Your wedding is meant to be the greatest day of your life, but with tossed paper goods, excess food thrown away, and leftover flowers dumped in the garbage, it can also be one of the most wasteful. We're not saying you should skip the party or forgo those gorgeous details, but if you're eco-conscious and want to reduce your event's effect on the environment, there are plenty of small changes you can make that will have a major impact.
Planning a green wedding doesn't necessarily have to be harder than planning a less environmentally friendly affair. These days, sustainable wedding ideas are plentiful, with more eco-friendly wedding decorations on the market and greener options for catering, invitations, and more. You can even go green before the big day by choosing a responsibly sourced engagement ring, suggests Erica Jill Razze, owner of environmentally conscious wedding planning company Capiche Events.
Meet the Expert
Erica Jill Razze is the owner of Capiche Custom Events, an eco-conscious wedding and event planning company.
If you want to throw a more sustainable celebration, we've rounded up 17 eco-friendly wedding ideas that will inspire you to do some good for the environment on your big day. (You’ll win some major karma points with Mother Nature,too!)
Ring Shop Responsibly
When picking out your engagement ring and wedding bands, track the origins of your diamond or gemstones. You don't want to unknowingly use a blood diamond—a smuggled diamond used to fund a civil war—as the symbol of your eternal love (we’ve all seen the Leonardo DiCaprio flick). The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme is a great resource for tracking your stones, but it’s also important to ask your jeweler if they're committed to conflict-free baubles.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, lab-created stones have less impact on the environment, explains Razze. “Moissanite, a rare, naturally occurring mineral is lab-grown, so there is no mining involved in the creation process,” she says. “It is not harmful to the earth, and it is not involved in any conflict trade.” Stones that take fewer resources to mine, like salt-and-pepper diamonds, are another good choice. Razze recommends checking out brands like Charles and Colvard that focus on socially responsible jewelry.
Propose With Estate Jewelry
You can also switch up your approach to finding a ring with little or no environmental impact by going vintage. Instead of hitting up your nearest jeweler, consider reusing or recycling a gorgeous retro ring that will be unique and eco-friendly. Propose with a family heirloom, or shop at an estate jewelry store for a one-of-a-kind piece. You can even melt down the gold and refine it—yes, that's a real thing, and it's sustainable—or set an existing diamond into a new band.
Choose Eco-Friendly Invitations
As wedding vendors become increasingly environmentally conscious, it's easier than ever to find invitation suites that are printed on recycled paper or use alternative materials, like upcycled fabrics, leather, and wood. Look for companies that give back to the environment while shopping for a stationer. For example, Paper Culture plants a tree for every order they receive.
For the most earth-friendly stationery, print invitations, programs, and menus on seed paper. Seed paper is a biodegradable material that sprouts into flowers when planted in a pot of soil. Botanical PaperWorks has a whole line of custom goods on plantable paper, so you’re bound to find the perfect fit for both your wedding and your garden.
Create an Eco-Friendly Registry
Committed to an environmentally conscious lifestyle? Register for items that will support your mission and keep sustainability top-of-mind. Your guests can get in on the fun as they browse your registry, and they may even be inspired by your pledge. You'll get all the super-cute stainless steel straws, silicone cupcake liners, and metal tea bags you could ever want. Plus, you can shop from stores that support environmental initiatives, such as 1% For the Planet and B-Corp, or their own foundations, like REI’s Force of Nature.
Opt for a Charity Registry
If material gifts aren’t your thing, consider a charity registry as part of your big day. This allows you and your guests to donate to causes close to your heart, especially foundations with a focus on the environment or animal welfare. There are so many to choose from: The Good Beginning offers charity registries that support a variety of initiatives, and Arbor Day Foundation will plant a tree in each guest's honor while supporting causes like rainforest rescue and outdoor education. A charity registry is an especially good idea if you and your partner already live together and don't necessarily need to register for items like kitchenware, linens, and household décor.
Pick an Eco-Friendly Venue
The easiest way to have an environmentally friendly wedding and shrink your celebration's carbon footprint? Choose a ceremony and reception site that takes sustainability seriously. One great resource to start your venue hunt: the Green Building Information Gateway. You can search for hotels and event spaces with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certifications and Energy Star ratings. With so many beautiful venues going green, you won't have to sacrifice style to be sustainable.
You can also opt for an outdoor space. This is a great way to be one with nature on your wedding day: a lush forest, rolling hills, or a picturesque vineyard are all stunning spots to say “I do.” Booking a wedding at a national park helps provide funding for its conservation, and many beach fees include proceeds for cleanup efforts. You'll also save on your energy usage by cutting down on the amount of lighting you'll need—thank you, sunshine! Even better? All the natural light will result in beautiful photographs.
Look for Built-In Décor
Why bring in decorations if they already exist at your venue? While booking your ceremony and reception sites, look for spaces that offer details that fit your wedding style. This will save cash for you and resources for the earth—talk about a win-win. Wineries offer scenic backdrops, botanical gardens give you instant floral décor, and greenhouses feel lush and verdant without adding cut blooms.
Be Conscious of Floral Arrangements
Botanical centerpieces are the most popular, and there is no doubt that flowers look beautiful. But freshly cut plants aren’t the best for the environment. Luckily, there are fantastic eco wedding alternatives—and you don’t necessarily have to forgo the blooms entirely. Consider potted flowers, such as orchids or spray roses, or plants, including herbs and even trees, that can be reused at home, on a patio, or transplanted to the garden after the event.
