New York is a city known for lavish parties and people who embrace the latest material trends. But when Baly Lau and Craig Cooley decided to get married there last year, they made their wedding a simple affair, incorporating as many socially and environmentally responsible touches as they could.
"We wanted a celebration that was meaningful to us, instead of just traditional," says Baly, a Green America member. "Going green and keeping as many purchases local as possible meant a lot to us."
So Baly and Craig held a small wedding in a friend's garden—where they'd planted flowers and greenery the year before in preparation for their nuptials. They chose wedding attire they could wear again for other occasions, and decorated with soy candles, potted bamboo, and lights they'd bought secondhand. They decided to forego an engagement ring because of social and environmental problems with the diamond industry, and they bought all of the reception food and drinks from locally owned stores.
Baly and Craig ended up with a celebration that saved them money and was socially and environmentally responsible. They also look back on a wedding that was elegant, special, and deeply personal.
"It wasn't a sacrifice to green our wedding. I feel we gained more," says Baly. "Our wedding reflected our values, our personalities, and our relationship to our community. Most of our friends said it was the best wedding they had ever been to."
If you or someone you know is about to plan a wedding, anniversary celebration, or commitment ceremony, consider adding in some green touches. Not only will you save money and resources, but you'll be able to personalize your celebration by bringing in your values.
The first step to planning a green celebration can often be choosing what not to buy, says Michelle Kozin, author of Organic Weddings: Balancing Ecology, Style, and Tradition (New Society Publishers, 2003) and founder of OrganicWeddings.com.
“The wedding industry is notorious for promoting excess,” says Kozin. “Your dream wedding can become a reality without overspending and overconsumption.”
Tradition dictates you need party favors, rice to throw at the happy couple, and virgin-pulp paper invitations that come with three envelopes and a sheet of tissue paper, for example. But ask yourself, could you do without these or other things, or replace them with pared-down and green alternatives?
Simplifying your celebration isn’t just a money-saving step—it can help you make sure that everything involved in your wedding is personal and meaningful.
The Ring's the Thing
Whether your celebration is a wedding, a commitment, or an anniversary, you may want to exchange rings, whose circular shape symbolizes eternal love. But there are social and environmental problems connected to diamonds, gold, and platinum—the most common materials used for such rings. For example, gemstone and metal miners often work in cramped and unsafe conditions, and mining itself can damage local ecosystems and watersheds. Also, children often labor in diamond mines around the world, and some countries use diamond sales to fuel armed conflicts.
If you’d like to exchange rings, consider purchasing from a sustainable company like Leber Jeweler or Vintage Engagement Rings, which sell wedding, anniversary, and commitment bands made from recycled gold and platinum—no new mining required. Leber also offers rings with responsibly mined gems and conflict free diamonds from Canada, and will do custom designs. And Sumiche sells handcrafted gold and platinum rings from responsibly mined sources. You can even send Sumiche your own ring design, and co-owners Susan and Miché Onaclea will make it an eco-friendly reality.
For more sustainable jewelers, see the “Jewelry” category of Green America’s National Green Pages™.
Invitations are the perfect place to go green when it comes to your celebration, because recycled and tree-free paper options abound—and they look as pretty as their virgin-pulp paper counterparts.
You can pick up eco-paper sheets from your local office supply store and design your own, or there are several sustainable companies that offer recycled or tree-free paper invitation packages.
For example, Green Field Paper Company offers handmade paper cards, envelopes, and sheets for invitations made from a blend of recycled paper and hemp. It also offers a “gourmet line” of recycled papers infused with hemp threads, roasted coffee chaff, garlic skins, or junk mail for a unique look. Green Field’s signature product is its handmade Grow-A-Note paper, which has wildflower seeds embedded inside so guests can plant the paper and watch the flowers grow. Grow-A-Note paper comes in sheets or blank invitations and is made from a blend of recycled paper, seeds, and hemp. You can either have Green Field print the invitations for you, or arrange for your own printer. (Be sure to choose one that uses nontoxic soy-based inks.)
Twisted Limb Paperworks offers wedding, commitment, and anniversary celebration invitations, envelopes, and reply cards made of 100 percent post-consumer waste fibers. Twisted Limb artists handcraft the paper from recycled office paper, junk mail, grocery bags, flowers, and grass cuttings, giving each piece a unique, artistic look. No new dyes are used—the colors come from the recycled materials, and the company prints with soy-based inks. Couples can work directly with an artist to ensure that their invitations are unique and individualized.
OrganicWeddings.com also offers a variety of recycled and tree-free invitations,such as paper made with hemp, kenaf, recycled cotton, wildflower seeds, and coffee.
For more eco-paper options, see the “Paper Products” categories of our National Green Pages™.
For a truly green option, consider forgetting paper invitations altogether and using e-mail instead. Evite.com, for example, offers a free electronic invitation service, complete with RSVP tracking.
