Weddings are often one of the most significant days of our lives and can be a beautiful celebration of your relationship and public commitment that you make to one another. And yet, amidst the joy and beauty of this celebration, the truth is that typical weddings can have a large negative impact on the earth.
Think about it – all the food, decorations, wedding favours, clothing purchases, and of course gifts. Many of these items end up being purchased solely for the wedding day, and unfortunately, weddings can generate plenty of wasteful behaviours and over-consumption. When really, all that we want is to celebrate two people and their love for one another. So, why all the waste?
According to the Green Bride Guide, the average wedding in the United States produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide. Producing that amount of waste in one day just isn’t sustainable, especially considering how many couples get married each year.
And yet, there are plenty of ways to minimize your environmental impact! It is important to keep in mind that weddings aren’t about material items – they are about celebrating the union of two people in love. Now, this doesn’t mean that weddings should forgo decorations, flowers, invitations, etc. Your dream wedding can be achieved while being environmentally conscious.
Yes, sustainable weddings take some planning, but what wedding doesn’t? There are tons of things to consider when planning your special day, so why not consider the environment in each decision that you make?
After all, weddings are a reflection of the couple getting married. This means that in addition to planning your day of celebration based on your personal style and journey with your partner, you likely want to incorporate your values as well. If living an eco-friendly lifestyle is important to you, your wedding day can demonstrate that.
Look no further if you are interested in planning an eco-friendly wedding! Here are some amazing ideas regarding décor, venues, food, and more to help you get started, and I will share what A.J. and I did for our special day, all those years ago.
Choosing a wedding venue that already has sustainability measures in place is one easy way to make sure you are on the right track when it comes to minimizing the environmental impact of your wedding. This means that the venue might have a solid plan for waste management, use low energy lighting, heating, and electricity, and be amenable to any eco-friendly requests you may have.
Some wedding venues may market themselves as sustainable, while others might be less obvious. Try looking for venues which have some sort of green certification such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). A green building certification means that the building has incorporated an abundance of design features that work to minimize its impact.
You might want to also consider a venue that can host both the ceremony and the reception, as this will eliminate the need to travel by vehicle between two different locations.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions about a venue’s sustainability measures and whether they would be willing to work with you to make your wedding as green as possible.
For our wedding, we were fortunate enough to have friends offer their beautiful home out at the lake for our outdoor ceremony. We borrowed chairs and benches from the nearby community hall and after the ceremony conducted by our closest friend (thank you dear Kohji) we headed to the beach for some frisbee and fun.
In order to get people to show up to your venue, you’re going to need to send out invitations. Instead of traditional paper invitations, consider some cool eco-friendly options! Of course, there is always recycled paper, but you can actually go a step further with biodegradable seed paper.
Seed paper is made with post-consumer materials which are embedded with wildflower or herb seeds. When you plant this paper into soil, the seeds are able to grow and the paper composts away. Companies like Botanical Paperworks not only manufacture seed paper, but also design wedding invitations and other paper products that might come in handy such as name tags and menus.
Don’t forget that you can also avoid paper entirely when it comes to invitations. Since people are usually on their phones and checking their emails on the daily, why not send an evite?
On a similar note, you can actually set up a whole wedding website that your guests can visit. The Knot lets you set up a beautiful website which details the date and location of your wedding, counts down the days left until the big day, allows guests to RSVP, and even lets you set up a gift registry. Plus what a great way to have all the details in one place for your guests!
Our wedding invitations were hand-made using recycled, natural dyed paper with an ivy leaf donated by our houseplant. This was before everyone was online and had email!
Gifts and Registry
Speaking of gifts, it is possible to minimize or offset the environmental impacts of your wedding by making a few small changes when it comes to gifts.
The first thing you might want to consider is opting out of material items and having a charity registry instead. This allows your guests to donate to charities that are close to your heart, whether they are dedicated to saving the big cats in Africa, reforestation, or providing healthcare to those in need. Both you and your guests will be left with the feeling that you are making a positive difference in the world. What a great addition to your special day!
Of course, some couples will be in need of essential items, especially if they are moving in together for the first time! In cases like these, gift registries can be really useful. By creating a curated list of items that you need, you will ensure that you don’t end up with unwanted or unnecessary gifts.
In addition, you can do your research ahead of time and pick out items that you know are environmentally friendly. But, as a word of caution, you probably don’t need all of that stuff - think about just preventing decluttering in a few years by asking for less. However, looking for high quality items that will last, is a great sustainable choice.
Because we were already living together, and were sensitive to the costs that weddings can be to guests, we decided not to ask for any gifts, and it didn’t dampen the celebrations at all!
For both grooms and brides, choosing your outfit for the big day can be a time consuming, expensive, and exhausting process. Unfortunately, wedding dresses or even suits are often only worn for one day, making this another really wasteful aspect of many weddings.
Luckily, there are options other than buying a brand-new suit or dress.
First, you can always rent your wedding attire. There are websites and stores out there that allow you to rent out a dress or suit, wear it for the day, and send it back when you’re finished. This means that you spend less while still looking great. If you decide to go this route, you’ll want to make sure you know your measurements, as alterations won’t be possible.
One popular website that lets you rent out a dress for a day is Rent the Runway. Rent the Runway is a subscription-based site which allows you access to various designer pieces depending on the membership you purchase. While this website doesn’t carry dresses that are specifically meant for weddings, there are plenty of gorgeous white dresses that would look fantastic as a wedding dress.
Another option is to purchase a second-hand dress. Wedding dresses are usually worn just once, meaning that they receive very little wear and tear. If that’s not enough to convince you, retailers that sell pre-owned dresses also make sure that they look brand new before selling.
