I’ve seen my fair share of weddings, and based on the number of bouquets, appetizers, and decorations I’ve saved from the trash, I feel like I can say one thing for sure: weddings cause waste. Now, I’m lucky enough to have worked with tons of ethically minded clients, so I’ve been shielded from the worst of it, but I’ve still seen boxes of leftover favors, piles of plastic, and trash bags full of… whatever, at almost every event I’ve been to.
And here’s the thing: I get it. Wedding planning is intense. You’re trying to figure out the right combination of venue, food, decor, outfits, all within a fixed budget, all while trying to please as many people as possible. So adding another element, attempting to source locally, or Fair Trade, or cruelty free, or eco-friendly—it can feel like too much. In fact, it’s a classic catch 22: you have the opportunity, numbers, and resources to make a real impact, but you’re too overwhelmed to actually make it happen. So what do you do?
One of the best pieces of advice I've heard says:
I think it’s important to remember that lots of green choices can be cheaper (and sometimes easier!) choices, too. Options that reduce things tend to be both cheaper and better for the environment.
Or in layman’s terms: an eco-friendly wedding doesn’t need to be one more thing to worry about it. In fact, in a lot of cases, simplifying can be the easiest way to make your wedding more eco-friendly and cost-effective. So with that in mind, here are ten tips for making your green wedding happen, while saving yourself money, time, and effort.
Pick a Venue You Don't Have to Decorate (Like Brule River Barn)
Venue decor can be fun, but not strictly necessary for creating a beautiful space. Sometimes the beautiful spaces exist as they are, and you don’t have to bring in anything extra (or stay up for several nights DIYing the perfect craft to hang). Pro tip: if you want to do minimal decorating, but still have a beautiful venue, look for outdoor spaces with lots of natural beauty (weather permitting), or historical structures that have built-in character.
Cut Down on Flowers or Go Local
Sadly, traditionally cut flowers have a pretty serious carbon footprint. Luckily these days there are so many options for alternatives to flowers that you might be overwhelmed, but if you’ve got your heart set on fresh flowers at your wedding, there are still options. Check your farmer’s market rates and swing by the day of to snag in season flowers and to support a local farmer. And you can always cut down on your impact by doing fresh flower bouquets only and going non-floral for other decor, like centerpieces.
Rent Your Linens
You know what makes renting linens awesome? There’s zero ironing involved. You don’t have to purchase or transport new linens, and someone else will take care of the washing and sorting after the event. And don’t stop at linens; rent anything you can. Repeat after me: renting is always greener (and easier). Another green alternative: crowdsource and find out if any aunties or family friends have linens or other decor they’ll loan.
Encourage People to Share
Let’s hear it for family style and buffet style food! In short: less waste, less expensive, and what you don’t want hasn’t been contaminated, which means your friendly wedding server can take the leftovers home for her roommates (just saying).
Reconsider the Favors
First of all, you don’t need them. But if you really, really want to give your guests something to take home, aim for edible, useful, or recyclable things in order to avoid piles of unwanted plastic after all the guests are gone.
Go Vegetarian for the Day
You may have read the statistics: the production of meat takes a lot of water. But you don’t have to be a practicing vegetarian (and neither do your guests) to have an awesome, eco-friendly vegetarian dinner at your wedding. There are so many options (Mediterranean food! Delicious pasta!), that are tasty and filling; your guests won’t even notice the difference.
Email Your Save the Dates
More and more people are moving toward sending out Save the Dates electronically (you can still include engagement photos) and using recycled paper to print the actual wedding invites (or alternatively, only printing the invitations that really need to go out via snail mail, and sending the rest electronically). I promise, most of your guests won’t even bat an eye. (And if they do, that’s what the phone is there for. Maybe put your number on the RSVP card for your Nana.)
Have Your Wedding Nearest the Most Guests
Travel in and of itself has a carbon footprint, so reducing the travel needs of your guests can go a long way to recovering that footprint. For some, finding a place that’s near the majority of your guests won’t be too hard. But for the adventurous destination folks (or just… folks whose loved ones are flung near and far): you can still reduce your footprint by making sure the wedding venue is walkable from the place most people are residing (hotel weddings and camp weddings can be great for this). And for the city kids: public transport, or pre-arranged buses, can make a big difference.
Be Mindful of Your Registry
Being eco-conscious doesn’t have to stop with the wedding. If you’re creating a registry, you don’t have to limit yourself to big box retailers and national houseware brands. Most universal registries will let you add ethically sourced, eco-friendly, sustainable, vintage, or even just more durably made versions of the items you’re already looking for. Basically, you get to harness the generosity of your wedding guests, and use it for even more good. It’s like being a superhero, kind of.
When in Doubt, Crowdsource
You might need a thing, and maybe someone has that exact thing lying around. Ask! I’ve heard stories of people getting all their flowers from a neighbor’s garden or glasses from an aunt, or you know, DJ equipment from a friend’s girlfriend’s roommate. Anything is possible. There’s no shame in asking for help before feeling like the burden is on you to find all the things. That’s what community is for. And if working with the community isn’t the biggest part of a green wedding, then I don’t know what is.
This article originally appeared on A Practical Wedding on June 11, 2015