In this post, we are going to highlight an area of the wedding industry that is too often overlooked: eco-friendly weddings. While big, lavish weddings are beautiful, they can leave a huge carbon footprint in ways many couples don’t ever consider. Straws in drinks, individual guest name cards, an abundance of decorations and floral arrangements… all the little details add up both monetarily and ethically.
For all the couples who are as in love with our planet as I am, I have complied a list of ways to make any wedding less wasteful and more eco-friendly.
Consider Leave No Trace ethics and their impact on your wedding day
What is Leave No Trace?
Leave No Trace is a set of principles and best practices promoted by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. These practices are widely adopted by outdoor enthusiasts to ensure our enjoyment of the outdoors isn’t reduced by our own impact.
Since the inception of social media platforms, the interest in adventure travel has increased exponentially, and continues to increase with every post, share, and impression. While it's beautiful that people have interest in enjoying the wonders our Earth has to offer, it has come with a cost:
- CO2 emissions from transporation methods
- Forests knocked down for developed properties and hiking trails
- Increased foot traffic trampling the delicate flora of previously untouched environments
Whether you’re having a more conventional wedding or something unique such as a destination elopement, you’ll want to be careful about what your photos or videos show. Others see your actions and can be influenced to do the same, causing a cascade of negative impact on the environment.
How to incorporate Leave No Trace ethics in your wedding
- Do not litter! If you bring it in, take it out with you and dispose of trash properly. While things like champagne corks and bouquet droppings may be “biodegradable,” they are still foreign to the environment and harmful to the natural flora and fauna. Always be curious to the nature around you, and remember that everything you bring in should be brought out with you or disposed of properly.
- Travel and camp on durable and defined spaces, including maintained trails, parking lots, and rock or gravel surfaces.
- Utilize toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, keep away at least 200 feet from water, camps, and trails or dig cat holes.
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them and avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Respect wildlife by not approaching or feeding wild animals and ensuring all food and food wrappings are removed and disposed of properly.
- Consider your décor carefully. Flowers such as baby’s breath drop easily and can spoil environments with foreign pollens. Other things you should avoid is the throwing of rice, flower petals, plastic confetti, bird seed, etc. which can harm wildlife if consumed by animals or introduce non-native plant material.
Shift your mindset from ordinary to low-impact
Consider sustainable brands
Consider sustainable brands with mission statements that emphasize locally produced or recycled materials and fair-trade ethics. When if comes to your bridal look, consider sustainable bridal gown brands, makeup brands, and even shoe and jewelry brands. When it comes to your decor, shop on websites such as Etsy or even Facebook marketplace, adding a search filter to your state or region.
Think used instead of new
For dresses: shop on websites like StillWhite and Preowned Wedding Dresses for used wedding dresses. You save money, help the planet, and give another life to something that was literally made to be shown off. Although I’m a HUGE advocate for used wedding dresses (I myself wore a used gown for my wedding), you do have to be careful where you shop. While Facebook Marketplace, EBay, and Poshmark are options, they lack the insurance that guarantees the purchase.
For suits: wear a suit you already own or invest in one you’ll wear again! Now that you’re a grown up, it’s probably time to have one stowed away in your closet anyways!
For decor: check local wedding pages on Facebook to see who’s selling their used wedding decor, or you can check thrift stores such as Goodwill or Savers to source an electic collection for your wedding.
Think "biodegradable" instead of "disposable"
- Rent real plates, napkins, and cutlery rather than single-use serving ware
- If your venue/caterer allows, bring compostable to-go containers for leftover food and desert
- Utilize products made of wood, glass, concrete, sugarcane, metal, and cotton instead of plastic and polyester
- Use real flowers + greenery instead of fake (bonus points if you’re able to choose local, in-season blooms rather than shipping in floral from other parts of the world
Shop local instead of imported
Food, drink, invitations, decor - whatever it is, I guarantee there’s a business in your area that produces it and sells it.
When it comes to food and drink, work with caterers that frequently work with local farmers and bartenders that serve locally produced wines, beers, and distilled spirits. Here in Upstate New York, we are lucky to have so many local wineries, distilleries, and breweries, as well as restaurants that farm their own produce.
When it comes to floral, try a quick Google search for flower farms in your area or make a request to your florist for locally-sourced blooms. For even less impact, request as many seasonal and native blooms as possible.
If you have a green thumb and have at least a year in advance, you could even try farming your own flowers ahead of your wedding, or asking loved ones if they would be willing to donate blooms from their gardens.
