We don't expect you to wage war against your venue if it doesn't have low-flow toilets, but we're all for helping the earth -- and you can do it without sacrificing your budget, vision or sanity. Check out our tips for going green without walking down the aisle in a paper dress (yes, brides have done that!).
The Reception Venue
Choosing a venue helps set the stage and theme for any event and is usually your first major decision. However, traditional spaces, such as hotel ballrooms and fancy resorts, tend to use loads of electricity, water and other typically not-so-earth-friendly products in order to put on these ultra-glamorous affairs. Get married outdoors -- rain or shine -- on a farm or in a meadow and skip the electricity or running water. There are tons of beautiful botanical gardens, hilltops and farms that offer modern conveniences, like sinks and toilets, so you don't have to sacrifice these comforts. You'll still be helping the earth because you're letting the sun provide all the lighting. But we know an outdoor ceremony and reception don't work for everyone. If you want to be indoors, there are several ways you can make it green. First, hold your ceremony and reception in one place -- no one will have to travel to get from one event to the next, so you'll cut back on fuel emissions. Or choose a venue that gets plenty of sunlight and host a daytime wedding so you can leave the lights off. Another way to be green indoors: Look for hotels that recycle and use energy-efficient appliances and biodegradable products. Not sure where to start? Check out GreenHotels.com for suggestions.
Millions of trees are toppled every year to make paper products, and the process of producing these items pollutes the environment. Now more and more couples are trying to help by making eco-conscious invite choices. Nix paper all together. Stick to Evites and your wedding web page to spread the word about all of your plans. Although email is great for quick, casual messages, we don't think it's formal enough for weddings. That's why we don't recommend sending your invites this way. (Plus, elderly guests may not have email, so they won't get the Evite). Emailing thank-you cards isn't a great idea either -- handwritten notes best show that you appreciate your gifts. The easy paper-saving solution: Instead of two envelopes, one inside and one outside, opt for a single one. Take it a step further with recycled paper products. Try 100-percent recycled paper from TwistedLimbPaper.com. Some invites are even plantable -- yes, plantable! Paper from companies like BotanticalPaperWorks.com are embedded with seeds. Guests can plant them in their backyards so the paper turns into flowers, plants or herbs instead of ending up in a landfill. Or go paperless with sustainable resources. Cotton items from Crane & Co. and bamboo ones by Smock are all gorgeous.
Blooms are already eco-friendly, right? Wrong! Many farmers douse flowers with chemicals to keep insects at bay. The pesticides kill organic matter in soil that's needed to keep it healthy and fertile. They've even caused illness in the workers who handle them. Plus, most cut blooms come from abroad, and shipping the flowers adds to fuel use and pollution. Walk down the aisle sans bouquet, and leave reception tables bare -- or decorate them with things you can reuse in your home after the wedding, like candles. Skip out-of-season blooms since they'll have to be shipped. Instead, look for seasonal flowers right in your own state. If you have your heart set on a flower that isn't in season and a seasonal replica won't do, look for flowers that are VeriFlora-certified. This means that the blooms aren't drenched in chemicals or grown under harsh working conditions. Another eco-friendly choice is to choose potted blooms or plants as centerpieces.This way, you can take them home and replant them after the wedding. For you DIYers, you can craft boutonnieres and bouquets from paper (Paper-Source.com has easy kits). Bonus points if you’re able to find paper that’s made from postconsumer products.
Food is the center of any celebration, but trees have to be cut down to make room for raising animals who are later slaughtered for meat. And, as with flowers, non-organic fruits and veggies may be treated with pesticides that can harm the earth and farm workers. A three-course meal of only organic goods and a vegan cake. Organic foods tend to cost more, so if they're not accounted for in your budget, they might not be an option. You may also not want a vegan meal, which means no dairy products, no eggs and, obviously, no meat. So how can your dinner be green? Look for a caterer who uses locally grown food. If bought directly from growers, food needs less time in the fridge and less packaging to stay fresh. The result: You'll create less trash and less electricity has to be used. And since the food is coming from a shorter distance, less fuel is needed to transport it. Your baker can use locally harvested eggs and milk for the cake too. Another tip: Choose in-season produce. Out-of-season fruits and veggies are grown in heated greenhouses. If you're having a winter wedding, don't serve summer favorites, like eggplant and zucchini, that must be grown in a greenhouse. Opt for winter squash, like acorn or butternut, and Brussels sprouts instead.
No matter how practical a couple thinks their parting gifts are, many guests throw them out. Also, some plastics, metals and fabrics that couples use to package their favors are tough on the environment to produce and hard to get rid of because they don't biodegrade. Ditch the favors altogether and donate to a charity instead. Let all of your guests know about your contribution via word of mouth instead of printing a sign. Favors are considered an extra, but you still may want to give guests a takeaway treat as a little thank-you. Luckily, there are ways to make sure that yours don't end up in landfills. One option: Give edible favors. Head to your favorite farm or orchard for jars of jam or fresh honey. Not only will you save on gas by staying local, but you'll also be using glass containers that guests may recycle or reuse after they've finished what's inside. Plus, local favors are personalization enough -- you can skip the monogrammed favor tag. Another choice: Buy organic, pesticide-free chocolate bars from TheoChocolate.com. Resist the urge to add extra packaging! For a more lasting favor, give out something guests can grow, like seeds in pretty packets. Or group bamboo plants together to make a centerpiece and then let each guest take one home.
The Wedding Dress
Dresses aren't always eco-friendly because, after making a pattern, there's bound to be extra material that gets tossed. And with man-made fabrics, like most tulles and some satins, electricity has to be used to create these. The fact that you'll only wear a wedding gown once also adds to the wastefulness. Your mom preserved her wedding dress for a reason. If it's not quite your style, work with a seamstress to make it right. Yep, we get it -- choosing a gown just for you is one of the highlights of wedding planning. But there are ways to be green when deciding what to wear. First stop: Check out vintage clothing shops for pre-worn dresses. That way, no new gowns are made and the dress that you buy gets a second wear too. But if you prefer to wear a brand-new dress, try to find a designer who uses sustainable fabrics created by nature -- and not a factory -- like organic cotton, silk or hemp. We love Adele Wechsler's Eco Couture line. Consider letting the bridal party wear clothes they already own. Offer a few guidelines, like a color or dress length. They'll love that they can show off their style.
Special thanks to Danielle Venokur, dvGreen, New York City, W. Donnie Brown, Donnie Brown Weddings & Events, Dallas, TX, and Green Wedding, by Mireya Navarro.
See More: Green Weddings