Let’s call it like it is: weddings aren’t exactly the most environmentally-friendly of occasions.
From the advertisements that will try and convince you to purchase anything and everything with the word “bride” or “groom” embroidered across it (what happens to those engraved champagne flutes when you’re no longer a bride or groom anyway?), to the immense amount of single-use items produced for each individual wedding event, weddings don’t always rise to the sustainability occasion. With what can seem like a never-ending trail of waste, the question begs to be asked: how do you have a sustainable wedding celebration?
First though, I’d like to acknowledge that you’re already trying to do your bit and that failing to be absolutely perfect in this area can feel especially stress-inducing (I personally scrutinize myself for every single square of paper towel I use). You don’t need to force your guests to eat from banana leaves or use a hand-churned composting outhouse in an effort to have a 100% carbon-neutral wedding. It is, however, worth considering the environmental impact of your wedding as you work your way through the wedding planning process and consider ways you can minimise the impact of your event.
Eco-Friendly Wedding Flowers
I will never forget the end of the evening of one wedding I had planned. After the guests had left and as the venue staff were left to clean-up, the florists arrived to collect their vases and other items. Left on the tables were all of the floral arrangements from the event, and for a wedding with 200 guests, as you can imagine that was a lot of flowers. The florists begged me to take as many home with me as I could, informing me that anything else would be thrown away. My heart broke at the sheer volume of wastage, disappointed that no one would be enjoying these blooms in their glory and in how short these flowers’ shelf-life turned out to be.
Don’t take that the wrong way—if you want fresh floral arrangements at your wedding, you should absolutely have them.
Here are some eco aspects you may wish to consider as you research your floral options:
Are they shipped from abroad and could you opt for flowers sourced from a local farm or use ethically sourced wildflowers instead?
Could you use potted herbs, succulents, or other plants that can be re-planted after the wedding? (These will act as a reminder of your wedding day for far longer than a bouquet of peonies sourced from Europe would!)
What about providing ways for your guests to take flowers home so they can be enjoyed for a week or two after your wedding day?
Could you forage your own greenery and wedding flowers in your parents’ backyard or in nearby parklands (be sure to check the local regulations first)?
Fast Fashion and Weddings (Don’t hate me, we have to go there)
“The traditional American wedding dress is one of our society’s most iconic guilty pleasures, especially for members of the middle and upper classes. There are very few other items which society tells us we can acceptably spend loads of money on, wear only once and expect to never use again. It is consumerism par excellence.” writes Assya Barrette.
When you consider the poor working conditions of garment factory workers, use of pollutant materials like polyester and toxic dyes, and the distance wedding and bridesmaids dresses travel to make it to you, it begs the question: do you really need to have a brand new wedding dress?
Because when you realise it’s likely you’ll only ever wear it once, you realise it’s really just fast fashion dressed up in a heck of a lot of tulle and a hefty price tag.
Opting for secondhand or vintage dresses, borrowing from a friend, renting or shopping sites like Once Wed, Dearly Loved Bridal, and Preowned Wedding Dresses provide ample options for new-to-you styles.
If the idea of wearing a second-hand wedding dress or outfit is simply not for you (that’s ok! You are perfectly allowed to have your own feelings about this) looking for brands with a sustainable fashion ethos, like Pure Magnolia, Indie Bride, or Park & Fifth Clothing Co (who believe bridesmaids dresses should be versatile enough to wear again — hallelujah!), is another way you can do your part.
And we mustn’t forget your wedding rings and jewellery. Have you seen Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond? Finding ethical wedding ring designers, repurposing a family heirloom, or purchasing vintage can help to lower the community impacts of conflict diamonds and environmental impacts of extracting precious metals and gemstones from the earth.
Do you really need that dance floor decal with your initials on it? Is the value of having an item like this as part of your wedding worth the impact on the environment (and your wallet)?
When it comes to printed items like menus, name cards, or timelines is there another way to share this information? Perhaps on your wedding website or on a large, reusable chalkboard, for example?
For wedding decor items like vases and votives, can you find these second-hand, rent them, or borrow them from recently married friends?
Do your wedding guests really need a shot glass with your faces and wedding date etched onto it? Or could you skip the often-junky physical Thank You gifts in lieu of a donation to a local charity (or even just a bit of cash saved for you)?
A Sustainable Wedding Menu
One of the biggest impacts you can make is when you re-evaluate your bar and kitchen waste. Make sure you have this conversation with your caterers and bar team because if you let them know your aim in being more mindful of garbage and waste, I can guarantee they will be on your side.
Use real plates and glasses, not plastic or paper, and consider bringing in a green bin for prep waste and compostable food items.
Rather than handing out plastic water bottles, use a water cooler and have glasses available for people to use and refill as the day goes on.
Serve beer from kegs purchased from your favourite local brewery rather than serving cans or bottles.
Opt for a wedding caterer that prefers to work with locally sourced and organic produce.
Being environmentally conscious is hard and can sometimes feel like a full-time job. If you’re clever, though, you may just find that choosing eco-friendly wedding items not only makes you feel good, and, contrary to what you might believe, it could help you to save some money too.
A quick way to see whether your values are in check as you’re making wedding decisions? Ask yourself: “Are you choosing to have a particular item at your wedding because you really want to, or because you feel like you should?”
Want help getting clear on what’s really important? Download the Wedding Planning Un-checklist for free.