It should come as no surprise that weddings are incredibly environmentally costly. Between air and ground travel, food and floral waste, and the carbon impact of that steak option at the reception — things can quickly add up.
The trend of the Green Wedding has been on the rise lately, with more and more couples seeking to mitigate their carbon footprint as they look toward their big day.
While carbon neutrality and zero-waste are both excellent goals to strive toward, both in wedding planning and life in general, there are plenty of smaller ways to counteract the environmental impact and carbon footprint. These are strategies that any couple can adopt, regardless of design sensibility and budget.
Here are just a few of our favorite methods to Go Green during wedding season.
Eco-Friendly Wedding Invitations
Your eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable wedding planning begins months before the big day, when you’re designing ‘save the dates’ and invitations. There are a few different routes to design eco-friendly wedding invitations, depending on your style and priorities.
One easy way to cut down significantly on paper waste is to go digital, sending all wedding communications via email and a website. We recommend this option particularly for couples whose guests are tech-fluent and "very online" — the kinds of folks who are unlikely to open their mail (and so would likely require an additional, “expect my wedding invitation in the next week” kind of text anyway).
You can even go hybrid, doing a digital save-the-date and print invitations, as many couples do. Or, only print a small number of invitations for family members and as keepsakes (Grandma, for instance, might want one to frame), while sending over artfully designed digital invites to the rest of your guests. Trust us, your college friends are mostly tossing them in the trash anyway — no matter how much you spend on gold leaf.
If you decide to go with paper, no sweat! You can still make these wedding invitations eco-friendly if you print on 100% post-consumer recycled paper (or alternative materials, like hemp). One of our favorite companies printing on eco-friendly card stock is Paper Culture, whose mission is to mitigate corporate impact on the Climate Crisis through responsible and contemporary design. To that end, they off-set their own carbon footprint and plant a tree with every order.
You can also use the invitation as an opportunity to signal that sustainability will be a priority in your celebrations, and to encourage your guests to dispose of the invitation responsibly, when the time inevitably comes to do so.
A simple addition like “This invitation is printed on 100% recycled paper. Please be sure to recycle ” can send the message to your guests that you plan to minimize waste throughout the planning process and wedding itself.
Rent, Rent, Rent
A great way to ensure you’re not contributing to unnecessary ecological waste is to rent as many things as possible for your wedding: namely furniture, glassware, plates, and decor. If you’re working with a wedding planner, communicate to them that this is a priority, and that you’d prefer to work with sustainable vendors wherever possible (ones who use materials that are eco-friendly).
And Also Thrift
Beyond that, there are certain items, like linens for tables, that can easily be found in local thrift stores. This is a great move if you’re going for a more boho or retro look. Thrifting linens and decor is not only an eco-friendly way to give old items a second life and save a few bucks, but also give your wedding an eclectic, personal touch.
Carbon Offsets for Travel
What's the Damage?
A whopping quarter of all weddings are now destination weddings, according to recent data. While much attention is given to the environmental impact of consumer and work travel, little is paid to wedding travel. It’s a tough topic, we get it. If your cousin or college roommate is getting married in the Bahamas and you can swing it financially, you’re probably going to go. But these often short-term, long-distance flights have a massive carbon footprint.
Stanford Magazine reports that the average *non-*destination wedding of 200 guests is likely to produce about 56 tons of carbon emissions — about three times the average American’s annual footprint. Now add to that roundtrip domestic or international flights, car rentals or Ubers to get to hotels, buses to and from venues — the sum is tremendous.
We’re not here to shame. Destination weddings are a beautiful thing — a chance to gather everyone you love in a place that's special to you as a couple. But there are ways to organize them responsibly.
Purchasing carbon offsets for each of your guests is a great way to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to ecological responsibility, and it may be cheaper than you think. An economy flight between New York and Los Angeles, for instance, will release about 0.29 metric tons of carbon per passenger, according to this New York Times report. You can offset carbon emissions for that guest for $3.26.
Many airlines also offer offset programs during checkout, so you can encourage guests to purchase these themselves, perhaps messaging that you intend to cover the cost of offsets for the ceremony and reception themselves.
Go Seasonal, Go Local
In general, the rule with flowers is to go seasonal and go local, which has the benefit not only of being more environmentally sustainable, but saving you a pretty penny on blooms for your wedding and reception (you can find more tips on saving on wedding day flowers here).
Re-use, Donate or Dispose Responsibly
Beyond that, the biggest environmental consideration when it comes to wedding day flowers is the issue of waste. Far too many weddings use heaps and heaps of cut flowers to transform the space, then toss them hours later, what people in the industry call the “single-use to landfill pipeline.”
Thus, having eco-friendly wedding flowers is not just a matter of purchasing but re-using and disposing responsibly. Many modern couples are re-using blooms from their ceremony for the reception, sending staff and guests home with customized bouquets, and donating leftover flowers to charities that give them a second life on bedsides at hospitals and treatment centers. The incremental effort to organize has a massive payoff in mitigating your wedding's environmental impact, and may even save you money!
For more tips on how to re-use or responsibly dispose of your wedding day flowers, see here.
Eco-Friendly Wedding Gifts and the Eco-Friendly Wedding Registry
Where to Go
Filling your registry exclusively with wedding gifts verified for their ethical and sustainable production is a great way to support eco-friendly brands.
And you can still get the things you want and need. For instance, if you’re in the market for homewares, furniture and decor, check out Made Trade, an online marketplace that exclusively carries products that are “rigorously assessed and verified for both sustainability and equity.” Their ethos prioritizes craftsmanship and ethics over blind, mass consumption — so you can feel good about every gift you receive. You can also point guests toward Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade platform selling ethically sourced and environmentally sound handcrafted goods.
For bedding and furniture, we recommend Parachute, a carbon neutral purveyor of homewares, and Goodee, a BIPOC-founded marketplace which works exclusively with artisans and products that make a positive social or environmental impact.
Charity Wedding Registry
You can also set up a Charity Wedding Registry with an environmental cause as a beneficiary. This has increasingly become a trend for couples who feel they have their material needs met, and want to use the occasion of their wedding to promote some good in the world. Popular wedding registry websites like Zola allow you to add charities seamlessly, alongside other gifts, while The Good Beginning focuses exclusively on the charity wedding registry.
Once you've set up your charity registry, the next step is to decide what environmental organization to list as the recipient organization. This is a great opportunity to discuss with your partner the causes nearest and dearest to your hearts: are there certain human or animal populations most impacted by climate change that you'd like to benefit; are you more compelled by deforestation, natural disasters, etc. Having a frank and open conversation about the topic will not only help you select the organization that perfectly articulates your values and concerns as a couple, it will help you connect on the level of civic engagement.