You often hear talk about sustainability on a personal level: recycling, buying secondhand, taking shorter showers. Many companies try to do the same with reducing printed materials, swapping light bulbs, and installing efficient heating and cooling systems. Sustainable movements are all around us—so it’s no surprise to see a push for planning a sustainable wedding. And that’s good news! According to the Green Bride Guide, the average wedding produces 400 lbs of garbage and 63 tons of CO2.
While sustainability is important, celebrating your special day is, too. So there’s certainly no reason why those two can’t go hand in hand! (Much like you and your soon-to-be will be hand in hand.) So we’re suggesting seven different pieces of your wedding that you can make more sustainable. And most of these elements have multiple sustainable options—so you still get to customize your wedding!
We also offer ideas that don’t require participation from your guests, either. This doesn’t mean your guests can’t participate. But even if you send them home with the centerpiece, so that you don’t throw it out, there’s no guarantee that they won’t just throw it out at home. Sending plant-able invitations is a great sustainable wedding feature—but only if your guests actually plant them.
We aren’t trying to discourage these options, but we want to give you some guaranteed options that you’re in control of. Of course, you should still let your guests know that you’re planning a sustainable wedding! Most, if not all, will be happy to support the cause. But you don’t have to rely on their cooperation to plan a sustainable wedding.
1. The Ring
In recent decades, diamonds and other gems have been under harsh scrutiny for their troublesome origins. You may have heard terms like blood diamonds or conflict diamonds to drive this point home. Well, in response to that, many millennials and generations after have changed their engagement ring buying process to exclude any jewels gathered out of conflict, child labor, or environmentally harmful methods. After conducting your own research, you may want to kick off your nuptials with responsible ring ownership. (We don’t blame you!) After all, planning every wedding starts with an engagement—even a sustainable wedding!
The good news is there still are sustainable alternatives to a traditional diamond ring. For starters, you can buy from a sustainable and ethical jeweler. They’ll be able to certify the origins of your jewel before purchasing. Similarly, lab-grown diamonds have a smaller carbon footprint than mined diamonds. You can also avoid purchasing brand new—a staple of sustainability—and choose a ring that’s already in your family or bid at an estate sale. Granted, the origins of those gems may be questionable. But recycling and reusing are still great ways to increase sustainability. (And save a few dollars while you’re at it, too!)
After your engagement ring comes the invitations. Your invitations set the tone for your big day, and they’re a great chance to share your vision for a sustainable wedding with your guests. And the best news? The options for sustainable invitations are limitless! Much like the diamond industry, the paper industry has undergone its own environmental criticisms. Namely, that of excess waste. So, when considering conscientious wedding invitations—think smaller!
Instead of including an invitation, mail-back envelope, RSVP card, and a separate directions card, include fewer pieces. Ask guests to RSVP online instead of by mail. Tell them to find directions online, too. And for those pieces of your invitation that you do send, use paper and stock made from recycled paper and other materials. You can even mail a single postcard-esque invite that encourages guests to go online for all the details! Except maybe the date.
3. Dress & Tux
According to a 2017 report by WRAP, the average life of clothing is 14 months. And if we’re able to extend that life to 17 months—just three extra months—we would see a 5% to 10% reduction in carbon, water, and waste footprints. That’s huge! And you can participate by buying secondhand wedding dresses and tuxes. Not only can buying secondhand save you money on formal wear, but it can also give you something unique to wear. Yes, it’s been worn before. But chances are the clothing isn’t hot and trending right now, so your dress or tux won’t look like everyone else’s who’s getting married!
You can shop secondhand at any thrift stores near you, but the odds of finding something so formal will vary based on your location. If that doesn’t work, you can shop online at places like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, StillWhite.com, Poshmark, and eBay so you’re not limited by your location. Or, like your engagement ring, you can find a dress or tux already in the family and designate it as an heirloom.
Food waste is an issue, especially at events like weddings. You don’t know everyone’s food preferences or how hungry they will be, and you don’t want anyone to leave hungry, either. So how do you feed your guests without wasting food? Well, we’re not sure if a zero-food-waste wedding is possible. But we do know you can severely limit the amount of food that gets thrown out!
In general, plated dinners result in less food waste than buffet-style meals. This is largely because, with a plated meal, each guest gets a specific amount of food—and that’s it. The meals aren’t usually over-portioned, and guests are given the choice between meals. So they’re more likely to enjoy the meal and, therefore, eat it all. You also eliminate the possibility of guests going back for seconds that they don’t finish.
Of course, plated meals are more expensive. So if you can’t budget for them, you can always be conscientious with your leftovers. Instead of throwing out leftover buffet food, coordinate food donation ahead of time. You’ll have to follow local guidelines and plan this in advance, but it is possible! You could also consider serving less food at your buffet, too. There’s almost always leftovers, so budgeting down a few heads won’t hurt.
Finally, you can always increase your sustainability with decorations. Once again, thrifting is your friend. You can upcycle old pieces, use materials that can be recycled after, or even use items that you’ll use in your own home. Plus, you can always donate the items again and let the cycle continue! That is, of course, as long as the items are still in useable condition. If you have friends or family members getting married soon, you can share wedding decorations and then donate them all after the last celebration.
Sustainable weddings are possible—we promise! You may need to think outside the box a little bit, but it will be worth it. Plus, when you thrift and upcycle items, you’re creating a unique atmosphere for your special day. And there’s nothing better than that for a wedding!
How else can you plan a sustainable wedding? Which of these ideas would you do?