Planning a wedding is hard. Being environmentally friendly can be hard. Doing both at the same time? Ooof.
While wedding planning, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and planning of every little detail. After all, getting married is exciting and is something you should be getting joyful about! But, as you're planning, you may have noticed how much waste is being produced. Even just walking down the wedding aisle of your local craft store it's easy to see how many single use wedding trinkets there are, that you're likely never to use again. You may be starting to feel twinges of guilt or worry in the back of your mind wondering if you're contributing to a larger problem, and if so, are you just doomed to do so?
It's not a surprise to hear that weddings produce a lot of waste, and the wedding industry itself promotes plenty of wasteful items and actions. In fact, it's stated by The Green Bride Guide that the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. And with 2.5 million weddings occurring in 2022 alone, that's a lot of waste. While that's a pretty glum reality of the environmental impact of weddings, it's not all bad news. Planning a sustainable and environmentally conscious wedding that still fulfills your dream for the perfect day is not only very doable, it's easier than ever.
So, if you're ready to forge ahead with planning the wedding you've been dreaming of while equipped with the tools to lessen your impact, read ahead for 10 easy tips to plan a more sustainable wedding!
Interview Your Vendors
When deciding which vendors to hire for your wedding, one of the easiest things you can do to make sure you're hiring an amazing team who also cares about the planet is to simply ask them what they do to be more sustainable in their business. Vendors who are sustainability minded will have great answers for you ready to go, and will often be pretty excited to get the chance to talk about all the extra thought they put in behind the scenes to lower their impact. The answers you get are going to vary a lot vendor to vendor, but even simple things like using 100% post consumer recycled paper for their business cards or donating a percentage of profits to non profits can give you some good insight into their business practices and values.
Asking your vendors what they do to be more sustainable also has the added bonus of getting vendors who have never asked themselves this question before to start thinking about it. In building your dream team of amazing eco-friendly vendors, you may just contribute to more businesses changing their practices to be sustainable which will have a huge, lasting impact beyond just your wedding.
One of the leading contributors to wedding waste is food. While we're so fortunate to be able to eat practically whatever we want all year round, think about how much goes into growing, harvesting, and transporting all the foods that you can't get locally either due to the season or local climate. One huge difference you can make on your wedding's emissions impact is hiring a caterer who sources food locally. This will cut back on your carbon footprint and your food will even taste better! Not to mention, you'll be supporting your local community. There's truly nothing better than a farm to table meal, so why not have that for your wedding?
You can even eat local for your rehearsal dinner too by hosting your event at a restaurant that partners with local farmers. You'll get a high quality chef experience, without extreme prices. Take Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, for example. They serve versatile, tasty food in an intimate setting with all food sourced from their own farm. It's the perfect spot to host your rehearsal dinner event!
After choosing to eat local, deciding what you're going to eat is another important step in lowering your environmental impact. Eating locally, you'll be more limited to what's currently in season (though instead of thinking of this as a limitation, think of it as a great way to experience your local chefs getting creative with what's available!), but you'll also need to consider whether or not to go plant based. Now, I know "plant based" is currently creating a bit of an emotional divide, so let me just say that this is your wedding day and you should eat what you want! I'm not here to dish out moral judgements, but if we're talking about sustainability, we have to talk about plant based menus.
If you really don't want to do a full plant based menu, consider removing beef from your wedding feast. Raising cattle consumes a huge amount of resources - land, water, feed, time - and simply removing beef from your wedding day menu can have one of the biggest impacts on whether or not your wedding is sustainable, even if you still choose to serve other meats. Plus, your likely to save a good chunk of change by axing beef from your menu. If you are set on serving beef, it's even more important to ensure you're working with local farmers with ethical practices so as to avoid contributing to the cattle farm deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest.
Lastly, have a game plan for what to do with the inevitable extra food you'll have at the end of your wedding. While it's nice to think you really won't have that much leftover food and any you do will be happily eaten by family and friends, this isn't usually the case. Typically, all the extra food is just thrown out, and that creates a lot of waste. Partnering with a local food bank where you can donate extra food is an excellent option to reduce waste and help others in need. However, this isn't always an option for people - especially if you're getting married in the mountains or a small town. So, if you can't donate your leftover food, compost it! Composting reuses uneaten food and turns it from waste, back into green material that makes for excellent fertilizer.
