community garden, farmer, LEED certified building, or other worthwhile project? This TreeHugger and his soon to be treehugging wife will be tying the knot at Celebrity Dairy, a local low-impact dairy farm in North Carolina that, conveniently, does excellent green-minded catering. Not only will your wedding serve as a useful source of revenue for the chosen local hosts, it can also raise awareness of their work and send a strongly personal message about the issues that you and your partner care about.
- Green your transportation
So, you've picked the venue, now how will you and your guests get there? Try to provide as much information on transport options as possible. Let them know that you'd really appreciate it if they arrived by train, bus, bike, or at least by carpool. You could even include a link to travel guides like Seat61 in the invitations. If you are a little ways out of town, why not provide shuttle buses--that way you don't have to worry about drunk driving either. It may also be a good time to educate your guests about alternative fuels: "what do you mean this bus is running on used veggie oil?" And while your own transport is likely to be a small part of the overall footprint, it certainly sends a big message. Pictures of the happy couple arriving on a Christiania Bike or G-Wiz electric car will preserve the eco-propaganda value of your wedding for some time to come.
- Make it personal
While you've definitely got to throw a good party, it doesn't need to feel like ancient Rome (or the Playboy mansion). What you lack in material decadence, you can make up for in personal touches. Why not ask friends to grow and bring flowers? You'll end up with the most fabulous flower (un)arrangements ever seen, and your guests will appreciate being involved. Or why not create a scrap book to which friends and relatives can add poems, drawings, pictures, or anecdotes. These are the things that most folks remember most fondly--not the chocolate fountain or the cut-glass chandeliers.
- The perfect eco-invites
An invitation sets the scene for a party, so you don't want to look cheap or tacky, but you also don't want to compromise your principles. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of suppliers of recycled, handmade, or tree-free invitations out there--check the bottom of this guide for a list of suppliers. Some may offer a self-assembly option, which saves on money but can take considerable work, others will put the whole thing together for you. If you are happy breaking from tradition, then electronic invites like Evites are worth considering, too.
- Gifts of conscience
There are almost too many retailers of green gifts to mention these days, and many offer registry services. So why not ask for that solar cooker you've always wanted? Popular eco-choices for gift registries include Viva Terra, Branch, and Gaiam. Many local craft stores may also do registries, and even mainstream retailers now have many eco-options, such as organic linens, etc. Remember though, less is almost always more when it comes to being green--so think carefully about how many bamboo yoga mats you really want or need. If you have all you need, why not create an online donation registry to a worthy cause instead?
- Offsetting the rest
To be truly green, make every effort to cut emissions, waste, and other negative impacts of your wedding at the source. However, the thing is still likely to create a significant impact. Offsetting can be a means of taking responsibility for that impact and channeling funds into some positive projects--as long as you pick your offset provider carefully. Popular choices include Terrapass, Native Energy, and MyClimate in the US, and Climate Care in Europe. Native Energy even has an online wedding offset calculator. If you can't afford offsets for the whole wedding, then why not offset a portion and ask guests to contribute to the rest? You can at least include information on offset providers on the invites so guests can choose whether to offset their travel. Be aware though, that some see offsetting as fundamentally flawed, no matter which provider you choose--so make sure it fits with your version of what's green.
Whatever you do to green your wedding, make sure you tell people about it. Screening An Inconvenient Truth during the ceremony is probably over the top, but you can still take advantage of having your friends and family gathered in one place to do a little friendly education. Tell them about yourselves and about what is important to you. If you can create a wonderful, magical celebration that treads a little lighter on the planet, then people will remember it. Too many folks still believe environmentalism is all doom and gloom--this is the perfect opportunity to prove them wrong!
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Green Weddings: By the Numbers
- 2.3 million: Number of couples that get married in the US each year. That breaks down to more than 6,300 weddings a day.
- $20,000: The average budget of a wedding in the U.S.; this number increases to £16,000 ($31,222) in the U.K. and decreases to €12,000 ($15,782) in France.
- 14.5 tonnes: The amount of CO2 created by the average wedding in the U.K.
- 80 percent: The percentage of gold minded each year that goes into jewelry, out of 2500 tons.
- 50 years: Length of time the current amount of already-mined gold could satisfy demand; much of it currently sits in bank vaults and in old, unused jewelry.
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Where To Get Green Wedding Supplies
- Shindig is an artisan source for invites.
- Seal & Send invites come in a nifty, envelope-free format.
- InviteSite is a company specializing in green wedding stationary.
- Twisted Limb invites are 100% recycled and easy on the Earth.
- Easy and free, Evites are one way to summon the loved ones, no paper required.
- The Bridal Garden
- Conscious Clothing
- Faernyn's Grove
- Gaia House
- Olivia Luca
- Threadhead Creations
- Wholly Jo's
Suits and Jackets
Engagement rings and wedding bands
Disposable Tableware (though rental is better!)
- Eco-Chic Weddings, by Emily Elizabeth Anderson
- Green Weddings, by Carol Reed-Jones
- Organic Weddings, by Michelle Kozin
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Green Weddings: From the Archives
Dig deeper into these articles on green weddings from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
From the the early stages of planning to the big day: food, drink and dress, find everything you need to know about green weddings with Planet Green's Ultimate Green Wedding Guide.
Check out the full "Green Your Wedding" series here at Planet Green, including choosing a green dress, a green wedding registry, being a green cheapskate, and checking in with a different kind of registry.
Rachelle and Ed from TV's Living with Ed know a thing or two about green weddings.
Invitations can be extremely costly, both to you and to the environment. Check out our explorations of the alternatives with these custom, recycled jobs, this entry to our "Unexpected Green" Contest, and this tree-free version.
Searching for the perfect bubbly? Take a look at our round up of organic champagnes.
When it comes to food, local is the way to go. If you happen to be in NYC, then our post on green caterers Lucid Food might be of interest, in Toronto you may want to turn to Vert, and wherever you are, you may want to refer your caterer to our posts on the Green Restaurant Association and good reasons to go local. Of course you can also check out our How to Green your Meals guide for more.
Once you've picked your caterer, if you can't convince them to utilize reusable tableware, then you may at least want to explore the options of biodegradable or recycled disposables. We've done a little of the groundwork for you, with help from our ever-diligent readers!
Don't want conflict diamonds? TreeHugger explores the topic of green rings, and a commenter tips us off on another cool supplier.
And for the guys, take a look at our roundup of green suits.
As for getting to the church on time, we think bikes would be fun, and a horse and buggy must be pretty sustainable. But if you want something with an engine, check out our posts on green car services in LA, NYC, and London.
And hey, let's not forget about one of the most important parts of this new union. The sex! From the honeymoon forth, a greener lovin' life can be yours with some sexy guidance from our How to Go Green: Sex guide.
Further Reading on Green Weddings
TreeHugger and Planet Green are but two sources; learn more about green weddings from these other worthwhile sites.
Portovert magazine is an online resource dedicated to green weddings.
Ethical Weddings is a one-stop searchable database of all things local, fair-trade, organic, recycled, and wedding related.
The ever-slick Style Will Save Us has a wedding guide for your perusing pleasure.
Green Elegance Weddings also offers a roundup of useful advice and tips on useful suppliers.
Meanwhile, Grist serves up an accessible guide to the main points of green wedding planning.
The New York Times also gets in on the act with an exploration of the growing trend in sustainable weddings.
Ecobusiness Links has a few hints for useful suppliers.
Heather Green, associate editor of Business Week, illustrates her search for the perfect eco-wedding dress.