Every engaged couple wants their wedding day to be a special celebration that reflects who they are and what they care about. Going green is a great way to make the festivities unique and meaningful–and show friends and family just how fun, beautiful, and delicious a sustainable lifestyle can be. Here’s how to start planning the kind of wedding guru’s planners have anointed “the hot new thing”:
1. With this ring…
A green wedding begins where any engagement does: with a ring. Don’t start off on a sour note. The beautiful alternatives to “blood diamonds” (those that are mined in war zones and fund conflicts) include:
- vintage rings, whether a family heirloom or an antique find (you can even have old gold melted down and refashioned)
- lab-created diamonds (greenKarat‘s are set in recycled gold too)
- diamonds mined in peaceful Canada or Australia, like those from Brilliant Earth, Cred Jewelery, or Leber Jewelry’s Earthwise line
- diamonds certified as “conflict-free” under the Kimberley Process, an ongoing effort to reform diamond mining in Africa (ask your jeweler the questions in Amnesty International’s buyer’s guide)
- one-of-a-kind wooden bands
2. Location, location, location
Your choice of venue sets the tone for your wedding day-and accounts for a big chunk of the money you’ll be laying out. Spend it wisely! Consider:
- choosing a setting that’s convenient to the most guests to minimize travel impacts
- having the ceremony and the reception at the same place, or providing ecofriendly transportation between them
- picking a unique local spot-like the beach, an art gallery, nonprofit space, organic restaurant or farm, green hotel, Selby Botanical Gardens, or green-roofed building.
- an outdoor setting that will infuse the whole event with a natural sensibility (and require less decorating too!)
- arriving at the ceremony in a horse-drawn carriage, cycle rickshaw, or hybrid car
- offsetting your guests’ travel (or asking them to do it as your wedding gift)
3. Please join us…
Your wedding invitation is the first impression guests will get of your green wedding. Look for:
- recycled, handmade, or plantable papers processed chlorine-free and printed with vegetable- or soy-based inks
- tree-free paper made out of hemp, banana stalks, bamboo, kenaf, or organic cotton
- a printer who will use paper with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content
- papers that aren’t metallic or plastic-coated, characteristics that make them hard to recycle
- opportunities to reduce paper use, like sending a postcard (instead of multi-enveloped notes) for your save-the-date, or using online invitations and a wedding blog to let people know about the bachelor/ette parties, rehearsal dinner, and gift registry
In your invitations, let guests know about the ecofriendly hotel and transportation options in your area, whether it’s hybrid rental cars or directions to the ceremony on public transportation. And don’t forget to pick up some extra green paper products for your guest book, place cards, and thank-you notes. (You will be writing thank-yous, won’t you?)
4. The final fling
Plan bachelor and bachelorette parties that will keep the green theme going:
- Stay local (and spend more time with your friends, and less dealing with travel stress).
- Offset your trip if you choose a “destination” party.
- Travel by train (and start the party early in the bar car).
- Indulge in organic wine tasting or an organic spa treatment.
- Take a class and learn to make your own wedding flowers or jewelry.
- Do something low-impact and outdoorsy like a camping, surfing, sailing, kayaking, or fishing trip.
5. Here comes the bride…
…in a gorgeous hemp-silk gown. When it comes to outfitting the bridal party, green options abound. You can:
- go vintage (and update your look as necessary with tailoring and modern shoes and accessories)
- pick clothes made from hemp, bamboo, and organic cotton or silk–or find a dressmaker who will make a one-of-a-kind item out of these sustainable fabrics (men’s suits and shirts come in organic cotton or wool too)
- borrow an elegant gown from a stylish friend
- buy something you’ll wear again (and let your bridesmaids do the same)
- accessorize with a unique recycled purse and/or jewelry
- use vegetable dyes on your shoes (or go barefoot for a beach wedding)
- accentuate natural beauty with all-natural makeup
- donate the dresses to charity after the event
6. Set the stage
Add beauty and style to your wedding décor, naturally. Here’s how:
- opt for organic flowers
- find a florist who’s diligent about recycling packaging and will source locally raised flowers
- have bridesmaids carry matching purses or silk bouquets instead of cut flowers
- decorate with branches, dried grasses, grains, greens, berries, or live plants (potted or dried arrangements can double as favors)
- choose beeswax or soy-based candles over those made with paraffin, a petroleum byproduct
- arrange to have decorations moved from the ceremony to the reception (if you opt for separate sites)
- use leaves or other natural objects as place cards
- throw biodegradable confetti or organic rose petals instead of releasing butterflies. Butterfly releases at the beach can be very sad when they hit the sand or encounter heavy wind without a plant to land on.
- donate the flowers to a hospital or rest home at the end of the day
7. Eat, drink, and be merry
Showcase green gustatory pleasures (and spoil your guests) by basing your menu around local, organic, and seasonal foods. Don’t forget the organic wine, beer, and spirits, and the free-trade, shade-grown coffee and tea! Some tips:
- Ask the venue’s preferred caterers and bakers if they can do your event organically.
- Find a local organic restaurant that does off-site catering.
- If your wedding won’t be complete without a specific type of food, get married when it’s in season.
- Find a caterer you trust to pick the best seasonal selections (since you may not be able to taste those exact items ahead of time).
- Consider vegetarian selections and seek out cruelty-free meats and wild, rather than farmed, fish.
- Make sure the venue offers comprehensive recycling facilities, and ideally composting too.
