How to Plan an Eco-Friendly Wedding

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From the moment you tried on your wedding dress, you knew your big day was going to be amazing. As you plan the details, however, you can’t help noticing a lot of wedding traditions and industry practices aren’t exactly kind to Mother Earth. According to The Chicago Tribune, the average wedding generates 63 tons of carbon dioxide and adds 400 pounds of garbage to landfills. Your wedding, however, doesn’t have to be average.

The principles for reducing the carbon footprint of your wedding are the same as the ones you’ve embraced in other aspects of life. Buy local, so less fuel is required to transport your purchases, and buy used, so no additional resources are required to produce new items. Eliminate disposable packaging, recycle it, or make it biodegradable, so it can feed your garden rather than clogging up landfills. Finally, support businesses that treat both the planet and their workers ethically.

A lot of trees go into those wedding invitations, save the date postcards, RSVPs, greeting cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, and wedding programs, and most of them end up in the trash. You can save a forest and the cost of printing by using digital invitations. Paperless Post allows you to choose from a variety of customizable designs, and you can manage your guest list and RSVPs on the website, which is more efficient than keeping track of dozens of envelopes.

To save on packaging and help a good cause, have a “no gifts” policy. Instead, ask your bridal shower attendees to bring a non-perishable item for the local food bank or set up a gift registry where your wedding guests can donate to charity. Feel free to skip the wedding favors, as most guests leave them behind anyway, but you might order plantable favors made of post-consumer material and flower, herb, or vegetable seeds; if your guests don’t take them, plant them in your own garden. The company also makes plantable confetti.

A large percentage of the wedding’s carbon emissions comes from the venue itself. Having an outdoor ceremony that takes advantage of natural light and surrounding foliage, for example, is usually a better choice than an indoor ceremony that needs extensive lighting, flowers, and heating or cooling. In The Chicago Tribune, eco-friendly event planner Carlene Smith says if you must have an indoor ceremony or reception, look for LEED-certified buildings, which have been evaluated for energy efficiency.

When choosing a caterer, look for one who uses local, seasonal ingredients. Friends of the Earth reports that nearly 15 percent of all greenhouse gases are produced by the meat and dairy industry, so choosing a vegetarian or vegan menu is the easiest way to impact climate change. Whatever you decide to serve, make sure none of the food goes to waste. One couple in the UK proved they could cater their wedding with nothing but the food others had wasted.

Make sure your venue recycles glass and aluminum containers at the bar. In place of paper and plastic plates and utensils, Bridal Musings recommends compostable dining ware made of bamboo. For cups, give each of your guests a glass with a nameplate that corresponds with his or her seat.

Flowers are one item that’s particularly difficult to buy locally because they have a such a short growing season in most climate zones. Most wholesalers either source their flowers from South America or grow them in greenhouses using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. To make your centerpieces more sustainable, the Wedding Guru recommends potted plants like fresh herbs. Succulents are also a popular choice, and some rustic or boho-themed weddings feature bouquets made of fruit.

If you do use flowers that have traveled many miles, get as much mileage out of them as possible. For example, Bridal Musings suggests reusing bridesmaids’ bouquets as centerpieces. Rather than discarding flowers after the reception, donate them to hospitals or nursing homes. You might also use a service like Bloomerent to share flowers with other events and save up to 60 percent.

In Daily Journal, Mary Hall discusses guidelines for choosing ethically sourced wedding jewelry and attire. The diamond industry has a sordid history of civil wars and slave labor, but fortunately, the conflict diamond trade has been greatly reduced. Check your jeweler carries the Kimberley Process Certification, which ensures transparent mining and trade practices. Consider doing business with Forevermark, whose charitable causes include rhinoceros conservation and supporting South African business women.

The International Labour Organization estimates 21 million people worldwide currently work under forced labor conditions, many of them in factories that produce wedding and formal attire. When purchasing a dress or accessories, pay close attention to their policies regarding their factories overseas. David’s Bridal, for example, conducts surprise inspections of all facilities to ensure their labor codes are enforced. Hall also recommends doing a Google search for your brand and keywords like “human trafficking.”

How did you tread lightly on the earth when you tied the knot? Share your experiences in the comments.

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