A Lighter Footprint Down the Aisle
How to plan a greener wedding
Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley
Going green is now the norm. Whether you eat organic, compost at home or use the Hubway, you’re most likely pitching in to some degree. And New England’s a hub for environmentally conscious purveyors (think solar panels at Patriots’ Stadium, sustainable farming and freight farms). When it comes to weddings, most brides have been dreaming up the details since long before he or she popped the question—but they probably haven’t stopped to consider just how much trash is produced by a single shindig. There are the invites, the food, the wrapping paper, place settings, tablecloths, favors, programs, flowers. According to the Green Bride Guide, a wedding in the United States, on average, produces 62 tons of carbon dioxide and 400 to 600 pounds of garbage. Multiply that by 2.5 million annually and it’s enough to give even the most eco-friendly bride cold feet. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to offset your waste production, whether you decide to go all in or just incorporate a few green aspects into your “I do.” Here are a few ways you can dramatically reduce your environmental impact.
Green Paper Trail
As stated by Kate L. Harrison, author of The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget, the amount of paper used for wedding invitations each year could cover the entire island of Manhattan. And paper isn’t reserved solely for the invitations—let’s not forget save-the-dates, RSVP cards, programs, menus, place cards, thank-yous and other details. While there are downsides to sending evites (namely, it’s tacky, and your grandmother will hate it), sending an e-save–the-date to casual friends is an option. A more creative idea is to commission a bakery to make edible save-the-dates or place cards out of cookies or tarts. Cakes for Occasions in Danvers comes up with adorable and elegant treats of this ilk. But if you’re going traditional, fret not. “It’s easier than you think to find vendors who already have eco-practices in place,” says Stasia Neff-Maley, who married her wife, Carrie, in Cape Cod in 2011. “Our wedding stationery came from a small, woman-owned business. She [Jessica Tulaloo] prints on paper with a 30 percent recycled content from mills that are 100 percent carbon-neutral and that run on 100 percent wind energy.” Up the ante and surprise friends and loved ones by having paper goods printed on plantable wildflower paper from Creative Papers, Ltd. in Shrewsbury. Owners Judy and Nancy Whalen offer handmade, seeded invites, reply cards and thank-yous (with options like feathered edges and adorned silk ribbon details) out of their home studio.
To the Source
Showcase what New England has to offer (and support your local economy) by serving in-season, regional cuisine. Choose a caterer who’s committed to green practices and hire Bootstrap Compost to come pick up the leftovers, or donate them to a shelter. Chive Sustainable Event Design and Catering in Beverly will source each ingredient on your menu to guarantee that they’re cultivated safely. “We meticulously research our sources to ensure we know where our food comes from and how it is raised,” Chive boasts on its website. And it makes certain farmers are fairly compensated, too. (Bonus: Chive also does event planning.)
The same rules apply for bouquets, centerpieces and boutonnieres. Most cut flowers are riddled with pesticides and GMOs, and are imported from countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Holland—a long way to travel for such a short shelf life. Wedding designer and stylist Desiree Spinner swears by Petalena Flowers in Arlington, who made arrangements for the Neff-Maleys’ wedding. “We tell clients to work with florists who use local resources,” she says. “Whatever they use for the ceremony, the florist can come in and repurpose for the reception, or even a brunch sendoff.”
Yes to the Eco Dress
Wearing a used dress is more chic than it sounds. Wedding planner Bernadette Smith of 14 Stories fondly recalls how a recent client had her mother’s wedding gown altered and redesigned for her own walk down the aisle, giving it more sentimental value than something plucked from a rack. The Neff-Maleys bought their dresses from the Brides Against Breast Cancer traveling trunk show, a charity that collects gowns for resale (most are between $100 to $800). Proceeds help benefit cancer patients and their families.
