When you walk down the aisle, will you leave behind a huge carbon footprint? Without thoughtful planning, the answer to that question is likely to be yes. The lavish trappings of a traditional wedding result in amazing amounts of waste. And much fuel is burned in transit. But there are some simple ways to make your big day easier on the environment.
When choosing your location, look for a site that's as "green" as possible. Outdoor venues can be an energy-saving option, says Katie O'Malley, owner of Katie O' Weddings and Events, in Latham. "If you do a daytime wedding, you're not getting lighting. If you only use grills, you're not using a lot of the extra energy that it would take to run a mobile kitchen," she notes.
And since Mother Nature has already decorated the great outdoors, there's no need to spend extra resources on decorations that will likely wind up in a landfill after the event.
The Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs advertises "green" indoor wedding receptions on their Web site. "We have like 18 [eco-friendly] policies that we have to adhere to," says the hotel's environmental manager, Candice Begmann. "We've changed all the light bulbs, we recycle a ton of things. We're working hard to try and reduce our carbon footprint."
Indoors or outdoors, whichever you choose, make sure the reception site is close to where the majority of the guests live, and if possible, have the ceremony and reception in one spot.
In your invitations, provide information about public transportation options, encourage guests to carpool, or let them know you've rented a shuttle for the day. All of that can translate into less fuel consumed.
Wedding correspondence uses reams of paper. Traditionally, there are save-the-date cards, and invitations that include inner and outer envelopes, as well as RSVP cards with their own envelopes. Many couples cut paper usage by employing the Internet. Some send electronic save-the-date notices; others omit RSVP cards and ask guests to respond online.
Some weddings are now completely paperless; "e-vites" are sent in lieu of traditional invitations. "I don't love it because it takes a big level of formality and panache out of it," O'Malley says.
If you want to preserve the panache without sacrificing trees, choose wedding invitations printed on recycled paper, or on paper made from an alternate fiber, like hemp or bamboo. You can further green the correspondence by having it imprinted with soy- and vegetable-based inks.
Another popular paper-saving practice is to eliminate escort cards "" the cards that list guests' table numbers, at the reception. "Instead of having all of that extra paper, we're seeing a lot of people doing like a chart, almost," O'Malley says. "It's one big printed material that lists the table number and the people at the table alphabetically."
Adorning the tables with linens in lieu of disposable napkins and table covers is another way to lessen wedding waste. "Some couples even go as far as trying to get linens that aren't dyed or bleached or chemically processed, so that they are using materials and fabrics at their wedding that haven't had strong environmental impact," notes Shannon Whitney, of Wedding Planning Plus in Rotterdam.
Less is more
Should you invite second cousins? Work friends? Kids? Although it can be tough to pare down the guest list, fewer partygoers make for a more eco-friendly wedding. "You're obviously minimizing everything by having a smaller guest list," explains O'Malley. Fewer people means a smaller venue, less food consumed and fewer miles traveled. Hiring a DJ instead of a band will also help minimize the headcount, she notes.
Another way to cut down on waste is to take a long, hard look at your gift registry. Do you really need a towel warmer or a seltzer maker? Cut out frivolous items and give guests the option of making a donation in your name to a charity that works to better the environment.
Food for thought
If the food for your reception is grown half a world away, it will be served with a huge side order of carbon footprint. To help eliminate that less-than-tasty side dish, you can serve locally grown produce and meat. Many caterers work with area farmers. "Lily and the Rose and Mansion Catering, their chefs are really great [about using local ingredients]," O'Malley notes. Think entrees and apps flavored with heirloom tomatoes and fresh goat cheese from a nearby farm. "It brings a lot of personality to the day but it also helps in that it's supporting a local business," she says.
Opting to serve minimally processed food is another way to make your wedding greener. "Get organic foods, and organic wine and beer, so that you're using ingredients [produced by growers] that haven't used pesticides," recommends Whitney.
If there's lots of leftover food following the reception, don't let it go to waste. Ask to have it delivered to a local soup kitchen.
They are the embodiment of nature, but wedding flowers are often anything but earth-friendly. "It's very easy to say, 'Yes, I want tulips for my flowers,' but if you're only going to be able to get them from Amsterdam and they have to be flown from Europe, all of the costs and the air pollution " You really need to think about where they're coming from and what processes they have to go through before they reach you," says Whitney.
Heavenscent Floral Art, an eco-friendly florist in Saratoga Springs, relies heavily on local flower farms, uses recycled vases and decorates arrangements with vintage ribbons. Owner Jordan Baker also creates planted table centerpieces, which can be enjoyed long after cut flowers have been dumped in the trash. "We'll often do a perennial plant in the centerpiece, like a rose, so people can plant them and they'll come back every year," she notes.
Eco-friendly arrangements are also budget friendly, says Baker. "It's usually three quarters of the cost to do a planter versus cut flowers and people are just amazed," she says. "I actually think [overall] I'm less expensive because I don't have to buy as much glass and I use locally grown flowers and they're just so much more inexpensive than importing them."
Another budget- and earth-friendly option: ask friends to grow flowers for you, and use those in your arrangements for the big day.
After the wedding is over, make sure the flowers don't simply get tossed. Have them delivered to a local nursing home for the residents to enjoy.
Do the earth a favor
Sure, they're a thoughtful gesture, but wedding favors often produce a hill of rubbish. "Most of those things come individually packaged; they come in plastic wrap, with bubble wrap, and all of that ends up being waste," notes Whitney. Post-wedding, the favors themselves often become trash; they're forgotten on the tables or thrown away by guests.
"Instead of giving favors, something that's tangible and could be wasteful, a lot of people are doing donations [in their guests' honor]; some people choose to donate to environmental causes," says Whitney.
If you desperately desire a memento for guests to take home, choose something eco-friendly. "People put a gorgeous tulip bulb in a plastic bag that's made of recycled materials, and a lovely ribbon, and that bulb can be planted in their garden," says Baker, who also has provided couples with evergreen tree saplings for use as wedding favors. "People use a lot of that recycled paper with seeds inlayed," she adds. "It's like little cards and the guests can actually plant the paper in their garden and it will grow."
Dress to offset
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something green. That's the mantra for modern bridal attire. "There's brides that are either purchasing a dress that may be pre-worn, on eBay or from consignment shops, and there are some designers that make hemp dresses or dresses out of more natural materials," notes O'Malley.
Wearing Mom's or Grandma's wedding dress, and perhaps their jewelry as well, is a sentimental, eco-friendly option.
Reusing previously loved wedding attire is one way to keep the cost of a green wedding manageable, and there are many more, says Whitney. "The only thing that really tends to have an increased price tag would be some of the organic foods, only because they typically are more expensive to purchase on a wholesale level. But when it comes to selecting flowers or renewable resource types of fabrics, there are lots of decisions that can be made," she says. "Recycled paper invitations, things like that, don't necessarily need to cost more." The key, Whitney says, is to do your research.
Green, yet grand
Can a wedding that's kind to the environment still be the lavish event of your dreams? Absolutely, insists Whitney. All it takes is proper planning. "A lot of people, when they think 'green,' they think, 'Well, I need to have a lot of natural elements and it needs to be outdoors and rustic,' but it doesn't have to be," she says. "It can still be elegant, beautiful, ballroom and be green. It's just thinking on a sort of global and environmental thought process of all the small decisions that you make, until putting it together that day. "