How to Go Green: Wedding Engagement

proposal on car photo

Photo credit: Michael Blann/Getty

We've already talked a lot about how to green your dating life and how to green your wedding, but what about that time in between--your engagement? The average couple these days spends 15 months being engaged, which means more than a year of parties, planning, and wedding preparation (and, possibly, more champagne than you've ever had before).

But alongside the smaller decisions--like whether your guests would prefer pigs in a blanket or stuffed mushrooms at the cocktail hour--you'll be making bigger decisions, too, that impact the environment long after you've wrapped up the extra cake and preserved your dress. Keeping your guest list small, sending engagement announcements on recycled paper, choosing an eco-friendly ring, and adding green items to your registry all help you keep the after-effects of your big day under control--but there's also no better time to sit down with your fiance and discuss your green goals for the future.

Read on for more advice, ideas, and musts for a green engagement.

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Top Green Wedding Engagement Tips

  1. Get a green engagement ring
    Whether you decide to go diamond, platinum, gold, wood, antique--or with something completely custom and original--the most important factor to keep in mind when choosing the ring is the person you're buying it for. Don't let the salesperson talk you into the diamond if she'd rather have an amethyst; don't buy a new ring that looks vintage when there are estate sales and antique stores that sell the real deal (without consuming the energy used to process something brand new). Have a family gem? Get it reset in a band made from recycled metals for a piece that fits the bill as something old and something new.

  2. Pop the question
    You want it to be romantic. You want it to be memorable. You want it to be perfect. But does that mean it has to be environmentally un-friendly? Obviously hiring that plane to write "Will you marry me?" in the sky is a no-go--as is your weekend trip to Paris to propose under the Eiffel Tower (unless you live in France, of course)--but you can still make your proposal green: try an making an organic, home-cooked meal with plenty of candlelight; putting together a scrapbook of photos and mementos from your relationship; or going down on one knee in the spot where you met. It doesn't have to be elaborate to garner a "yes" from your sweetheart; it just has to be heartfelt.

  3. Spread the word
    Congratulations! Now that you?re engaged--and want the whole world to know?it?s time to share your happy news with eco-friendly engagement announcements. An electronic announcement is the greenest option, but if your families are too traditional to get the word out via email, look for announcements made from recycled paper, printed with non-toxic inks, and made with low-impact processes; try the custom versions from Shindig, and choose a design that you like enough to carry through on all your wedding papers.

  4. Throw a party
    Ready to celebrate? The parties that go along with weddings--from engagement soires to bridal showers to rehearsal dinners--have a carbon footprint all their own; keep yours under control with an eco-friendly engagement get-together. Control the guest list--immediate family and bridal party is plenty for this kind of occasion; choose a restaurant that gets its ingredients from local farms (or cook at home); put together centerpieces that take advantage of the season with sticks, flowers, and other natural elements. Light the room with soy candles, lay out cloth napkins, and toast with organic cocktails. (And remember: these same ideas will help you green your wedding, too.)

  5. Shop smart
    When it comes to picking out the china, appliances, and sheets that will mark the start of your new life together, get off to a green start with your registry. Register at smaller boutiques that carry pieces by local artisans for one-of-a-kind place settings that you won't see on your cousin's table at Thanksgiving, and look for sustainable fibers (like organic cotton) woven into sheets, towels, tablecloths, and napkins. Scale back on kitchen gadgets--do you really need that Panini maker, or will a grill pan work? How often will you really make ice cream from scratch?--and choose items that will do double duty to save space and minimize clutter. If you're combing two households and already have all your housewares, register for tools, camping equipment, or donations to your favorite charity instead.

  6. Plan green
    We know those Martha Stewart Weddings--type magazines are nearly impossible to resist, but try to ignore them in favor of online versions. You don't need a binder filled with idea pages and fabric swatches and dream dresses when you can bookmark your favorite wedding sites and save some paper. The same goes for wedding planning books and notebooks: unless you plan to pass them on from bride to bride, keep the money and search the internet for ideas. If you really need help, turn to a wedding planner that specializes in weddings with a green twist, like Katie Fewings at Ethical Weddings.

  7. Throw a green wedding
    We could write a whole guide on green weddings alone (and actually, we did) but the basics are simple: choose eco-conscious vendors and products--like invitations made from recycled paper, LEED-certified or low-impact reception spaces, and organic bakeries; serve organic and local food; minimize the required transportation (so: no weeklong trips to Mexico when your entire family lives in Maine); and think vintage when it comes to rings, dresses, and suits.

  8. Keep it small
    You may be looking forward to sharing this day with everyone from your college roommate to your fiance's mother?s co-workers (well...maybe not them), but the easiest way to cut back on waste, carbon use, and environmental impact is to keep your wedding--and your bridal party--intimate. This means smaller bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and bachelor parties, reducing the impact of all your associated events, and having only a few attendants means fewer bridesmaids dresses, tuxes, bouquets, seats in the limo--the list goes on. In the end, this also means less money out of your pocket and, trust us, on the day after your wedding you'll be glad you didn't go into debt for it. (That, after all, is what honeymoons are for!)

