More than 2 million weddings take place in the United States, adding up to a multi-billion dollar industry with the majority of resources and money spent for just one day. That adds up to a lot of invitations, flowers, decorations and miles traveled. If each of the millions of couples that get married each year made a few simple changes, the impact could be huge for the environment. Going green is easier than you think and often you'll never even notice the difference from non-green choices.
Paper goods like invitations, save-the-dates, programs and menus all end up in the trash once the vows are made. Consider eliminating the most unnecessary items like programs and menus, and use other materials besides paper to get the message out. For example, chalkboards, mirrors or even old window panes are a great way to display menus. Instead of using paper place cards and table numbers, get creative with items you already have or items already included in your wedding. Names can be written on wine glasses or Mason jars, which then double as place cards. Use picture frames, wine bottles or even vases for table numbers. A wedding can become more personal when some of the paper goods are eliminated and couples get creative with alternatives.
Cutting down on paper goods is not only one of the easiest ways to go green but can also be a way to save money. Liz Zwerin, who married in October 2011, opted to use recycled paper and cut out unnecessary items. “Our invitations were made of recyclable paper and they only contained the most pertinent information to try to keep the amount of paper to a minimum. We didn't include an RSVP card or return envelope to cut back on paper, as well as our carbon footprint with the extra gas needed for postal services. We definitely saved money in this sense by cutting down on our invitation suite and postage costs,” she said.
Considering both the distance you and your guests will travel to get to the venue and how eco-conscious the venue is itself can be an easy way to go green. Outdoor ceremonies often require fewer decorations and no air conditioning, heating or lighting.
Zwerin picked her Las Vegas wedding venue, Springs Preserve, because of their commitment to sustainability. “The Preserve is not only a beautiful cultural attraction with exhibits, museums and botanical gardens, it is also a living example of sustainable living, design and architecture. This combination was one of the main reasons we fell in love with the location, and we tried to extend the preservation theme throughout our wedding,” Zwerin said.
Most flowers for weddings are flown in from various countries and simply get tossed out when the party is complete. Consider opting for locally grown, in-season flowers or using flowers sparingly and mixing in other items for a pop of color. Bouquets made from fabric flowers, like those from Emici Bridal, can be just as gorgeous as actual flowers and will last forever.
Valeri Briski, who married in July 2009, made many eco-friendly choices in her wedding and using locally grown flowers was just one of the ways she helped the environment. “We grew almost all of our own flowers, including calla lilies and hydrangeas. Asking family and friends to help with the 'flower cause' is a wonderful way to get people involved who want a small role in the wedding planning,” Briski said. She also used flower petals from her mother’s rose garden to line the aisle.
Details are important when it comes to weddings, and no one expects a couple to give them up. Consider visiting thrift stores, borrowing from friends or using items you already have instead of buying new items. Unmatched vases, Mason jars and unexpected items like old books or even photos can be used to decorate your event, adding a personal flair.
Briski not only incorporated things she already had in the wedding but also made use of some of the decorations after the wedding was over. “Our ceremony flower arrangements were hanging in canning jars, which my mother-in-law fought to split with my grandmother the next day; they have been repurposed for canning pickles, beets and other veggies. We made 'crystal trees' from the Austrian crystals in an old chandelier that was taken apart, and we also had candelabras that we found at a vintage store that two of my cousins have since used for their weddings,” she said.
If you want to take your efforts a step further, you can virtually offset your carbon footprint. Websites like Carbonfund.org actually allow you to calculate your carbon footprint and offset it by making a donation that goes to environmental organizations. This wedding carbon footprint calculator can help you see the big picture of how your day impacts the environment. If you determine your impact early in your planning process, you can take steps and make decisions to reduce it in small ways.
Overall, making a few changes can lead to far less waste, and the benefits to the environment will add up. Going green doesn’t mean giving up the things you want, it just means shifting your perspective slightly. “We really didn't have to sacrifice anything for these green options. It was important to us to be conscious of being overly wasteful, so we made choices that were actually fairly easy to help curb the waste,” Zwerin said.
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