When it comes to preserving Planet Earth, everyone wants to do the right thing. That’s why so many of us recycle, buy organic foods, and don’t dump anything toxic down the nearby storm drain. But when it comes to planning the Big Day, we worry that being environmentally correct will mean sacrificing our cherished wedding vision.
Luckily, you no longer have to wrestle with your conscience to have a celebration that is both beautiful and "green"—or at least, green-ish. Okay, so you might not be Judy Granola, determined to eradicate every aspect of her celebration tainted with anything unhealthy or consumeristic. But you’re probably not Betty Bridezilla either, who wouldn’t think of having a recycling bin if it clashes with her powder blue chair covers. The reality is that most of us have daily habits that range from environmentally correct to careless, usually depending on convenience. However, no matter where you are on the green spectrum, it’s easy to make a few thoughtful adjustments that go a long way towards raising your green standard.
What is Green, Anyway?
"Green" is a concept of promoting balance between humanity and Nature. Greenies support products that are eco-friendly, produced in a socially responsible manner, and enrich local or indigenous communities. They endorse sustainable farming, with an emphasis on local and seasonal produce, which minimizes depletion of natural resources.
Does What I Do Really Matter?
Raising awareness, and doing it with grace, is one of the most meaningful contributions you and your fiancé can make. Consider that the U.S. wedding industry is a $70 billion a year business. Your event budget is part of one powerful lobby! Every time you question a product or service’s environmental and social impact, you send a strong message to Corporate America. When you buy locally, you are countering corporate dominance.
You also have the ability to inspire. Your wedding is an outward expression of you and your partner's inner values. Not only is your green celebration a promise to care for each other throughout your lives, it’s also a public commitment to nurturing the planet. As Michele Kozin, author of Organic Weddings puts it: "From backyard to black-tie, a wedding is the perfect opportunity to show family and friends the stylish side of environmental and social responsibility."
Save the Date…and the Planet!
Start with the invitations. Nowadays, there is a wide variety of recycled and tree-free paper, including handmade, colorful and artistic materials. Ask your stationer if they can print your invite using soy-based inks, which put less pollution into the waterways. By using reply postcards and nixing the inner envelope and tissue, you’ll use less paper altogether while saving on cost. Or just check out Paper Culture Wedding Invitations—a Certified Green Business where every piece is printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and every order plants a tree!
You don’t have to sacrifice glamour to both look good and do good! Erase the picture in your mind of a “Bride in Birkenstocks” with a wreath of dried flowers on her head. The modern bride wears her “green” with panache. Most designer gowns are already made of a natural fiber—silk! Other green—er, white—options are hemp/silk blends and organic cotton, which go well with Victorian, Renaissance, or garden weddings.
When shopping for your wedding dress, keep in mind the popular green adage “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” Rent your formal wear instead of buying, and you’ll save money and conserve resources at the same time. A simple and heartwarming way to “re-use” a dress is to tailor a hand-me-down to your modern sensibilities. Vintage is still hot, and what better accompaniment to a vintage ensemble than estate jewelry? Often more interesting and less expensive than its modern counterparts, estate jewelry avoids the politically charged stigma sometimes associated with the mining of precious gems. If you inherited an engagement ring, it can be reset to suit your taste. (Or follow the newest eco-friendly trend in jewelry—cultured diamonds. They’re socially acceptable and absolutely flawless!)
You probably never thought of your wedding gown as “recyclable,” but charitable organizations like Brides Against Breast Cancer sell quality secondhand gowns or new dresses donated by designers. Give them your own gown after the wedding (who really ever wears it again?) and you’ll help raise money for a worthy cause. If you simply cannot bear to part with your dress, then use an enviro-safe dry cleaner.
Setting the Stage
You don’t have to be a hardcore Greenie to appreciate the allure of a wedding in the midst of rolling meadows, botanical gardens or forested hillsides. You can double your venue’s green quotient by selecting a site managed by a non-profit organization that protects the land, such as the Santa Monica Nature Conservancy’s Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. Then there are the culturally enriching venues—historical societies, art galleries and museums—that are among the most interesting around. Wine and dine surrounded by exotic treasures from the Orient paintings at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, or sip champagne while taking in the 19th century artifacts at the Los Altos History Museum, and you’re supporting community arts and education efforts.
Event locations are improving their ecological impact in other ways, too. One pioneering “earth first” venue is Oceano Hotel and Spa in Half Moon Bay, a Green Suites Certified Green Hotel which uses natural light and passive solar heating for their public spaces and an innovative environmentally sensitive cleaning technology. GreenHotels.com is another association that promotes water and energy conservation in the hospitality industry, and they even certify bed and breakfasts like Historic Sand Rock Farm. Their website lists questions to ask your prospective wedding sites to evaluate their greenness. This sort of dialogue is key to encouraging businesses to make enviro-friendly choices.