If you are going with cut flowers, choose seasonal blooms that are grown locally, like the bride pictured, who held a bouquet of local Montana flowers for her Wild West wedding. Razze recommends searching for sustainable florists online. Many work with small local farms or grow flowers themselves, reducing the need to transport blooms long distances. (For example, many roses are grown in South America and flown to the U.S. just for weddings. Talk about affecting the environment.) Some florists will even compost your greens after the wedding, so be sure to ask about the options to make appropriate arrangements.
Forget tossing all the leftover décor. There are plenty of ways to reuse, recycle, or donate goods after environmentally friendly weddings. Flowers are a big one. There are research organizations that will pick up your arrangements and donate them to local hospitals, senior centers, and homeless shelters. You can also gift extras to your venue’s service staff, family, or guests so they don’t go to waste.
For decorations, such as mirrors, signage, and lanterns, there are options too. Consider using items you already own or pieces you’d want to incorporate into your home after the wedding. If something really isn’t a fit, drop it off at a local thrift store, such as Goodwill or HousingWorks. Donations are tax-deductible, which will come in handy next April 15th, and you’ll sleep well knowing that someone less fortunate can give it a second life.
Opt for Sustainable Meals
Food can be a hotly debated topic in the eco-friendly wedding conversation. Look for caterers who focus on local, sustainable, and seasonal cuisine. Ask about the farmers that they work with as well as how they source proteins, including seafood and beef. The more local, the smaller the carbon-footprint from long-distance shipping.
If it’s fitting, consider serving a fully vegetarian meal for a lower impact on the earth without sacrificing taste—plant-based meals consume fewer resources to produce, and you won’t be harming animals in the process.
The same goes for wine. Look for natural, organic, and biodynamic bottlings to support environmentally conscious producers who focus on being earth-friendly in the vineyard and the winery. Remember, too, that single-serve packaging creates more waste, so consider pouring from bigger glass bottles like magnums that you can easily recycle.
Reduce Food Waste
Any large affair will have leftovers, and buffet dinners are a huge offender. What happens to all the extra chicken in the chafing dish? It’s tossed in the trash post-service. Opt for plated dinners to avoid excess food, and if you do go for a buffet, speak to your caterer about saving leftovers. If regulations permit, you can donate extra food to a local food bank or homeless shelter, but you’ll want all the details ahead of time to ensure it’s all properly packed and ready to go.
Rent, Don’t Buy
“Single-use anything is not good for the environment, so check out websites geared toward renting décor and equipment,” Razze says. Forget plastic glasses in favor of rented stemware—it looks more elegant, too—and forgo paper plates for rented china. It will automatically upgrade your whole wedding look and reduce landfill waste. The same goes for linens. Instead of paper napkins, rent linen napkins, tablecloths, and runners. Some venues even provide linens as part of the event space charge. If you’re going for straws in mixed drinks, rent or buy reusable stainless steel ones. Or, for a less expensive option, pick paper straws over plastic ones; they decompose more easily and won’t harm sea life.
Gift Eco-Friendly Welcome Bags
Welcome bags show hospitality, but they often include one-time-use plastic water bottles and individually wrapped bags of snacks. A green alternative is to gift your guests glass water bottles, boxed water, or even a reusable bottle from Swell or BKR that they can fill up at the hotel water station. For nibbles, fill glass jars with homemade granola, candy, and nuts that reduce waste. Toss everything into a fabric tote rather than a paper bag that guests can take home after the wedding weekend.
Give Edible Favors
Tasty gifts are one of the most popular favors, and for good reason. Traveling guests will always appreciate a midnight snack, and most people would prefer something sweet or savory over a frame with your wedding date on it. Source snacks from local purveyors or the farmer’s market to support the regional economy. Another idea? More and more couples are opting to nix favors entirely and instead donating to a charity in their guests' names. Announce the good deed on your menu cards or with a single elegant sign by the escort-card station.
Don't Litter With Your Exit Toss
It may seem like a small thing, but throwing rice or bits of paper around the lawn of your church isn't the most environmentally conscious way for guests to celebrate your union. There are alternatives that are just as pretty (or dare we say prettier?) and don't wreak havoc on the local ecosystem. As an alternative to paper confetti, go with a plant-based approach. Lavender, rose petals, fresh herbs, and a mix of micro flowers are biodegradable and give the added benefit of stunning colors for the exit toss. Make them available to your guests in kraft-paper bags that can be recycled or large vessels where guests can grab a handful on the go.
Book an Environmentally Friendly Honeymoon
Yes, the eco wedding ideas can continue post-"I dos." We’re not necessarily advocating compost toilets in the middle of the jungle, but there are fabulous honeymoon ideas that focus on sustainability. Case in point: Six Senses Resorts are known for establishing the benchmark for sustainability in the hospitality industry. Not only do they offer top-notch accommodations in popular honeymoon destinations like Thailand, Maldives, and France, but they partake in everything from reusing water and conserving energy to partnering with local conservation efforts.
While booking, look at sites like Kind Traveler, which donate a portion of proceeds on your behalf to causes like Global Green, Project Aware, or WildAid. This way, you're not only embracing sustainable travel practices but also actively contributing to charities that seek to mitigate humans' effect on the Earth. While on your honeymoon, consider supporting local environmental initiatives, such as visiting an animal sanctuary, participating in a beach cleanup, or dining at restaurants that source their seafood sustainably. You can take hikes in national parks and dive in marine parks, where your entrance fees go toward keeping the area and wildlife in good condition.