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Vows1: The bride wore green

by Joy Lanzendorfer
PacificSun.com

It's not just a wedding-it's an opportunity to reward sustainable and local businesses…

At heart, a wedding should be a reflection of the couple getting married. Some weddings are religious events, some are big parties, and some are demonstrations of wealth and prestige. But increasingly these days, a new kind of wedding is emerging.

The green wedding.

As more people try to reduce their ecological footprints, couples are using their weddings as opportunities to demonstrate a devotion to the earth-and to each other. After all, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is around $28,000. With that kind of price tag, a wedding has considerable purchasing power. Some are looking at it as an opportunity to reward sustainable and local businesses.

"We're finding that people who are choosing to have a green wedding see it as a sign of their values," says Eric Fenster of Back To Earth Organic Catering in Berkeley, which does about 15 percent of its business in Marin. "Our clients say again and again that they feel really good about their wedding. It's just as elegant as other weddings, but behind it, they are creating something healthy and wonderful, and something that is not destructive to the earth."

A green wedding might go something like this: You pick a central location in a 100-year-old building to reduce travel distance and carbon emissions. On top of that, you hire a biodiesel shuttle to take guests to and from their hotel, a hybrid limousine for the bride and groom, and purchase carbon offsets to make up for other air and car transportation. You use organic and local food, alcohol, cake and flowers. For favors, you give guests redwood saplings that they can plant. You use electronic invitations (no paper) and digital photography (no film processing). Your rings are conflict free and the rest of your jewelry are antiques. At the reception, you make sure your guests are aware of the choices you've made.

At least, that's how Emily Hagopian chose to have her Mill Valley wedding last year. At first Hagopian, a photographer who works with green builders, and Michael Heacock, a green architect, were unexcited about planning their wedding. While they wanted to celebrate their union with friends and family, the idea of spending so much money on one day seemed excessive. Then Hagopian thought of centering the ceremony on an environmental theme.

"I got really energized," she says. "I got excited about all the things I wanted to do and how they could be shared with our guests. It was really an educational event as well as something we are passionate about."

Hagopian was not alone. In a 2006 survey conducted by Brides.com, 60 percent of respondents said that the environment was an important factor in their wedding planning. Another 33 percent said they wanted to have a green wedding.

Locally, event planners are seeing more interest in green weddings as well, particularly when it comes to the food. Customers are asking where caterers get their food, how the food is farmed, and whether or not it's local.

"There is more interest in locally grown foods," says Moira Gubbins, event planner and owner of Parties, Parties, Parties in Mill Valley. "Organic has always been important to a lot of our clients, but now they are asking about sustainable farms and local food. People are more attuned to the fact that food grown closer to them is fresher and uses less energy."

Of course, interest in organic food in the Bay Area goes much deeper than weddings, but other types of companies are seeing increased business from green weddings as well. OrganicBouquet.com, an online retailer of organic flowers in San Rafael, plans to ship roughly 20 million stems of eco-certified flowers this year. Of that, 20 percent will go to green weddings.

"We get calls every day from florists and brides who are asking for organic flowers for their weddings," says OrganicBouquet.com's Gerald Prolman. "Awareness of the environment is at an all time high. People today are making conscientious purchase decisions. They want to know how the farm workers are treated and want assurance that the earth was not contaminated in the process."

For many brides, organic flowers are a symbol of their choice not to support the fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals used in mass flower farming. Some 70 percent of flowers sold in the U.S. have been imported, increasing carbon emissions, according to Prolman.

But even in the Bay Area, planning a green wedding can be difficult. Hagopian found that she had to thoroughly investigate vendors for her wedding to find ones she considered truly sustainable. With the help of her wedding planner, Mary Lou Sanders, she managed to find vendors who could give her what she wanted, or who were willing to change the way they did things for her business. Her photographer, for example, switched to digital film just for Hagopian's wedding.

Oddly enough, one of the most difficult things for her to find was a sustainable caterer. While Hagopian interviewed several caterers, her standards went beyond a few organic ingredients. She wanted everything, even the oils and spices, to be organic. On top of that, she wanted to know how the company was run. Did they compost their waste? How did they wash their dishes? What transportation methods did they use?

Finally, Hagopian discovered Back to Earth, which lived up to her standards.

"I went in there and asked, so what are you washing your dishes with?" says Hagopian, laughing. "They said, oh that's weird, no one has ever asked that question before. I was being anal. But they came through 100 percent. And they had the most amazing food, too."

But even a company as earnest about the environment as Back to Earth can have trouble being completely sustainable. Although Back to Earth tries to use all local food, it can run into problems when key ingredients are not grown in the Bay Area, such as coffee or chocolate.

"If we didn't serve chocolate and coffee, we wouldn't do very well as a catering company," says Fenster. "We try to balance that by cutting out things that are unnecessary, things like tropical fruit or produce from far away."

Surprisingly, a green wedding can end up costing more than a regular wedding because organic food, flowers and alcohol can be more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. However, couples can always go the anti-consumerism route by cutting the guest list to 20-50 people, scaling back on extras and enjoying low-key activities. By doing so, they can save money and ease pressure on the earth.

Either way, the goal is to add meaning to the wedding by making it more than just about the people getting married.

"It's eye-opening," says Hagopian. "This amazing event celebrating love can become extremely wasteful and harmful to other people. Everything we do has an effect one way or another. So we wanted to start our relationship out with a clean slate. We wanted to cause no harm."



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