Use Recycled Materials
Alright, this may seem like a no brainer, but almost nobody is doing it! When you're scrolling through websites looking at all those beautiful wedding invites, the last thing you're thinking of is whether or not they're made from recycled materials. And you may be thinking this is your special day, why do you have to compromise?
The good news is you don't have to compromise! Wedding stationary made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials is such high quality, you really won't have any idea it's made from recycled materials at all. You can still get the wedding invitation suite of your dreams while lessening your impact.
Another great eco-friendly option is to opt for online RSVPs through your wedding website. While traditionally its customary to provide guests with RSVP cards, it really isn't necessary. Modern trends are moving toward skipping on this rather wasteful and costly tradition, in favor of the earth conscious wallet friendly online RSVP. There are some concerns that older guests may not know how to navigate RSVPing online, but typically this concern is rather unfounded and many a grandma has successfully gotten her virtual RSVP in. If, however, you are really concerned, you can always provide an alternative email address they can send their RSVPs to if need be.
Thrift & Rent Your Decor
There's a lot that goes into pulling your wedding day vision together, and no small part of that is your decor. It may be tempting to splurge on brand new and fully custom decor, but this can go down the road of being highly wasteful unless you have specific plans of how to utilize all the decorations post wedding.
One great way to skip creating new waste is to forego splurging on new and custom decor, and instead opt for thrifted, secondhand decorations or renting your decor from rental companies. These options have the significant added bonus of saving you money, as well as possibly adding a really unique charm to your wedding day look if you go with thrifted pieces.
Understandably, there's likely to be at least one or two decorations you're going to get custom made to commemorate your wedding day. When designing and ordering these pieces, try to work with pieces made from environmentally friendly, long lasting materials such as wood or metal and avoid plastics. Have a game plan for what you will do with the piece post wedding as well. Will it work as beautiful home decor to remind you of your special day, or will you recycle it instead?
Biodegradable & Plant Based Grand Exit
Your wedding is drawing to a close and you want to end the night with a bang! It's no surprise that fire sparklers are as popular a choice for a grand exit as they are, however they're not the most environmentally friendly and in some locations are entirely not permitted due to their fire risks. No need to worry, though! There are plenty of alternative options for your grand exit that will still result in a magical moment and jaw dropping photos.
Instead of fire sparklers, consider bubble blowers, dried wildflower petals native to your area, biodegradable confetti, or even cell phone flashlights.
Sustainable Photographer & Videographer
This is a tip I've never seen talked about, that's unlikely to be well known outside of industry professionals, but is well worth mentioning. When looking for a photographer and videographer, chances are you haven't considered whether or not they're sustainable because their photos are all digital. While it's great that their photos and videos are digital, they're still capturing their content with physical gear: their cameras.
The production of electronics can have a heavy environmental impact that in some cases is unavoidable. Fortunately, there is an easy solution for photographers and videographers to lessen their contribution to supply chain emissions: second hand gear. Majority of photographers and videographers won't mention that their gear is second hand, but this is an easy question to ask (and major bonus points if you mention you're asking due to sustainability concerns!) and one they will be happy to answer.
Now, there definitely is a stigma that buying gear second hand means it's of a lesser quality, but the good news is this simply isn't true. There are a ton of awesome second hand camera retailers like Keh that exclusively sell used camera gear with an excellent rating system making it easy for professionals to get used, top notch gear. The photos and videos from used cameras and lenses is still to the same quality as brand new, and if you're not convinced, just check out my work! All of my gear is second hand because it's important to me to put the earth first, and practice what I preach.
Avoid Single Use Items
One of the main themes of planning a sustainable wedding is making thoughtful decisions and choices. Genuinely, one of the easiest ways to have a more sustainable wedding is to only purchase items that actually serve a purpose. Mindful buying can reduce excess waste and excess spending simply by cutting down on the amount you throw out at the end of the day. The easiest way to do this is just to avoid buying single use items.
