March 1, 2022

Sustainability Series 8: Wedding Planning!

This week in our sustainability series we are tackling a fun and special topic: planning sustainable celebrations- specifically, a wedding! It is so easy to overlook it, but celebration events like weddings have a huge environmental impact. Think about the amount of carbon emissions associated with guest travel alone or the equity concerns arising from the manufacture of clothing and party favors. One of the best ways to be a more conscious steward of your earth and community is by putting your money where your mouth is: planning your wedding (or other celebration) so that it doesn’t harm the environment, brings economic benefits to your local community, and truly represents your values as a sustainability advocate!

Hi! My name is Grace Anne. I am CIRT’s Recycling Information and Data Manager and the voice behind our blog and news! I hope you have enjoyed our sustainability series so far, and are as excited as I am about this week’s topic (although that might not be possible because I am VERY excited). This one falls under Intrapersonal Competency, and comes out of a lot of research that I have done recently in planning my own sustainable wedding. Even if you aren’t planning a wedding or other celebration anytime soon, this article can still give you great examples of how to integrate sustainability principles in your own life.

The Dress//The Suit: Shop local and look for recycled or upcycled fabrics.

I did so much (sooooooooo much) looking for ways to buy used wedding dresses (reduce, reuse, recycle) but there really are no good options. In the Athens and Atlanta, GA area there aren’t any stores that have used dresses for try-on, and all of the online marketplaces (ex. borrowing magnolia, Stillwhite, and OnceWed) do not offer try-then-buy systems or have adequate return policies. It’s your big day, don’t buy a dress without trying it on. (What I thought was going to look good and what actually worked for me were two very different things).

So, a used dress was out. I looked for brands that offered sustainably made dresses, but ran into similar issues with not wanting to buy online, since they were not carried in stores near me. Most of these brands tap into the high-fashion/boutique “green” market (dubious) and were inaccessible based on price alone.  Many of them are also based in Europe or Australia, and I wasn’t convinced that shipping a dress halfway across the globe was the right answer.

In the end I concluded that the best solution was to support a local business in my dress shopping. I ended up at Suite Bridal in Atlanta. And, by happy accident I discovered that they carried dresses by Watters Designs’ By Watters brand, which uses upcycled and recycled fabrics. Although I could not find specific information on their website about which designs incorporated the upcycled/recycled materials, the seamstress at Suite Bridal told me that the one I picked was part of the recycled fabric collection. (Everything above for wedding dresses also applies to men’s wear. I recommend you shop local and try to find sustainable fabrics.)

A note on veils: For a simple piece of lace, these can really add to the price of a wedding dress (my friend’s was $500!) They also seem to be easier to find on consignment or used online than dresses. I got mine for $70 at a consignment store.

A note on shoes: There is no need to buy shoes for your wedding outfit, especially if your dress covers your feet! You want to be comfortable, and a simple nude or white pump that you own or get from a place like Plato’s Closet will be perfect. If you’re like me and your dress doesn’t cover your feet, it would still be most sustainable to wear something you already own or bought used. I have a terrible weakness for designer shoes (Louboutins specifically) and am keeping an eye on websites like StyleLend in hopes of finding some red bottoms that I can afford.

Let’s Eat: Look for farm-to-table catering, minimize animal products, and plan for leftovers.

How we eat has such a profound effect on the environment. From growing crops to raising livestock, processing and transporting food, and food waste creating methane gas in our landfills, there are so many pathways of impact. Not to mention ethical considerations around who harvests and packs these products.

The best way to manage the impact of your catering is to keep it local. This increases transparency in the supply chain and minimizes carbon emissions from transportation. Finding a caterer who offers farm-to-table and thoroughly vets their suppliers (like Heirloom Cafe in Athens) is the gold standard. (Properly managed small-scale agricultural and livestock farms are carbon sinks, not sources.) Lastly, look for a caterer that already specializes in vegetarian and vegan dishes and try to incorporate them into your menu.

It is also important to set up a plan for leftovers ahead of time with your caterer. Ours partners with a local shelter for unhomed people and makes sure that all leftover food that is safe to give away is delivered to those in need.

Finally, see if you can rent flatware, glasses, linens, cloth napkins, and silverware from the caterer. This eliminates single-use items like paper napkins and plastic cutlery, means that you don’t have to go pick out tablecloths, and makes the setup and tear-down much easier on the big day!

Registry and Party Favors: That money could do so much good in other places.

Guests are coming to celebrate a big day, not to buy you presents in exchange for a commemorative mug. Asking guests to spend money on your registry to “help you get started” and then spending thousands of dollars on party favors makes no sense. Instead of a registry, collect donations for a cause close to your heart. And instead of physical tokens from the day, send each guest a thank-you card with a link to an online gallery of high-quality images from the celebration. (Check this with your photographer- ours was happy to include candids of guests and let the guests access all the wedding photos for free!)