What to Wear
You can always look in your closet for an outfit you already own to wear to your wedding, commitment ceremony, or anniversary celebration. But, if you’re craving a special, new-to-you garment, try these eco-friendly options:
• Men are simple to outfit—it’s long been a tradition for men to rent tuxedos for weddings. But did you know that women can also rent formal wear, including wedding gowns, thereby saving money and resources? Check the “Formalwear Rental” category of your local Yellow Pages to see what options are available.
• Local upscale consignment or vintage boutiques often offer used wedding gowns or formals at a fraction of the price of a new gown—and they may even have suits for men. Or, check out classified ads from people around the country selling secondhand wedding gowns and tuxes at NearlyNewBridal.com. Women can also call the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation to see when it will be holding a bridal gown sale near you. Making Memories sells used bridal and bridesmaid gowns to raise funds for their nonprofit organization, which grants wishes to terminally ill breast cancer patients. You can donate your gown back to Making Memories when you’re finished with it, if you choose.
• Have a tailor make your gown or suit from natural eco-fabrics, which, unlike synthetics, are made without non-renewable petroleum. Eco-fabrics include peace silk (made without killing silkworms), hemp, organic cotton, or hemp-silk blends. Organicweddings.com offers hemp-silk blend fabrics for gowns in various shades of ivory or a white bleached without toxic chlorine. Aurora Silk sells peace silk. And Near Sea Naturals offers notions, as well as fabrics, made from organic cotton and organic wool, hemp, and silk. For more options, see the “Cloth/Textiles” category of our National Green Pages™.
• If you buy a new gown or suit, stay with natural fabrics, rather than synthetic, and purchase from a local formal wear shop to keep the money in your local economy. Or, buy from a green company like The Emperor’s Clothes, which offers hemp-silk-blend, three-piece suits for men that are perfect for grooms and groomsmen.
• If you’d like a new bridal veil, Kozin suggests one made from silk organza rather than petroleum-based nylon tulle.
A Place for Everything
When choosing the location for your celebration, consider these steps to make it green:
• The same location twice. If you can, hold your ceremony and reception in the same location—or at least within walking distance—to minimize guest travel. Many houses of worship have banquet halls, or you can ask your officiant to come to the reception location for the ceremony.
• Go local. Choose a locally owned hall to keep money in your local economy.
• Go green. Consider using the ballroom at a green hotel, so your money supports an establishment that goes the extra mile for the environment. To find a green hotel near you, contact the “Green” Hotels Association.
• Help a nonprofit. If you’d like your reception room fee to bolster a local nonprofit organization, Kozin suggests choosing a reception room at your house of worship, a museum, or a local historic building owned by a nonprofit.
• Green decor. When it comes to green decor, consider buying organic flowers from a local shop or OrganicBouquet.com, or using 100 percent soy or vegetable wax candles, rented plants, potted plants, or rented or secondhand lights.
Or, you could choose to have your ceremony outside in a garden, to take advantage of the free natural decor. Your reception party can be outdoors too, under a rented tent. Just make sure your
outdoor location won’t be ruined by having a bunch of guests treading on the premises. Also, be sure to have a back-up plan for inclement weather.
• Buy green tags. Consider purchasing green tags to offset the energy used during your ceremony and reception, as well as for guest travel.
Favor, Food, and Fun
You’ll probably want to serve food and drinks at your reception party, and you may even want to provide favors. Here are some ways to green those:
• Look for a local caterer that will serve organic foods. If you’re serving meat, make it organic, available at local natural food outlets or by mail-order from the Wholesome Harvest Organic Meat Farmer Coalition. Or, you can choose meatless dishes, which save money and are less taxing on the Earth.
• Offer organic and Fair Trade beverages, such as Fair Trade coffee and tea, readily available at local health food stores. You can also find organic beer, wine, and soda locally or in the “Beverages” section of our National Green Pages™.
• Avoid using disposable dishware. Most caterers provide washable dishes and will take them away for you for cleaning when guests are finished with them. If you must use disposables, use recycled paper options, like those from Seventh Generation, or choose compostable, plant-based dishes and cutlery, such as those from Greener Earth Marketing. You’ll want to use an industrial composter for disposal, which you can find through your local waste authority.
• To give your guests a memory of your special day that isn’t hard on the Earth, Kozin recommends several unique party favors on OrganicWeddings.com, from a Tree in a Box seed kits with personalized labels, to organic lavender keepsake sachets from Lavender Green, to homemade organic cookies with your names in frosting.
Finally, your guests may want to bring you gifts to celebrate your special day. Consider registering at a green company like Gaiam or EcoExpress Gifts. You can also ask guests to donate to a charity or nonprofit in your name through JustGive.org. The site offers a gift registry option, so your guests can easily find out which of the million charities available you would like to support.
Another charitable option is to create a “Personal Giving Page” on the Internet through First Giving. By using First Giving’s simple interface, you can make a Web page with your pictures and a personal message to send to guests, asking them to make a donation to your favorite cause instead of bringing a present. Green America has set up an account with First Giving, so if you’d like to create a Personal Giving Page to support our work to grow a green economy, please visit www.firstgiving.com/ coopamerica.
There are many ways to color your party green, but what all such celebrations have in common is that they’re unique, eco-friendly, and unforgettable.