- Have your cake decorated with organically grown flowers or other natural materials instead of plastic toppers.
- Rent real glassware, dishware, and linens instead of using disposables.
- Go for a chic eclectic look by mixing and matching thrift-store plates and dishes (and donating them back when you’re done).
- Use biodegradable utensils and dishes made out of cornstarch, potatoes, wheat, or sugar cane-if your venue can compost them.
- Make arrangements to donate leftover food to a local food bank or homeless shelter.
8. Lasting memories
Whether you prefer film or digital photographs, look for a photographer who will do digital proofs to save paper and chemicals. Avoid single-use cameras, but ask friends with digi-cams to share their photos with all the guests online in a freeFlickr group or Snapfish group room you set up for your wedding.
9. ‘Tis better to give…
OK, OK, giving and receiving are both great! For your gift registry, consider:
- asking for gifts to charity instead of material goods
- registering with the I Do Foundation or another site that gives a percentage of gift purchases to your chosen cause
- registering with stores that offer local, fair-trade, handmade, organic, or other ecofriendly products like Branch, Gaiam,Greenfeet, GreenSage, Ten Thousand Villages,UncommonGoods, or VivaTerra.
- registering for outdoor gear or contributions to an ecofriendly honeymoon
- creating a custom wish list of ecofriendly items like a fresh-produce subscription from a local farm, organic gardening supplies, organic linens, park and museum passes, gift certificates to organic restaurants, and subscriptions to green publications or memberships in green causes
For your favors, give something your guests will really use and enjoy, not disposable plastic souvenirs. Some ideas:
- gourmet organic chocolates or another organic or local food item
- attractive bags of fresh or dried organic herbs
- seeds in a commemorative container
- reusable cloth tote bags
- a small plant from Selby Botanical Gardens
- natural soaps
- soy or beeswax candles
- a compact fluorescent lightbulb
- a downloadable playlist of your favorite songs
- a small charitable donation in each guest’s name
- place cards made of seeded paper that can be planted at home
For your helpful, loyal attendants, you’ll want to up the ante a little, perhaps with:
- gift baskets of organic skin-care products
- recycled jewelry, wallets, handbags, or drinking glasses
- selections of organic coffees, teas, and chocolates
- recycled paper journals and stationery
- great bottles of organic wine
10. How sweet it is…
Everyone enjoys breakfast for dinner on occasion. So why not dessert for brunch? A morning-after sweets soiree is the perfect way to say goodbye to departing guests AND reduce your event’s eco impact, as desserts make up the bulk of post-nuptial food waste. Just pack up leftovers from the night before (supplemented with new additions, if necessary) and set them out buffet-style for guests to munch on as they reminisce about the fun they had the night before (and gossip about anyone who might have enjoyed himself a little too much on the dance floor). Think about it: toasted breads and cakes, pastries with local fruit, toss in a few bottles of champagne and you’ve got a readymade party. If you don’t live in an area where wedding festivities extend past the main event, don’t fear. This idea works just as well when applied to the actual wedding day meal. What’s more, it’s a stellar way to feed a crowd on the cheap. Enlist the help of the amateur bakers in your family or friend circle, or talk to a local restaurant or bakeshop about low-cost catering options. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and seated dinners can cost anywhere from $25 to $75 per person for food alone; with a dessert buffet, you can save as much as 85% on the cost of food, especially if you keep things homemade. All you’ll need are quality ingredients, a few carafes of white wine, some coffee and tea and maybe a bottle of liquer, and you’re good to go.
Whether they’re the breakfast or dinner variety, hot foods take a lot of energy to stay fresh and appetizing. Chafing dishes require portable fuel sources, which are often made from petroleum , burn inefficiently, smell bad. And that’s not including the amount of electricity or gas it takes to cook the meal in the first place. Plus, all of those plates and service pieces have to be washed, either in a dishwasher, which consumes somewhere around 6 or 7 gallons of water per cycle, or by hand, which ends up flushing a whopping 20 gallons of water per load down the drain (really!). Desserts, on the other hand, require smaller plates, fewer utensils and virtually no maintenance, resulting in less cleanup and resource consumption overall. As an added bonus, you’ll also avoid the chicken-fish-steak conundrum that plagues caterers, brides and wedding planners!
These days, an increasing number of brides are forgoing formal affairs in favor of casual parties with comfort food and a lower-key vibe—and that’s no coincidence. With the economy in the tank, people want something manageable, something that seems appropriate for the current state of things. A dessert buffet has just the right mix of eclecticism and familiarity, AND it brings out the kid in everyone. Which is pretty sweet, too.
11. Happily ever after…
Begin your new life with a honeymoon that’s light on the Earth. Consider:
- going somewhere local (you’re going to be spending a lot of time in that hotel room anyway)
- engaging in ecotourism, which can be as rugged or luxurious as you want it to be (find listings that suit your style through Conservation International, National Geographic, Planeta.com, orResponsibleTravel.com)
- taking a trip that benefits an environmental group; perhaps boating in Florida’s Dry Tortugas, birding in Alaska, or walking the Italian Alps with Sierra Club Outings
- skipping the cruise and taking a relaxing,romantic train trip
- getting around at your destination by renting bikes or taking public transportation (the better to enjoy the sights instead of arguing about your spouse’s driving habits)
- staying in a family-run B&B or inn, a luxury teepee or yurt, or a green hotel that’s working to save resources and reduce waste
- offsetting your trip’s carbon dioxide emissions