Hollie Dunn, Guest Author
We all know how this story begins, as it has for so many happily married couples. The future groom pops the question, champagne is poured after an ecstatic bride emphatically yells “yes!” over and over in response, and congratulations are officially in order for the newly engaged pair. You tell all of your family and friends as does your future husband, and as the bride you begin planning the biggest day of your life with all the bells and whistles you’ve always imagined.
You flip through all the wedding magazines and attend every expo trying to put together your ultimate wedding, and then you come across an article that reminds you that every item you put into your ceremony and reception will ultimately end up in the trash after the party ends. Your gorgeous wedding just went from a beautiful dream to filling a dumpster or four in quite a hurry.
So now you have something else to worry about with planning your beautiful, one-of-a-kind, thought-about-this-since-before-you-can-remember wedding. You have so much on your plate already with just planning the ceremony and reception, you’re probably asking how you are supposed to make sure that your wedding not only fulfills every dream you’ve had about this day since you were a little girl but is also designed and planned sustainably so as to avoid filling up those dumpsters at the end of the night?
Now we’re guessing that you have the “hopes and dreams” portion of this question covered, so today we want to spend some time talking about the essentials of planning a sustainable wedding and how easy it is to incorporate green components into your big day.
So, onto our first piece of green wedding advice: You can make the task of greening your special day much simpler by splitting your wedding’s needs into categories. Start by writing down the general things you anticipate you will need for your wedding. You’ll probably wind up with a list that includes your ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception venues; lodging for traveling guests and possibly the wedding party; wedding party and guest transportation; food and beverage; floral for handheld arrangements and possibly venue decoration; printed materials such as invitations, thank you cards, and menu cards; the attire for the full wedding party along with the bride’s gown; and the audiovisual equipment and décor for the venue and entertainment needs.
Looks like quite a bit, huh? Well, yes, it does look like a lot; however, it’s really a matter of asking a few additional questions when coordinating each of these wedding components to figure out how to make each a little more earth friendly.
We’ll begin with the venues, which really starts with deciding on your wedding destination. Will you be having a local wedding or a destination wedding? What destinations are you considering? No matter where you decide to have your wedding, there are three questions to consider when choosing the destination: is there appropriate lodging within walking distance of the venues you are interested in, how accessible is transportation between the airport and the hotel, and does the destination employ a recycling program of any kind?
Try to minimize the need for guests to have rental cars and create options for walking to additional offsite locations such as restaurants and shopping retailers. When it comes time, confirm with your wedding venues that they participate in the local recycling program and that your wedding’s refuse will be included in this effort.
Speaking of the venue, there are some additional questions you will want to pose to them beyond the recycling programs they support. Find out about their stance on conservation and if they participate in an eco-friendly purchasing program. For instance, do they use low flow toilets and hand dryers in the restrooms? When purchasing products and services for the venue, do they strive to procure post-consumer recycled materials and Energy Star certified equipment? Are the vendors who they purchase from locally based, or do they implement any green initiatives themselves?
Finally, do they hold any environmental or LEED certifications? You can incorporate these same questions into those you ask the hotels for your lodging accommodations. Hotel conservation efforts can include things like towel reuse programs, energy efficient room lighting, and paperless guest services for things like registration and checkout.
Remember to also ask about the hotel’s onsite amenities as this is the best way to green your wedding by limiting the need for guest’s to be transported off hotel grounds during their trip.
When it comes to your destination, venues, and lodging, an optimal scenario would be having a wedding in a location that really focuses on conservation and sustainability at a place that serves both your venue and lodging needs and is within a half mile of most amenities a person could wind up needing so as to limit transportation.
When the optimal is not in the cards though, aim for an alternative that mirrors this scenario as closely as possible. From this point, you are ready to begin tackling your individual vendor needs for the wedding.
There is a golden rule that applies to all vendors when it comes to having a green wedding, and that is to always contract those vendors that are either locally owned and operated or integrate eco-friendly practices into their products and services. Hiring local vendors helps to cut down on transportation requirements for the wedding, and if you are having your wedding in your home community then your state’s economy will also benefit from you spending the money locally.
Beyond the golden rule, there are additional considerations you will want to take with each vendor you have a need for at your wedding. Let’s begin with your wedding’s food and beverage services. Similar to your venue and accommodations, you will want to ask your food and beverage suppliers about any environmental certifications they value related to their banquet options; this can include USDA organic, sustainable wine, or wildlife certification amongst many others.