A great way to find a discounted and pre-loved wedding dress is to look at an online retailer such as Once Wed and Borrowing Magnolia. These sites are a great way to find a gown you love at a price you can afford.
When buying dresses online, it can be helpful to find a style, brand, or exact dress in person first. This means that you can find your correct size or find a style that suits you before purchasing a discounted version from an online retailer.
Lastly, don’t forget to check out available vintage dresses as well if that’s your style. Consignment shops, vintage retailers, or your mother’s closet may be a great place to find the perfect dress. You can always make any necessary alterations to make the dress uniquely yours.
Wedding attire applies to guests as well. Guests can minimize their waste by wearing what they already own. Although there is some societal pressure to show up in a new outfit for each wedding or formal event you attend, there is seriously nothing wrong with repeating a good outfit!
For our wedding attire, I ended up sewing my own dress - with lots of help from my mom and her friend, even though it was just a simple pattern. AJ wore a hemp shirt and beige pants, everything was pretty informal as we were outdoors at the lake. Most of the guests were also in casual attire or at least had something comfortable to change into for after the ceremony and beach time, when we came back to the house for an outdoor party.
Decorations help to make your wedding unique and reflective of your personality and taste. It’s a good thing there are plenty of ways to decorate your venue without breaking the bank or harming the environment.
One major thing you might want to consider is what sort of atmosphere and built-in decorations your venue has. Finding a venue that already has the look you are going for is great, as you won’t have to add too many of your own decorations.
Since many weddings incorporate floral arrangements into their décor as table centerpieces, it is also important to consider the various ways of doing this sustainably. Since cut flowers aren’t the best for the environment, you may choose to use beautiful potted arrangements instead. The potted plants may be taken home by guests and used as décor in their own home or transplanted in their gardens.
Alternatively, you may choose to rent silk flowers instead of having fresh cut flowers or live plants. This way you aren’t purchasing anything new or increasing carbon emissions by purchasing cut flowers that need to be refrigerated and transported.
If you would prefer to have cut flowers, consider ordering them from a florist that sources their flowers locally. You can also help minimize your impact by sharing your flowers with another bride. Bloomerent is a flower-sharing marketplace that allows users to save some money by reusing floral arrangements.
When it comes to décor such as mirrors, vases, photo booth items, or other knick knacks, be sure to check out local Facebook groups where former brides can list their used décor at discounted prices.
Lastly, be conscious of the little things! Something as small as confetti or sparkles can have a big environmental impact. Eco-friendly alternatives include organic options such as rose petals, lavender, or fresh herbs.
Our wedding flowers were wildflowers cut from a nearby ditch and those already at the house that we celebrated at, and decorations included a few candles set on tables and my mother’s tablecloths.
Something to consider when it comes to your wedding meal is food waste. Buffets, as fun as they are, tend to cause significant amounts of wasted and uneaten food. Plated dinners tend to be a more environmentally friendly approach. However, food waste can be reduced by simply reminding guests that they can return to the buffet as often as possible or creating some challenge to have tables with the lowest food wasted receive a prize.
Whatever you do with your food options, look for food choices that align with your values, as well as your budget. Consider a venue and food provider that can supply local food that is in season and mostly plant-based. It is possible to choose food that is better for the planet.
For our wedding, we did a potluck! Remember when we said, “no gifts please”? Well, that made us feel that we could ask people to bring food instead! So, as the venue was taken care of and the food was going to be potluck, we were free to invite as many people as we wanted without worrying about breaking the bank.
In fact, our entire wedding cost just $3,000, everything included. My dress, rented dishes, champagne, beer, 10 beautiful wedding cakes baked by my mom, gifts for our hosts, everything. And, it was our version of a perfect wedding!
Does anyone really enjoy or cherish these wedding favours, meant as gifts to the guests? Well, I have received many over the years, and truthfully, only a few have stood the test of time. Most end up being given away or worse, thrown out after an acceptable waiting period.
Needless to say, these wedding favours probably aren’t going to get too much use, so why not give out favours that are consumable? This allows you to show your appreciation for your guests while still reflecting your values and not contributing to unnecessary waste.
Some ideas include bakery cookies (or other sweets) decorated with the couples’ initials, local honey or jams in reusable jars, or bars of handmade soap. The great thing about these items is that you can employ local businesses and help support the local economy.
Plants and seeds are another great idea for wedding favours. Small packets of flower, vegetable, or herb seeds would make a great eco-friendly gift for your guests. You could even go one step further by giving out actual plants. For example, you could give out succulents in small pots or seedlings from tree farms.
There are plenty of other ideas for Eco-friendly gifts!
For our wedding we just had some consumables in 2 different piñatas that became a game, one for adults and one for kids. It was a lot of fun!
A wedding to remember
We were quite aware that we were doing a wedding differently than all of our friends and family, especially back in 19…..um, let me check the date in my wedding band - 1998! But it felt right for us, and as we both cried our way through our wedding vows, surrounded by friends and family, in the beautiful outdoors, we knew that this was how we wanted to start our marriage.
Later that year two other couples in our circle of friends also decided to get married, one couple had already been together for 10 years and had 2 kids, but they just never wanted to have a traditional wedding. But both of those couples told us they decided to finally tie the knot because we had led the way, and showed them what an eco-friendly, alternative wedding could look like.
One had a beautiful outdoor party at the cottage and the other a small circle of close friends and family and their kids in a circle in their backyard, and they shared what they appreciated about each and every one of us in attendance. So magical and full of love.
So, whatever your special day looks like, know that it can be done with so much more intention and purpose behind those decisions that affect the environment. When you pare it all down to what really matters, the beauty of what you are doing can emerge.
Please, let me know what your eco-friendly wedding or celebration looks like. I would love to hear about it, and let’s keep inspiring others to make changes to the standard. We are making a difference!
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