Flowers, Flora, Fauna
Wherever you wed, opt for a florist that uses locally grown flowers. (Imported flowers often come from pesticide-laden farms, endangering the workers and the land.) An alternative is to order from Farmgirl Flowers, a San Francisco-based company that designs each bouquet by hand, sources flowers from farms that live up to their high ethical standards, and helps to create good jobs. (And they ship nationwide.) When designing your arrangements, best to pick out flowers that are in season at the time of your event. For centerpieces, consider potted blooms or plants that you can re-plant instead of cut flowers, or create an intriguing arrangement with candles, mirrors or crafts. Remember, less is more, especially in outdoor locations where the native flora and fauna provide natural adornment.
Eat, Drink and Be Healthy
It is always wise to put a vegetarian entree on your event menu, and if you want to do without meat altogether, well, your guests will hardly miss it. Acclaimed Chef Lynn Sheehan of Historic Sand Rock Farm points out that, “The culinary favorites of many ancient cultures are vegetarian dishes, so there is no need to serve faux-meat in order to satisfy your guests’ taste buds: simply choose from among the rich variety of global cuisine!”
Other factors to consider are humane animal treatment, chemical additives and fishing practices. Back to Earth Organic Catering uses locally grown produce, free-range organic meats and sustainable seafood. They’re a perfect example of a clever caterer that prepares savory dishes with earth-friendly ingredients.
Is it possible to host a restaurant rehearsal dinner or reception that’s healthy and gourmet? Greens in San Francisco is known for their creative vegetarian cuisine that uses the finest seasonal organic produce. One of the Santa Cruz area’s most popular eateries, the creekside Michael’s on Main, is a Green Restaurant that features produce sourced from local farms; they also participates in the sustainable Fish Wise program. By patronizing such forward-thinking vendors, you are encouraging others to jump on the green bandwagon.
The best way to bring out the fresh flavors of your cuisine is to quaff fine wine, preferably organic and pesticide-free. Wines without added sulfites are not only healthier, but reportedly cause fewer hangovers! Popular organic California vintners include Bonterra and Frey, and more are popping up all the time. Many vineyards are improving their green grades by incorporating sustainable agriculture. With a little sleuthing, you can even find organic champagne or sparkling wine.
What’s For Dessert?
Would you believe a vegan wedding cake? Find a baker that will customize recipes according to dietary preferences (such as kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free or nut-free), and ask if their ingredients are local and organic. Bonus points if they obtain their dairy products from a nearby farm! Decorate this eco-conscious confection with edible flowers or sentimental items, such as a brooch.
A hot cup of joe or fragrant tea is the ideal accompaniment to such delectable confections. The coffee you serve should not only be organic, but also “fair trade”—an official designation that means products are grown under working conditions that are healthy and safe and workers are adequately compensated.
Gifts That Keep On Giving
Another way to express your concern for the world around you is registering for green housewares, such as organic cotton bedding, reusable bamboo kitchen tools and barware made from recycled glass. Already have all the towels and toasters you need? Then ask your guests to contribute to your favorite cause. Attractive gift cards are available from charities like TisBest and Heifer.org, which helps others help themselves by purchasing farm animals for needy families.
For wedding party gifts, ordering from one of the many online sites that donate their proceeds is a good place to start. Check out our Bridal Party Gifts That Keep On Giving article for some ideas on cute gifts that give back. You might even select a cause appropriate for each recipient at a site like GreaterGood. Does your maid of honor love elephants? Then a contribution to the World Wildlife Fund is just the ticket. Be sure to include a card that lets each recipient know you were thinking of them in this special way.
Why not forgo the candied almond wedding favors and give your guests something that will last: packets of organic seeds imprinted with your names and wedding date, or adorable miniature plantings, available from TreeInABox.com, also with personalization. Another option is to make a small charitable donation on behalf of each guest, perhaps printed on their place cards. The gesture is much more meaningful than chocolate kisses will ever be!
The After Party
A smidgen of pre-planning is all that’s needed to prevent waste. After the last handful of rice is tossed, have your leftover food packaged and ready for pick-up by regional shelters or food banks. See our Wedding Food Donations article for a list of shelters near you. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that runaway teens and homeless veterans will share in the bounty, but you’ll also earn a tax deduction. Also, ask your bridal party or venue coordinator to take your flowers to local hospitals, and you’ll brighten up someone’s day. Companies like Full Bloom will repurpose your gently used flowers into beautiful bedside bouquets for patients in area hospitals, hospice care, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.
Your first vacation as a married couple is a wonderful time to share your passion for the natural world, and have an out-of-the-box honeymoon as well. Spirited honeymooners are taking off on Eco-tours, defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." For a twist on the usual Hawaii honeymoon, the Sierra Club offers eco-outings like "Hawaii Cooks!" which leads you on authentic culinary adventures through the Lava Lands; or how about taking your beloved on an exotic Rainforest Tour. Sojourns like these will really make your photo album come alive.
Investing in The Future
So you’ve done it! With a little effort, you’ve created a unique wedding experience that has expressed your commitment to social responsibility and the natural world. Along the way, you have given Corporate America a nudge in the right direction, and become a role model for your friends and family. With each green step down the wedding aisle, you create a ripple of hope in the global continuum that flows from your hometown organic bakery all the way to a shade-coffee grower in Brazil. Years from now, when your children look at your wedding pictures, they’ll learn an important life lesson: as the Great Law of the Iroquois Federation eloquently states, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the next of seven generations."