Location, Location, Location
Spinner encourages couples to use preservations, art galleries or museums for the rehearsal dinner. “This way the money goes back into the community,” she says. Furthermore, landscaped areas like vineyards, orchards, botanical garden, and arboretums offer natural beauty with fewer logistical issues, Harrison points out. “Vineyards, for example, often have wedding packages with local wine, good food and a beautiful vista included,” she says. There are more than 100 reservations in Massachusetts, such as the Crane Estate in Ipswich or the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, with historic mansions, lush gardens or wildlife sanctuaries on the property. In Boston, green spaces like the ICA and the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter use wedding proceeds to give back to their arts or youth programs.
Of course Spinner suggests having out-of-town guests stay in a green hotel (try Boston’s Nine Zero and the Eliot; both have been recognized for their environmentally friendly initiatives like electricity and water conservation and rigorous recycling programs), or you could cut hotel waste altogether by inviting them to camp out. California-based Shelter Co. pop-up camping service “will come right out to the property and set up these luxury tents that are amazing,” says Spinner. “The insides are like homes. They have beds, floors and carpets. It’s really cool and a great alternative to staying in a hotel.”
In the Details
The Neff-Maleys rented vintage items like dainty mismatched tea cups and vases from New England Vintage Rentals and Mad Props in Boston, trying not to buy anything online to avoid unnecessary shipping. “Looking around during our reception at some of the different environmentally-conscious details—the repurposed vintage cheese boxes and bottles holding flowers on the tables, the locally catered food and the table numbers printed on recycled cardstock—made us feel deeply fulfilled as a newly married couple,” says Carrie. “What a wonderful way to start a new life together, having resisted the popular choices of a conventional wedding to minimize our impact on the environment and positively influence the future attitudes and decisions of our friends and family.” When it comes to the details, no green choice is too small. Skip buying a guest book and instead use an old picture book, or, as Harrison suggests, create compostable decor like a watermelon keg or a hollowed-out pumpkin depending on the season. “We took advantage of New England’s vast array of vintage and antique stores in order to find a lot of our repurposed decor,” Carrie adds. “Our plan is to eventually sell these items back to the stores so they can be used again and again.”
Give it Up
Rather than spending money on tossable trinkets as party favors, make a small donation for each guest to a charity that resonates with you and your spouse. For example, you can calculate the estimated carbon footprint of your wedding using Terrapass.com. Just enter a rough headcount and anticipated travel plans. Nonprofits like the Boston Tree Party and Carbon Fund will gladly accept donations to offset the damage.
Gifts for the bridal party and groomsmen can also be purchased from Ten Thousand Villages (in Downtown Crossing, Brookline and Cambridge). Everything from jewelry to bookends to cinnamon-spice soaps are handcrafted by disadvantaged artisans across the globe, and profits go directly back to help them pay for food, education, health care and housing.
A Little Help
Lastly, it’s really important to have a planner—or friend—on board with your mission for fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. When your day finally arrives, you and your partner will be too busy to worry about whether or not the caterer remembered to save the leftover food for compost. Chive, Desiree Spinner Events and 14 Stories are just a few of the area’s planners with experience in green nuptials.
Your rings should be a symbol of eternal love. Sadly, despite growing concerns surrounding conflict or “blood” diamonds, there isn’t yet a dependable system for regulating the sale of gemstones that fuel war and crimes against humanity. Labels like “Canadian diamonds” and “conflict free” may imply a guilt-free purchase, but none of them really disclose the degree to which the materials were ethically sourced.
Here’s a cheat sheet to help break down labels, digest options and find an ideal fit.
The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was created in 2003 to attempt to regulate conflict-diamonds from entering the market, but it’s since been deemed a failure by international NGO Global Witness and other human rights advocates. Numerous reports have surfaced of more than $200 million worth of “certified” diamonds originating from Zimbabwe’s Marange fields—notorious for human rights abuses.
Canadian diamonds are marketed as a safe alternative to blood diamonds, but don’t be fooled. Mining of these stones has severely negative effects on the environment, stifling the ecosystem and disrupting the lives of aboriginal peoples who’ve called the land home for centuries.