Focus on using those vendors that offer locally grown and sustainable foods with organic options. Go the extra mile by asking them if they compost their organic food residuals in a local program to reduce waste and benefit nearby farming initiatives through future reuse.
Did you know that the questions you ask your caterer or banquet manager are the same questions you will need to ask your florist? Flowers are very similar to foods in that they can be grown locally, sustainably, and organically. They can also be composted following a wedding if they are not taken home by guests or preserved by the happy couple.
When you make your decision to select a florist, remember to ask them these same questions to determine who will have the least damaging environmental impact when providing your wedding requests. Above all things, be sure that whoever you select does not import their flowers from international locations as other countries often have loose guidelines for growers and allow chemicals to be used in the growth process that are banned due to environmental hazards in the United States.
As we move on to your save-the-dates, invitations, announcements, table cards, response cards, and every other printed item you could possibly need for your wedding, you probably expect to hear advice on how you shouldn’t print anything and everything should be done without paper in one manner or another, right? Wrong! There is nothing tackier to a guest than their spending both money and time on your wedding simply to receive a digital thank you card in their e-mail. Advocating a green wedding does not mean advocating the removal of etiquette, and so printed materials are absolutely necessary to your ceremony.
When it comes to finding a vendor to design and print your wedding materials, begin by finding one who specializes in eco-friendly printing. Their design process should focus on printing styles such as offset, letterpress, and engraving and should avoid options like thermography and foil stamping. The design should also limit the need for large surface space printing such as using ink to print a solid background.
They should offer paper options that are high in post-consumer recycled content and can be recycled again for further use, and their inks should be vegetable or soy based. A really great option is to request that the printer use seed paper for your materials, which guests can bury following the wedding in order to grow wildflowers out of the paper.
Onto what many people believe is the epicenter of any wedding, and that is the bride’s gown. There are many green options for gowns, whether it is purchasing a vintage gown or looking into something newer that is made with environmentally friendly fabrics and materials. One of the most important aspects of being green when it comes to the gown is not so much of the procurement of the gown but what happens with it after the wedding.
Many brides will take their gown to be preserved, but if you are not in the mood to keep your wedding dress then you can also look into a dress exchange. A dress exchange is this genius little idea someone thought up after having to purchase too many bridesmaid ensembles that will never be worn again. You take your wedding dress, bridal gown or bridesmaid dress, to a place that exchanges it for a new dress you can actually wear for a night out. Then the wedding dress you brought in can be resold to someone who needs it. Talk about being rewarded for recycling!
Then lastly you have the audiovisual equipment and décor, which can encompass your linens, tables, chairs, archways, china, glassware, flatware, lighting, staging, pipe and drape, and centerpieces just to name a few. There are two rules to remember when planning for these items in your wedding: try to limit how many vendors you contract to provide everything you need and always rent wedding items over purchasing them unless you will use the item in question again in the future.
Very few items are worth purchasing over renting for many brides and grooms, and renting them allows you to send them back to a vendor instead of a landfill. As for limiting the amount of vendors you use, this will significantly reduce the amount of travel that is involved with designing your wedding.
Speaking of travel, we’ve touched on transportation and why it is important to limit this as much as you can during your wedding. Sometimes this just isn’t an option, though. People need to get from Point A to Point B, and in some cases those two places cannot be close enough together to eliminate a need for transportation.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, don’t give up on making this aspect of your wedding sustainable. Instead, look into green transportation options such as electric and hybrid vehicles or limousines, biodiesel trolleys and coaches, or carriage and buggy rides. There is always a method of transportation that will lend itself to your wedding’s green qualities one way or another, so get creative when thinking of how you prefer to transport your guests when needed.
Now that you are armed with this information, planning a green wedding probably doesn’t seem as painful as it did a few minutes ago. There are definitely a number of other aspects to consider and questions to ask when it comes to figuring out all of the details of your wedding and how to make it sustainable, but this information will give you the basis from which you can create the green wedding of your dreams.
If you are ever in doubt about something, go back to the basics of reduce, reuse, and recycle by asking yourself if the item in question is necessary or important on your wedding day. If it is then think about how to incorporate this element in a way that allows it to be reused or recycled into something new for the future. It’s all about going back to basics when it comes to a green wedding.
BONUS Article: The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan a Green Wedding
Copyright © 2011 – Hollie Dunn.
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