Feel like today's weddings are too often just celebrations of conspicuous consumption? That may be overstating the issue a bit, but there is a sense out there that this whole "wedding thing" can be a waste of resources. If you're trending in that direction, let us show you how—with everything from small steps to grand gestures—you can have a wedding that's compatible with your values.
While we don't think you have to approach every aspect of your celebration as a way to save the planet (if you want zero environmental impact, head to city hall and stream it online), but wouldn't it be smart to choose vendors and options that are helping make the world a better place? There's a lot of money changing hands in the creation of a wedding—you might as well send it in a direction that makes you feel good. Here are some ideas that might be worth trying...
Hosting a destination wedding in an area that's been financially impacted by the recent Gulf oil spill could help boost that area's economy in significant ways. Louisiana, Florida, and coastal Alabama are home to many modern resorts and charming historic hotels that are well versed in staging weddings and would more than appreciate business from afar.
"Local businesses are truly suffering," says Charli Linn, owner of All the Details, a beach-wedding planning business based on Alabama's Gulf Coast. "When you cancel a wedding, there's a domino effect—there's the florists, the local musicians, the caterers, the hotel and condo owners...," Charli explains. She also encourages couples on the hunt for a destination-wedding location to consider getting married on one of Florida's or Alabama's still amazingly pristine beaches, which are now very affordable choices. "We're wide open," she explains, "and everyone down here is willing to make a deal."
Many couples are starting to consider how the purchase of their wedding rings will impact the communities and ecosystems where the diamonds and/or precious metals (like gold) are mined—fortunately they can now patronize vendors who address those issues. For example, Brilliant Earth uses conflict-free Canadian diamonds as well as ethically sourced diamonds from Namibia; designer Donna Distefano works primarily with gem suppliers who simultaneously support mining communities' public projects; Ruff&Cut makes its fashion-forward designs with fair trade diamonds from Sierra Leone and recycled gold. Recycling gold is always a great option, so if you're creating a custom ring consider having the band made from gold jewelry owned by the women in your (or his) family—that would be a great idea even if it didn't save you lots of money.
It's no secret that many wedding gowns (and ready-to-wear garments) are created in factories in China and Korea; and where labor is cheap, human rights are more easily compromised. All the more reason to shop "local,"—from, say, a wedding-gown label like Los Angeles-based Alix & Kelly, which employs seamstresses in the city's garment district. Bonus: If your bridal salon carries designers who produce locally, you'll receive your finished gown in less time since it won't have to be shipped from abroad or go through (notoriously problematic) Customs procedures. Other noteworthy designers who make their dresses in the U.S. include Amsale, Claire Pettibone, Lela Rose, and Oscar de La Renta.
For those who think that sending invites made of recycled paper would only be a drop in the bucket in terms of helping the planet, Jennifer Stambolsky of stationery company Earthly Affair counters that swapping 150 conventional invitations for those printed on 100-percent, post-consumer recycled paper saves 22 pounds of wood, 32 gallons of water, and seven pounds of carbon emissions. And less-than-modern style is no longer an issue: "There's this misconception that recycled paper looks kind of gray and informal," says Jennifer, "but that's just not the case anymore."
Back to Earth, an organic catering business near San Francisco, is just one of many progressive caterers across the country that source their menu items almost exclusively from small local farms and purveyors. (And, extra points to Back to Earth for also recycling vegetable oil as fuel for their vehicles.) Even luxury hotels and ritzy event spaces are getting on board, mainly by featuring organic, locally-sourced food in their catering packages.
With shipping methods constantly becoming faster and more efficient, you can now get almost any flower, anytime, from anywhere in the world. But to lower carbon emissions, and improve local farming, choose flowers grown near you. For example, the florists at Heavenscent in Saratoga Springs, NY, use local, in-season blooms whenever possible, and source flowers internationally from farms that follow sustainable growing practices and avoid chemicals.
If reducing your impact on the environment is priority one, start with your wedding's location. There are lots of good options—from marrying in a public park, (where your site fee will go to maintaining trails), to choosing a site with LEED gold certification. This certification is not awarded lightly—the designation can only be obtained by meeting a variety of goals, such as composting excess food, eliminating plastic bottles from the site, and even designing the venue's parking lot to be small in order to encourage the use of public transport. Keep in mind that only relatively new buildings can compete for the title. To find an LEED certified venue in your area, click here [PDF]
Another new idea: purchasing carbon offsets through the reception site, an option first offered at the posh event venue One Atlantic, in decidedly un-crunchy Atlantic City. The program allows couples to fund the planting of trees in an effort to counteract the environmental impact of their guests' air and car travel.
Details & Favors
Indie (and increasingly, big-market) designers and manufacturers have been coming up with better and better ideas for those of us who don't want to sacrifice our wedding's style to "do the right thing." On Etsy.com, for instance, Orange & Blossom, sells gift books made of recycled paper, bamboo parasols for the bridal party, and recycled-wood gift tags for favors and thank you gifts; and A Remark You Made offers sweet wooden place-card holders made from fallen trees.
Donating to a charity or a non-profit in lieu of giving favors is increasingly common, but if you still want to go the more traditional route, there are edible options there, too. One excellent choice for favors is Baking for Good, an "online bake sale" that offers all-natural cookies, brownies, and other sweets, and donates 15 percent of the price of every order to a cause selected by the couple. Still not quite right? Then opt for favors that will be useful, or will at least bio-degrade in this century. We love a gorgeous, favor-festooned table, too, but if you want to go green, you might reconsider choosing items just because they're "adorable" (and remember, that's your take on adorable—Uncle Ralph may see it differently.)
Today, couples can "register" and at the same time authorize contributions to charities through organizations like the I Do Foundation, which has partnered with stores like Target, REI, and Macy's to ensure as much as 10 percent of the cost of purchased registry items will be donated to a selected charity. If you're passionate about global welfare in particular, the registry programs at Ten Thousand Villages and Heifer International, will have special appeal.
For the bridesmaids: Try the striking glass candleholders from Glassybaby, which has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities ranging from amfAR to Conservation International. For the guys: Presents for Purpose specializes in personalized groomsmen gifts, but we especially like that 10 percent of the proceeds from each order is donated to a charity of your choice (e.g., Three Angels Children's Relief and First Book). And Vineyard Vines, the preppy clothier, offers snazzy groomsmen ties via its Tied to a Cause program.
We are compiling a list of designers and companies who are "Doing Good With Weddings" so if you know of one and want to tell us about them, send us an email.