Learn how to say "no"
To have an eco-friendly wedding, you'll have to nix the extras and learn to say no to things you don't really need (or want).
For your decor, do you really need all those signs? Do you really need extra floral displays on the bar or in the bathrooms? What about individual name tags for your seating chart? While all these details sound tiny and harmless, like anything else little things do add up in terms of cost and impact to our Earth.
For your guests, do you really need favors? I hate to be the one to break the news, but your guests probably don’t want something with your monogram or wedding date on it. For couples who insist on giving favors, a "greener" option would be to donate to a local charity or a non-profit environmental organization.
“It’s nice, but is it necessary?” If you’re looking to host an eco-friendly wedding, this is a question you should be asking yourself for nearly every detail of your day, no matter how small the detail is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against décor! But being selective in what you choose and how much you choose can make a huge difference.
Go digital where you can
Wedding planning websites such as Zola.com are great because not only do they allow you to create a wedding website to host a link to your registry, but they are also able to house an electronic RSVP tracker for your guests to reply to their invite!
My husband and I used Zola’s online RSVP tool during our own wedding, and I would say at least 90% of our guests replied within the first two weeks after sending out our invitations. For those that did not respond by our preferred reply day, we just sent them a text or gave them a call and asked them personally if they were attending. Between the actual RSVP cards, postage, and the impact of shipping, it felt so good to save money and resources for something that the simple click of a button could take care of.
Cut back on caterer and bar waste
Another huge, and often overlooked, thing you can do ahead of your eco-friendly wedding is to have a candid conversation with your caterer and bar manager about your desire to prevent as much waste as possible.
Your caterer may allow your guests to take left overs home, or you could provide your bartender with these cute little drink covers to prevent unnecessary removal of unfinished drinks.
Even something as small as bringing a pack of compostable to-go containers for extra desserts can make a huge difference in what's thrown in the garbage at the end of the night.
Hire instead of DIY
Although many people assume DIY-ing parts of their wedding day will cut back on costs and materials, in most cases it ends up causing a ton of waste! Items such as silk flowers, single-use linens, and other decorations are typically produced by "fast-fashion" manufacturers and are made of non-degradable plastics. These items are used once before they end up in a landfill, unless of course they are sold and re-used many times which can be impossible to guarantee.
Wedding professionals often order their materials in bulk and re-use materials as frequently as they can. For example, many wedding florists will make flower orders for multiple weddings at a time, which can cut back a ton on shipping costs and resources. Rentals and styling companies often have a huge inventory of furniture, place settings, signage, and other decorations that they will can use for 100+ events before they are retired from use.
In the end, not only does DIY-ing often bring couples unnecessary stress but it also dramatically increases waste. Rather than finding ways to DIY projects such as furnishings and decorations, instead find ways to cut back on the number of furnishings and decorations you need and hire professionals to take care of the rest.
The most impactful tip for an eco-friendly wedding? Down-size.
I know this sounds easier said than done, but one of the most impactful choices you can make while trying to plan your eco-friendly wedding is to cut your guest list.
Many couples don’t consider the carbon footprint that one guest alone makes on your wedding – the postage of their invitation, the travel required for them to attend your wedding, the food on their plate they don’t finish, the favor they don’t take when they leave – it all adds up.
In the United States, there are over 2 million weddings every year. If you think of the amount of waste produced by each wedding (400-600lbs per 100 person wedding), it only takes simple math to see that large, traditional weddings are huge contributors to unnecessary waste. By converting just 5% of all weddings to smaller weddings or elopements, we could prevent nearly 40 million pounds or more of waste EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Let that sink in for a minute.
In no way am I suggesting that the carbon footprint is more important than the meaning of a person’s presence at one of the most special days of your life. If a particular person is pivotal to your wedding experience, there’s no statistic that could ever surmount the importance of their participation no matter how far they need to travel, how much food they don’t eat, or number of wedding favors they don’t take.
However, if you’re inviting people just to invite people AND sustainability is a top priority for your wedding day, cutting back your guest list could be the perfect opportunity to give back to your planet.
The biggest piece of advice I could offer you when planning your eco-friendly wedding is ask you to prioritize, reduce and reuse as much as possible.
- Do we need it?
- Do we want it?
- Is there a better option?
While society and social media may have us convinced otherwise, little things such as single-use cups and plates, wedding signage, plastic decorations and over the top florals really aren’t necessary. Ask yourself… do you really need flowers beyond your bouquet, signage, or save the sates and RSVP cards?
There are so many ways you can still have the wedding of your dreams with the planet’s health in mind.
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