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Nice Day for a...Green Wedding

Planning a Ceremony That Celebrates the Earth

by Elizabeth Hilts

Photo © Thomas Jackel/Thomas Jackel Studio
© Thomas Jackel/Thomas Jackel Studio
The "white" in "wedding" has come to mean "expensive." Indeed, until this modern era of conspicuous consumption, most weddings were simple, at-home affairs attended only by close friends and family. Brides wore dresses they sewed themselves, flowers came from the garden, the good china and silver were pressed into service and the food was home-made. As society became more affluent, however, weddings became an opportunity to flaunt a family's wealth and status.

Today, there is a growing trend in "the wedding as spectacle"--one couple touted on Oprah spent over $7 million on their wedding, buying a ranch and erecting a specially-designed tent. Another etched the guests' names into glass tables. Excess continues to surround the entire wedding industry, from encyclopedic-sized magazines to the blow-out receptions celebrated in the media.

It's possible to have a truly wonderful and green wedding day. "We had a customer who really wanted to be kind to the Earth," says Sasha Souza, who runs The Whole Shebang in Pleasanton, California. "And that meant vegetarian food, carpooling, a garden setting, cloth napkins and no Styrofoam. The event was just beautiful, and it wasn't any more difficult to arrange than any other wedding. There are so many options out there now. Finding environmental alternatives to traditional wedding items is really not an issue." Mike Connors of Minnesota's Wedding Details adds that he's seen "a definite increase in requests for environmentally-aware weddings. Now we're setting up separate bins for cans, bottles, paper and plastic."

In her book, Green Weddings That Don't Cost the Earth (Paper Crane Press), Carol Reed-Jones both defines a green wedding--Earth-sensitive, affordable, healthy, safe and inclusive--and provides valuable information about how to plan one. Her quarterly Green Wedding Newsletter provides environmental wedding updates.

Maintain Consciousness

The most difficult part of planning a green wedding may well be holding on to your environmental principles. After all, few life events approach the headiness of a matrimonial ceremony. The best advice is to keep it simple, and always think things through. For instance, although a wilderness wedding may seem appealing, consider the potential damage to wildlife and vegetation by even a small group of well-behaved revelers. If you absolutely must get married in a pristine environment, limit attendance at the ceremony and have the party elsewhere.

Other things you may want to consider: Hold the ceremony and reception in the same spot, or within walking distance of one another. This cuts down on excess transportation and air pollution.

If you need to hire a wedding planner, make sure he or she shares your commitment to environmentally-sound practices.

Consider using live, organic plants and locally- or home-grown flowers rather than cut floral arrangements (which may require out-of-season blooms grown with pesticides and flown in from across the world).

Growing your own flowers is another option.

Make your own wedding cake. This allows you to design a cake that is dairy-free, or made with eggs from organically-fed, free-range chickens, organic dairy products, alternative sweeteners and whole wheat flour. Serve organic wines, which can be chosen for you by a knowledgeable wine merchant.

Take a green honeymoon. Stay nearby or choose an ecologically-sound destination or method of travel. Seek out travel agencies which specialize in healthy or vegetarian travel, or eco-tourism.


Choosing an heirloom wedding gown worn by a family member can add additional meaning to the occasion, and provide a living link to the past. Lacking that option, check out vintage clothing stores, antique or consignment shops (which are also great sources for tuxedos and attendants' clothing); in addition to the environmental merits of reuse, the cost will undoubtedly be lower than buying a brand new gown. Bear in mind, however, that dry cleaning previously-worn clothing requires the use of hazardous chemicals that make their way into the environment--if the garments can be spot cleaned or hand-washed, all the better.

One of the hottest trends in green weddings now is the move toward hemp clothing. "You can get three-piece suits and dresses made of hemp linen or hemp linen/silk blends," says Reed-Jones. Choosing hemp doesn't even impose limits on the bridal gown design. In fact, Hemp Times recently featured a dramatic, big-bustled wedding dress made with two layers of hemp linen lined with sheer, stiff organza. Modern hemp tuxedos are also available.

The Recycled Reception

There are some obvious recycling choices that can be made for both the wedding and the reception: Invitations made of recycled paper are readily available from most stationers, as are natural-looking handmade papers. Really crafty couples can make their own recycled paper for the invitations (just make sure the size conforms with postal requirements--the post office won't accept any postcard or envelope smaller than 3 1/2" x 5").

Borrow, rent, or use secondhand items whenever possible--such as plates, serving dishes, glasses and cutlery. When selecting gifts for attendants, choose antiques or presents made from recycled or sustainable materials.

Donate reception leftovers to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

Be sure to recycle all bottles and cans; include this in your catering contract.

Avoid throwaway and one-time-use items like wedding-specific decorations and over-packaged items like disposable cameras.

Don't succumb to the siren song of the bridal magazine. These hefty tomes feature page after page of dresses and lists of "necessary items" that most people rarely or never actually use. If you feel the need to access such information, go to the library or bookstore and browse away. Or check out one of the web sites devoted to all things bridal.

Another important way to reduce wastefulness is to choose your reception venue carefully. If you choose to use a catering hall or restaurant, make sure that the management is environmentally responsible (or will be to accommodate your beliefs). If you don't already know of a restaurant of this kind or if you're getting married away from home, contact the Green Restaurant Association for a list of their members.

The most important thing in planning your wedding is this: Remember what's important to you! Maintain your commitment to yourself and your spouse-to-be. Rather than crumble in the face of family, cultural and consumer pressures to please everyone else, make sure you plan a celebration that reflects who you are and what is important to you. If you need further inspiration, check out The Alternative Wedding Book: Create a Beautiful Wedding That Reflects Your Values and Doesn't Cost the Earth (Northstone Publishing). Oh, and congratulations.

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Green Restaurant Association
608 Arosa Street
San Diego, CA 92115
Phone: (619) 287-4261

Green Weddings Newsletter
PO Box 29292
Bellingham, WA 98228-1292
Phone: (360) 676-0266

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