Next month, my fiance and I will say our I do’s in the sunken patio of a charming, circa 1928-and-still-functioning women’s club. It happened to be the first venue we looked at, and we instantly fell in love. However, there weren’t too many options for venues in the tri-state area with options for BYOC – Bring Your Own Caterer. The reason for having our own caterer? We wanted an eco-friendly wedding.
Undoubtedly food is the most important part of the wedding. Sure, guests are excited to share in the joy of your ceremony and vows, but everyone is excited about the wedding meal. Unfortunately, a typical wedding meal contributes to high carbon emissions and while chicken is believed to be the lowest footprint from animal proteins, it can’t hold a candle to a vegetable and grain centric meal. . It isn’t easy to commit to a fully vegan meal (even dairy has a significant carbon imprint), but there are so many options for delicious vegan food that will blow your guests away – it’s no longer just a grilled vegetable platter and cous-cous.
For our wedding, we chose The Cinnamon Snail, a food-truck that now has a permanent location inside The Pennsy food court at Penn Station, and a new location at City Acres Market in the Financial District. They are all vegan (as are we) and it was a no brainer that the biggest ecological imprint would come from the meal – so we knew serving a vegan meal was going to be important.
Furthermore, we wanted our day to be a true celebration of love – and that meant, not having any living creatures suffer to mark our joy. Some people tend remove themselves from the reality behind their food, and from the opposing themes of serving dead animals and celebrating love, but we chose to direct our attention to healthier, less ecologically impactful, and compassionate food.
The best thing you can do to have an eco-friendly wedding is to go vegan (at least on your wedding day!). However, if you feel it absolutely isn’t an option (like when your parents are paying for the wedding and want everything to be traditional), you can still choose as many veg-centered dishes as you can, and cut out the red meat, please. It’s the least eco-friendly option. Locally raised beef has MORE of a carbon footprint than a peach shipped from South America, for example. Local doesn’t always mean better. Consider the amount of water and other resources behind the production of the product.
(Also, we plan to compost our food scraps! Our city’s composting program recently expanded to our neighborhood, and our weekly pick up is 2 days after the wedding. We’re asking our caterer to separate food garbage from any other garbage [though we sincerely hope any other garbage will be recyclable] and we plan to put it out as part of our weekly composting for pick up!)
Sometimes it makes sense to rent. Sometimes it makes sense to buy. In our case, some items, like chafing dishes, happen to be cheaper to buy altogether. We plan on using them for our Thanksgiving dinners! We are also buying cake stands, and serving dishes for the cocktail hour. While I like the option of renting because you don’t have to accumulate more stuff, sometimes it really is just so expensive it makes your head hurt. But sometimes it makes sense to rent to prevent giving yourself a headache. We are renting all dinnerware, and even though it may be more cost-effective to buy glasses, I also don’t want to deal with 300 glasses that have to be bought, delivered, packed up, and then attempted to be sold on craigslist. Likewise with the tablecloths, which are $40 each to rent. I know I will not be asking my wedding planner to steam them at the venue (which could take hours), so it’s a careful game of finding the balance between what makes sense, regardless of what is actually cheaper to do! Remember, you can’t put a price on your mental health and well-being. Especially on your wedding day.
The questions I ask myself when figuring this out are:
- If I’m buying, will I use this again?
- How easy will this be to sell, realistically?
- If it’s easy to sell, but a large volume of items, do I have the space to store it until it sells?
- Am I paying for more than just the item? ie. the tablecloths come clean and pressed, so comparing a tablecloth I can buy online to the one I’m renting isn’t factoring in a dry cleaning bill.
- Do I really want to deal with all of this (if I buy it)?
Rentals companies pick up all items after your wedding as they are, dirty, stained, whatever. If you’re thinking of buying a large volume of glasses, for example, consider that you will be left with dirty ones. Our caterer, for example, isn’t washing anything.
Initially I thought it would be a great idea to DIY – After all, the venue offered nothing but space, and I had to bring in all the components of a wedding myself. But when I got a little more realistic about the time and energy that would entail, I quickly cut about half of the projects from my list. It’s a good idea to be realistic about what you can do, and it’s equally as important to consider what you really want at your wedding. It began to dawn on me as we get closer and closer to the wedding day, that there are only so many details guests will notice, and many that they will overlook, or not even notice. You can create an atmosphere and theme without putting in sleepless nights of work. Choose what you really love and want to see at your wedding and go for it. And enlist the help of your friends, especially talented ones!
I asked an artist friend to paint some wedding signs for me. I’ll be asking my bridesmaids to put together the favors, and I’m still trying to narrow down the rest of my wedding decor. I’ll have a full posting on what I ended up choosing after the wedding!
For confetti, consider rose petals or dried flowers (you can find dried flowers on Etsy or make your own!)
There are several options for “greening” your wedding when it comes to wedding flowers. Naturally, you want to avoid fake flowers. One of the greenest options, depending on the style of your wedding, is potted flowers for centerpieces. That way guests can either take them home and replant, or you can replant them yourself if you have the space. Alternatively you can donate them to a community garden! If your wedding is more formal, consider using potted plants to decorate the venue or incorporate them into the outdoor ceremony. Depending on availability, I would love to have potted hydrangeas line the ceremony aisle.
