by Natasha Garber
Your wedding celebration is an occasion for elegance, opulence, even decadence. With all that beauty and bounty, it's also a potential opportunity for excessive energy consumption and wastefulness. But what if there were a few simple, sensible ways for you to keep your wedding clean and "green" without sacrificing one ounce of style or sumptuousness? In fact, there are countless ways to reduce the environmental impact of your wedding, from floral to favors to footprint-carbon footprint, that is.
Floral is one of the heftiest line items in most wedding budgets. Floral arrangements, which usually include imported cut flowers, chemically based foam blocks and other potentially toxic materials, also account for a hefty environmental impact. So how does the eco-conscious bride make sure that her naturally gorgeous wedding flowers are a little kinder to nature? For brides with the desire and budget to do so, there is the totally organic floral option. Flowers from San Rafael, Calif.-based Organic Bouquet, which supplies florists nationwide with eco-certified floral, are not just lovely to look at-they're produced with love for their environment.
Company CEO and founder Gerald Prolman notes that all the flowers Organic Bouquet sells "are grown in a manner that is gentle on the earth and safe for farm workers, wildlife and ecology." In 2008, he expects to ship more than 20 million stems of eco-certified flowers, and says he anticipates that at least 20 percent of those blooms will be used for weddings.
Noting a trend toward "rich, vibrant colors" in today's wedding floral, Prolman suggests that "organic flowers are a symbol of purity, and they make a statement that reflects the couple's values." By incorporating eco-certified flowers into their wedding, "The bride and groom can take comfort in knowing that the flowers were grown with respect for the earth and care for the well-being of the farm workers who grew them."
Even if organic floral is not an option, you can request a kinder, gentler arrangement. "Skipping floral foam is a big one," says Meghan Meyers of the ways wedding couples can go green. As founder, CEO and editorial director of online "green weddings" magazine Portovert, Meyers is dedicated to delivering practical eco-wedding advice.
Instead of having centerpieces and other arrangements that use non-biodegradable floral foam as a foundation, she says, opt instead for eco-friendly designs that incorporate "stones, shells, fruits and vegetables" to anchor cut flowers and add texture and color.
Your wedding catering is an excellent place to focus your efforts if green is your scene. Many caterers, if they're not already doing so as a matter of course, are happy to fulfill wedding clients' special requests for organic, local and sustainably produced foods. Christopher Robbins of New York's Robbins Wolfe Eventeurs, which has catered weddings for the likes of Christie Brinkley, Uma Thurman and Amy Brenneman, advises brides to search wisely: "Choose a caterer who uses local, organic produce, and supports sustainable farming, local farmers or community markets." Doing so not only boosts a bride's local economy, but can cut down on shipping costs, not to mention the environmental impact of transporting foods from far off.
With all the washing that serving ware and cutlery require-along with the energy, water and chemical soaps involved in that washing-why not simply leave such items for the main event? "Prepare finger foods for the cocktail hour to avoid using additional plates and utensils," Robbins suggests.
Green weddings expert and sustainable management MBA Corina Beczner of San Francisco eco-event firm Vibrant Events adds that any bride can keep her wedding reception meal in check with a little savvy planning. "Reduce the amount of food waste by having food served family-style or plated for your guests," she says. "Buffets are notorious for leftovers!"
Green-leaning brides tend to worry about the effect that eco-friendliness will have on the overall look of their wedding. But brides who fear that going green means forgoing fabulous wedding decor need not fret.
There's no question that fabric plays a lead role in the staging of many weddings. From tablecloths and napkins to draping and swagging, reams of fabric go into the typical reception setup. To make sure those mounds of material are truly eco-chic, ask your wedding planner or linen vendor to source natural fiber cloth, environmentally sensitive dyes and locally manufactured linen products.
Keep decor elements in harmony with the environment by keeping them simple and sustainable. "Decor elements that can be recycled, like paper, or reused, not just chucked in that garbage at the end of the night" always are preferable, Beczner says. Stylish examples include romantic paper lanterns, live goldfish in glass bowls, wood or metal floral containers, even vintage books and photo frames.
New York wedding and event designer DeJuan Stroud, who counts Robert De Niro and Jon Bon Jovi among his clients, offers out-of-this world wedding decor ideas that won't needlessly damage the planet. For starters, "Incorporate live trees in centerpieces that can be planted later or donated to a local school or charity," he says. For eco-stylish ambience, get your wedding glow from "candles of soy, hemp and citronella oils, to [create] a romantic setting, yet earth-friendly environment." As for meal seating, Stroud suggests such rustically elegant alternatives as "wooden tables-for example, farm tables or mango slab tables-that can be used over and over and don't need cloths."
Green to Go
While you may not want your wedding to leave a lasting impact on the environment, you do want it to leave a lingering glow and an abundance of meaningful memories.
Portovert's Meyers recommends starting well before the wedding by giving guests an opportunity to contribute to worthy social and environmental causes. She loves the I Do Foundation, in particular, which partners with retailers to direct a portion of proceeds from gift registry purchases to charities in the areas of environment, health, social justice and more.
The organization's retailer partners, which include Target, Amazon and Mikasa, each donate between three and 10 percent of each gift's purchase amount to one of the foundation's recommended nonprofits, or to a "focus area" of need-the choice is the wedding couple's. Registered couples also can add a beneficiary organization if it's not already on the foundation's list of recommended nonprofits.
According to Meyers, if the average number of weddings per year, number of guests per wedding and price per gift is considered, when a minimum of three percent per gift is donated, "That's $9.5 billion annually." And that's a lot of green!
Take-home tokens, too, look great in green. For guest favors, Meyers likes organic mints in reusable tins, while Beczner recommends that guests be given "the potted plant used to decorate their table, a CFC light or a reusable shopping bag." She adds: "You can have a nice design printed on it with your wedding date…just remember to purchase organic cotton and use vegetable inks for the printing."
When all is said and done, it's transportation-getting guests and products to and from your wedding-that has the biggest environmental impact of any single wedding element. Green wedding experts are in agreement that the best way to minimize the environmental impact of your wedding celebration is to keep it close to home.
"Climate change is happening, and emissions from planes, cars, etc., are a huge impact on the planet," Beczner says. "Looking at how your guests are traveling to your event, to me, is the number one thing you should address when having a green wedding." Both she and Meyers say that along with keeping your wedding local, and using low-emissions vehicles for transportation when possible, calculating your carbon emissions and offsetting them with support for renewable energy resources can go a long way in prolonging the positive impact of your green nuptials.
TerraPass, a San Francisco-based organization that offers carbon offsetting options-there are nonprofits as well, such as Live Mutual and The Carbon Fund, Beczner notes-provides an easy-to-use carbon emissions calculator on its Web site. Once wedding couples know what impact their wedding is likely to have, they can "balance it out by supporting domestic projects, such as wind farms and methane digesters that reduce global warming emissions by the same amount," says TerraPass founder and chief environmental officer Tom Arnold.
Offsetting your carbon output makes an important statement at the beautiful start of your new life as husband and wife. "A wedding is a special day, but it's also a significant event with a big carbon footprint," explains Arnold. "It makes sense to focus on ways to reduce it." And, more than anything, "Having an environmentally responsible wedding is also a way to share your values with your guests and ask them to share in your values of stewardship."