Monday, May 23, 2011

Eight Tips for a Gorgeous Green Wedding

If you’re anything like me, at this point the very mention of the words “royal wedding” has you running in the opposite direction with your hands over your ears. However, one (perhaps the only) aspect of the “wedding-watched-round the-world” that hasn't been overblown is the conscious selection of eco-friendly options on the part of the planners. The couple have used recycled paper for all their correspondence, incorporated seasonal flowers into their wedding ceremony, made use of locally sourced wines and produce in their reception menu, and requested guests to plant trees or donate to charities (Earthwatch amongst them) in lieu of gifts.
The selection of “green” alternatives in the royal wedding highlights a truism of sorts - weddings in general are often tremendously wasteful affairs, from the food to the flower arrangements. For those with an environmental bent, an eco-friendly wedding can be a wonderful way to mark your commitment both to each other and the environment. So here, from the engagement ring to the honeymoon, are a scattering of green wedding tips.

1.) The Ring
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but finding one that has been ethically mined can be a tricky affair. If there is one thing Kate Middleton's ring has shown, it’s that “giant diamond” and “engagement ring” need not go hand in hand ("engagement ring" and “large sapphire”, however, is a different matter). Many couples now are selecting stones that have special significance for them, from birth stones to stones representing certain desirable traits (for instance, onyx is thought to bring long-lasting love). While sapphires, rubies and emeralds are all common alternatives to diamonds, and are often mined in conflict-free areas, it is still important to identify ethically sourced stones (child labor, for instance, remains a problem in many gem mines).
Vintage or heirlooms rings are a wonderful way to tie in history and family tradition with your nuptials. If you have your heart absolutely set on a diamond ring, however, there are a many environmentally-friendly options. Synthetic or cultured diamond rings, worn by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, can offer a beautiful alternative at a fraction of the cost.
If you’re set on a chunk of carbon grown the natural way, try to purchase your diamond from a conflict-free area like Australia or Canada. At the very least, ensure that the stone was mined under the Kimberley Process, which seeks to certify stones as conflict-free by monitoring their mine-to-store progress. GreenKarat is one of many websites specializing in eco-friendly rings, ethically mined and sourced.

2.) The Invitations
E-mail is a growing medium for official correspondence, and if you’re comfortable sending your invitations out online, there are numerous options available (a popular choice is setting up a one-stop-shop web page or blog, filled with all the wedding event information, photographs, news and updates). However, there are loads of environmentally friendly hard copy options too. Like most paper products, invitations also come printed on recycled post-consumer waste paper. If you love the idea of recycled paper but are worried about costs, you can even make your own. 
If you’re having your invitations custom made and are looking for a replacement for heavy card stock, opt for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified cotton paper – it’s 100% recyclable, holds ink beautifully, and preserves its color much longer than regular paper (great for that wedding scrapbook).  An Earthly Affair is a good place to look for cotton and 100% recycled post-consumer waste invitations.

3.) The Location
Your wedding venue should obviously be a place of importance to you and your spouse. But if you find yourself debating between a few options, or haven’t yet picked a locale, there are a few environmentally-friendly tips that can help guide your decision. Depending on how many guests you may have, picking a venue in a centralized place can help cut travel and transportation costs.
Choosing a location in a state or national park can add natural majesty and a unique connection with nature. For instance, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, located in the heart of Napa Valley, California, has a large forest amphitheatre (ceremony in the park, reception in one of the many surrounding vineyards – done and done!). Which leads to the next tip – try minimizing the distance between the ceremony and reception location. 
If, however, you have your heart set on a beach in Bali, purchasing carbon offsets for yourselves and your guests can help alleviate some of that emissions-induced guilt.

4.) The Dress
Wearing a green wedding dress does not mean you have to get married in burlap. Like other aspects of your wedding, your wedding dress can be unique and beautiful while maintaining an eco-friendly pedigree. Vintage dresses are an excellent first option, again adding continuity with the past that is inherently romantic. Vintage dresses can be updated for a more modern feel, or left as is for the more traditional.
For those who like the idea of a dress with history, but prefer a more modern feel, online exchanges like Recycled Bride help connect brides-to-be with those selling their “gently used” (and what's more "gently used" than a dress worn once? wedding dresses. This option has the added benefit of fiscal advantage – with loads of designer dresses offered at heavily discounted prices,  the money saved on the dress can be spent towards an extra night (or four) on your honeymoon.

5.) The Ceremony
I’m a firm believer that each couple’s ceremony should be their own. The only green suggestion here proffered is therefore regarding flowers. Flowers are a beautiful addition to any ceremony. However, fresh blooms are often imported from developing nations, steeped in pesticides and harvested by workers who are underpaid and overworked. Try purchasing flowers locally sourced and in season, and when finished, consider donating your beautiful blooms to a local hospital or retirement home.

6.) The Reception
Whether you’re offering a lavish ten-course meal or a delicious backyard barbeque, your food selection can make a big difference on the environmental impact of your wedding. If possible, opt for organic, sustainably-farmed food. If you’re catering, make sure to ask questions about the source of the food used.
Incorporating local, seasonal foods in your menu also enables you to support local industry, cut transportation emissions, and results in fresher produce. Keep waste to a minimum by checking to see if extra food can be donated to a local homeless shelter or food bank.

7.) The Gifts
Gifts are a much lauded aspect of getting married. However, for those couples who already have a toaster, table set, and decorative wall hanging, traditional wedding gifts can seem superfluous. Opting for donations to your favorite environmental charities in lieu of gifts will benefit the environment while filling your guests with charitable good will. How better to commemorate your life as a couple than by saving a forest or two?

8.) The Honeymoon
Eco-tourism has become a multi-million dollar industry with a wide spectrum of options, ranging from carbon-neutral spas to good old fashioned camping.  Ideally, the less travel the better. If you’re still working on your honeymoon plans, try thinking of the general type of destination you’re looking for (for instance, tropical beach, buzzing metropolis or secluded cabin), then look for your closest option (Florida or Mexico rather than Tahiti, New York or San Francisco rather than London, Tahoe rather than Switzerland, etc). Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll save on travel costs as well.
However, if the wedding planning has you wanting to get as far away from it all as physically possible, websites like The International Ecotourism Society highlight communities around the world which emphasis sustainability and conservatism as guidelines for their tourist destinations.  Finally, purchasing carbon-offsets can once again assuage some of that jet-setting shame.
So, whether you’re nuptials are next month, or you’re just taking mental notes for purposes of preparation, hopefully you've found a snippet or two of useful information here. Above all else, your wedding should be a celebration of who you and your future spouse are as a couple. Whether that means a destination wedding extravaganza with carbon offsets bought by the dozen, or a reception in your backyard with food sourced from your organic garden, whatever feels right for you and your partner is what matters most.