Another great option is using Bloomerent. Bloomerent connects you with local florists, and gives you the option to see if there is someone having a wedding a few days within yours, so you can buy their floral arrangements for a fraction of the price, and essentially re-use the florals. The arrangements still go back to the original florist who spruces them up before going to the second wedding. You can also ask your florist to place your arrangements on Bloomerent for a second wedding, if you’re booked as the first. It’s a great way to re-use wedding flowers!
There are also several services that pick up your wedding flowers and re-purpose them into smaller bouquets that they deliver to nursing homes and shelters. These services are usually for-profit and can charge $1-2K on average. I love this idea but find the pricing outrageous. I’m still trying to figure out how I will recycle my gorgeous centerpieces.
(I connected with Bloom Again Brooklyn but unfortunately they are away the weekend of my wedding. Their fees for pick up and re-purposing the flowers is $150-250 plus an extra $100 donation to their non-profit organization which is tax deductible).
Depending on where you are located, you can usually find florists that use local flowers, and even some that use flowers from organic, small-scale, local farms. We met with one such florist, but the arrangements seemed far too small for the price, and I ended up choosing Wyld for our flowers. The owner, Lydia, sources her flowers from the Chelsea Flower Market in NYC like most florists, but did say that so many of the flowers we’ll be using are in-season and local anyway! It’s really the tropical flowers and leaves and stemmed Orchids that are shipped from places like Thailand (thus increasing the carbon footprint).
We are living in the age of technology so feel free to utilize electronic communication to make your wedding more eco friendly! We opted for Save the dates from Paper Culture. Not only are they printed on 100% recycled paper (and offer several choices) but they plant a tree for every order! We couldn’t find a design we liked from them for our invites, so for an extra fee, Minted printed our invitations on recycled paper. We only sent one double sided invitation – with our photo on the back and a link to RSVP online on our wedding website (free from The Knot). Not only did we save money on extra invitations and stamps, but I find it to be a complete waste of paper to ask people to send back cards and envelopes just letting you know they will be attending. My fiance thinks the invitation is a waste too, but I like the idea of people receiving a physical invitation (ours was so beautiful with watercolor flowers!) and I’m planning to frame one and hang it up after the wedding.
If you have the time and energy, you can buy recycled paper and make your own invitations. I’ve also found seed paper invitations online. The options are limitless. If you’re going the traditional route, simply see if there’s a recycled paper option – lots of the big invitation companies often have one, like Vistaprint and Minted.
One great way to reduce the carbon footprint for your wedding attire is to buy natural materials, like cotton and linen. There are already wedding dress designers out there that do this, or consider having a dress sewn just for you out of exactly the materials you want. Look for pre loved wedding dresses on websites like Tradesy and eBay or rent a dress from Borrowing Magnolia or Rent the Runway! Your girls can also rent their dresses, and there are a lot more sites out there that offer those services! For suits, avoid polyester and try to steer clear of wool to be friendly toward our animal friends. Likewise avoid leather, which is a toxic industry that contributes to environmental disaster and poisons water sources in the third world countries where it’s produced. You can get your jewelry second hand or vintage on sites like Etsy and eBay. I’m thinking about wearing earrings that were a Christmas gift from my (future) mother-in-law. Don’t believe that you simply HAVE TO buy everything new for your wedding. It will be over in the blink of an eye and then you’ll be stuck with expensive jewelry you may not find an occasion to wear to again.
Things To Avoid
It goes without saying that disposable plastics should be the #1 thing banned from an eco-friendly wedding. That means making sure the materials you use at your wedding are naturally sourced: ceramics, metal, wood are great options. Of course, everything exists on a spectrum. Even ceramics can be made with harmful toxins depending on where they’re sourced. It’s important to do your best and not expect a level of perfection. You can also source paper straws and paper cups if you’ll have a water dispenser somewhere for guests. We are having an outdoor ceremony so that’s what we’ll be having to the side of the bar. I managed to find compostable paper cups! There are many amazing products on the market now, made from corn or plant fibers or plant based plastics, if you’re having a more informal wedding and don’t want to rent china.
This may be controversial (though it really shouldn’t be) but I would say avoid dairy! Dairy has a HUGE carbon footprint, not to mention the awful conditions for dairy production (Cows are kept pregnant and the calves are taken away and killed for veal while the cow is hooked up to milking machines). It is one of the cruelest and most destructive industries, and non dairy alternatives these days are not only plentiful but taste as good if not better than milk based products. If you’re having coffee & tea service, consider having soy, coconut, or almond milk based creamers instead. If you’re having a cake, consider a vegan bakery! It’s a simple step to choosing a less harmful option for yourself, for the planet, and for the animals.
Avoiding balloons is a big deal too: balloons never fully biodegrade, they just break down into smaller pieces and end up in the ocean. Be mindful when considering your favors: are they biodegradable? Do your guests really need a candle holder with plastic flowers? (I still have one such wedding favor from a decade ago in unopened condition). Go for something plantable (seed paper is such a cute and eco friendly idea) or use the seating cards as a favor, like by sticking guest names into tiny potted succulents.
While it may be easy to say, DIY EVERYTHING AND AVOID ALL MADE IN CHINA PRODUCTS, it’s pretty hard to follow, especially if you live in a big city and have access to 99 cent stores or big craft stores! Of course we should do our best to avoid mass produced garbage, and reuse and upcycle everything we can! Having a fully green wedding is possible, but it’s also challenging depending on your theme and on where you live. There are some big things we can do to drastically reduce our carbon footprint and make our special day one that also honors our beautiful planet, as outlined in this post, so we shouldn’t believe that it’s all-or-nothing, and do our best regardless.