Now, it's unrealistic to think you won't buy anything for your wedding, and it's also likely unrealistic to assume you won't buy any "just for fun" items. So, when approaching what just for fun items or wedding specific items you want to include, think about what purpose they can serve once your wedding is over. Can they be repurposed into home decor, planters, or made into a wedding mural? If no, can they be easily sold to other couples wedding planning who will get just as much mileage and enjoyment out of them as you? If no, do you really need it? If the answer is yes, and there is no second hand or plant based option, then get it. After all, this is your wedding and you do still deserve to have the wedding you've been dreaming of!
Rent or Thrift Wedding Attire
Everyone deserves to wear the wedding dress, suit, tux, jumpsuit, or other attire of their dreams. Full stop.
I won't lie, this tip is often the hardest to implement. But, just like talking about a plant based menu was essential, so is talking about sustainable wedding attire. While renting or thrifting your wedding attire may be the most sustainable option by entirely skipping the fashion industry's waste and high emissions, unethical wages, and one and done mindset, it can make find the perfect look a bit more challenging. Do keep in mind, there are a ton of second hand options and rental companies that specialize in wedding attire, not to mention all of the newly weds who are selling their gently used attire. With just a little bit of digging, you're likely to find exactly what you're looking for.
However, if you can't find a second hand look that fulfills your wedding attire dreams, don't despair! You still have options. When choosing your wedding attire, consider if it's something you can wear more than once. A tux may look sharp and classic, but you (or your partner) are much more likely to wear a nice suit on many more occasions. A bright white mini dress may scream bridal for your rehearsal dinner, but are you or your partner the kind of person who will wear white again?
Admittedly, finding multiple occasions to wear a traditional, white wedding dress is pretty unlikely. And unless you're a fearless trend setter, this is likely something you're unwilling to budge on. And that's totally fair! So, instead of nixing the traditional white dress of your or your partner's dreams, reach out to sustainable designers and have a custom made dress made just for you. You'll be supporting a small business, working with a designer who sources sustainable fabrics, and getting a 100% unique to you dress. Honestly, what a win! Once your day has gone and passed, it'll be up to you to decide if you'd like your dress to enter the second hand market, or if it's home is with you.
Donations Over Gifts
It's true: there's nothing like wedding gifts. From building your registry to opening your cards and gifts after your wedding. It's a whole celebration on its own! However, if you're a couple who really doesn't need any new gifts, or maybe you can't think of enough items to add to your registry that you'll actually use, adding a donation fund to your registry is the perfect solution.
Plan a night to sit down with your partner and research nonprofits that are important and meaningful to the two of you. These can be earth focused or not, either way, you're lowering your carbon footprint and helping the world around you. Once you choose a nonprofit (or two!) for your registry, be sure to write a meaningful explanation on your registry or wedding website about why you chose that particular nonprofit. This will allow guests to connect with you, learn more about you two, and feel good about donating in place of a gift.
Skip Wedding Favors
Save your budget and the environment all at once and pass on giving your guests wedding favors. While favors are traditional and can be pretty cute, the chances of your guests getting anything out of your favors beyond an initial "aww, how cute!" are pretty slim. Most wedding favors end up forgotten in a kitchen drawer or chucked in the trash. That's a lot of unnecessary waste.
If you don't want to entirely skip wedding favors, consider gifting your guests sustainable items that either come in reusable containers like glass, are biodegradable, or else can be eaten. Some great options are glass jars of honey, candles, wildflower seed starters local to your area (or the guest's area if they're out of state), or even just fair trade certified chocolate. You can even design custom wrappers through Tony' Chocolonely's website for some seriously cute and tasty favors that won't go to waste.
So there you have it! 10 easy to implement tips and tricks to make your wedding more sustainable, no matter how new you are to sustainability. No matter if you choose to implement all 10 or even just 1 of these tips, you're making a huge difference and the earth will thank you for it!
Want to chat more about planning a sustainable wedding and getting all those green memories captured? Shoot me a message - I'm already dying to talk to you!