  9. Combine households
    Maybe you already live together--in which case you're used to the environmental benefits (like saving energy and using less gas. But if not, then you have a lot of decisions ahead?which means plenty of chances to make green choices. If you're looking for a new place, find one that's set up to take advantage of solar power or other alternative energy sources. When you're packing, set aside items you have doubles of?silverware, dishes, coffee makers--and donate them to a thrift store or sell them online; move everything else in reusable boxes, using shredded newspapers or plastic bags for packing material.

  10. Think about the future
    Being engaged is great, but remember: you're not just planning your wedding, you're planning your life together. When you're talking about your career, family, and financial goals, take a minute to talk about your green goals, as well: do you ever want to live off the grid? Could you be a one-car household? Are you both planning to work from home? What kind of vacations do you want to take? Do you plan to volunteer your time money to environmental charities? Getting these issues out on the table before you walk down the aisle means a smoother transition once you get back from the honeymoon--and a happy, green life ahead.

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Green Wedding Engagements: By the Numbers

  • 2.4 million: Number of weddings in the U.S annually.

  • 25: The average age of first-time brides in the U.S.

  • 27: The average age of first-time grooms in the U.S.

  • 15 months: The average length of an engagement for U.S. couples.

  • $3 billion: The combined amount that couples spend on housewares during that period.

  • 42: Percentage of women who shopped for an engagement ring with the groom.

  • $133.34: Average increase in the cost of rings purchased by brides and grooms together as compared to rings chosen by grooms alone.

  • 84: Percentage of couples who choose a diamond engagement ring.

Sources: NMOA, Engagement Rings as Signals via Google Answers, Slate.

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Where to Find Green Engagement Ring Sets and More

Engagement Rings
Green Karat
Brilliant Earth
Touch Wood Rings
Chicago Joinery
Cred Jewellery
Leber Jeweler Inc?The Earthwise Collection
Announcements and Invitations
Invite Site
Shindig Invites
Twisted Limb Paperworks
Online Registries
3R Living
Global Exchange Fair Trade
Re: Modern
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Green Wedding Engagements: Engagement Rings

What goes into a diamond engagement ring?
The traditional ring--a diamond solitaire or three-stone, in a yellow gold, white gold, or platinum setting--wasn't exactly traditional before the 1930s. That's when diamond company De Beers began an aggressive marketing campaign that targeted wanna-be fiancés by linking the quantity of gems with the quality of the relationship. While a diamond itself is inherently green--it's just super-compressed carbon, really--many of the processes used to get to it are not, especially when it's found in a in politically unstable country, where working conditions are harsh, child labor is standard, mining endangers the local wildlife, and proceeds from conflict diamonds fund terrorist groups. The mining processes required to make metal bands, too, are environmentally irresponsible, leaving pollution and battered landscapes in their wake.

Antique & vintage: The greenest engagement rings
The greenest way to choose a ring is via reuse--since when you?re talking about your grandmother's antique diamond-and-platinum band, "reuse" sounds a little more romantic. If your beloved doesn't like Nana's style, try "recycle": have the band melted down and get the diamond re-set in a design of her choice. Second best? Find a ring made from recycled metals with a diamond that is certified conflict-free via the Kimberly Process or that?s synthetic. You can also sidestep some of these issues with "reduce": choose a stone other than diamonds--try rubies, emeralds, amethyst, or tanzanite--or select a gem-free ring made from wood.

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Green Wedding Engagements: From the Archives

Dig deeper into green wedding engagements with these articles from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Read more about diamonds in this comprehensive guide from How Stuff Works and in Planet Green?s piece on man-made diamonds; then follow up with With This Green, I Thee Wed and a look at Ecologically and Socially Responsible Jewelry.

For help planning the big day, turn to the How to Go Green: Weddings guide, TreeHugger Picks: Tips for a Green Wedding, and sites like Organic Weddings and Green Elegance.

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Further Reading on Green Wedding Engagements

Check out these other worthwhile sites for more information on green wedding engagements.

Looking for a more exotic way to ask for her hand? The Knot offers 50 Romantic Ways to Propose (though the eco-friendliness of the tips varies) and Forbes lists Romantic Places to Pop the Question--see if any of your local spots made the list.

For a look at the history--and modern day pros and cons--of diamond rings, read Meghan O?Rourke?s Slate piece, Diamonds Are a Girl?s Worst Friend, and for a look at couples who chose a more untraditional ring, check out the Columbia News Service.

Amnesty International and the United Nations weigh in on the diamond industry and conflict gems.

Plan ahead with 10 Inexpensive Ways to Make Your Wedding Eco-Friendly ideas from Great Green Weddings, and Steps to a Green Wedding from the Sierra Club.

How to Go Green: Wedding Engagement
Photo credit: Michael Blann/Getty We've already talked a lot about how to green your dating life and how to green your wedding, but what about that time in between--your engagement? The average couple these days spends 15 months being engaged, which

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