For our registry, I created a Go Fund Me page where guests could donate towards one of three carbon offset purchases. Ahead of the wedding, I calculated the estimated carbon emissions from our guests’ travel and set the fundraiser goal to make the event net-zero. If you’re interested in making your event net-zero for carbon, here’s the details:

  • For flights: (# of people flying) x (avg. flight length in hours) x (0.25 tons CO2 per hour) = Tons CO2 from flights
  • For driving: (# of miles driven total) x (0.00045305 tons CO2 per mile) = Tons CO2 from driving
  • Carbon credits to buy: A lot of carbon credits offerings are geared towards corporations and ask you to buy “in bulk” (more than you should need for a gathering) or to have a business membership in order to enter the market. Two organizations that have excellent transparency and allow small-scale purchases are Nori Carbon Removal Marketplace and Pachacama.

Decorations and Flowers: Local and organic are a must, second-hand silk works great too.

Many people are surprised to learn that the industry for cut flowers is a big emitter of carbon dioxide, and also of high concern for labor practices and toxic emissions. The vast majority of cut flowers in the United States are imported from Columbia and Ecuador. Due to the perishable nature of flowers they are flown in refrigerated cargo holds with very little storage time between cutting and flying, which can often mean planes flying for no reason but the delivery of blooms. In the three weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day 2018, flower delivery flights were responsible for 360,000 metric tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere. On top of that, the flower farms themselves often mistreat local communities and environments. Mass-producing perfect petals requires a lot of chemicals- pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers- and farm laborers are often exposed to these toxic chemicals with no or inadequate protection. These chemicals also often pollute nearby water sources, on top of flower farms causing water shortages due to over-extraction. In addition, there have been concerns about the use of child labor on cut flower farms in Central and South America. All this just gives credence to the need to buy locally-grown and organic flowers for your celebration. In Athens, GA, I worked with R and R Secret Farm, which practices urban organic agriculture. 

Flowers are also expensive, and used silk flower bouquets and decorations are often easy to find at consignment sales or even places like Goodwill. I was able to get a set of five silk bridesmaids’ bouquets for $75, which usually cost about $65 per piece when made of fresh flowers. My wedding photographer assures me that the silk flowers look awesome in photographs, and agrees that finding used silk flowers is one of the best ways to keep a wedding on-budget. Finally, look to rent table vases from your florist, and for other decorations such as crepe and fabric look at thrift and consignment stores before buying new.

Save the Dates//Invitations//Programs//Thank-Yous: Postcard style, recycled paper.

You save SO MUCH paper by sending things as postcards rather than in envelopes- a reduction of two thirds! Paper Culture is an awesome company that provides free designer support and recycled paper for your mailing, and plants a tree with every order. They even send you a certificate (printed on recycled paper of course) with the tree’s location and dedication (as well as an e-certificate, right).

For our wedding we sent save the dates with a link to RSVP on our wedding website, no need for a formal invitation. We are also not printing wedding programs, but instead are going to have a PDF program on our website and a few poster-sized programs posted at the venue for people to check day-of. 

Bridesmaids: Shop local for their outfits and skip the special gifts.

How many people claim to select dresses bridesmaids “can wear again,” and how many of those bridesmaids actually do it? From what I hear, it’s most brides and almost no bridesmaids, respectively. That’s why the best approach here is either to let the ladies wear things that they already own (see infographic), or shop locally for an outfit that they will actually wear again.

Who says that your bridesmaids have to wear dresses? Concoctions of chiffon just aren’t practical to wear at an event other than a wedding. What about nice slacks and shirts? Or a jumpsuit? For my wedding, I am having a local sustainable fashion store, Community, custom-make jumpsuits for my bridesmaids from a pattern on Etsy. This keeps money in the local economy and ensures that I won’t be supporting questionable labor practices overseas.

It is traditional to give your bridesmaids commemorative gifts. Instead of doing that, why not buy their outfits (or a component of their outfits) for them? My bridesmaids’ jumpsuits run about $60 per person, close to what a nice gift would have cost. Rather than asking them to spend money on my wedding and engaging in consumerism for knick knacks, I am simply getting them their jumpsuits as a present. I also recommend letting bridesmaids wear shoes they already own; they will be more comfortable and it is one less thing to buy!

Groomsmen: Let them wear clothes they already own

Most men own at least a few pairs of dress slacks and button down shirts. Most men (or at least my fiancé) also dislike wearing full tuxedos, ties, or sport coats. See if the groomsmen can all agree on a color of slacks and shirts to wear that fits your theme and they already own. For a nice cohesive look, you can buy everyone mating suspenders and/or ties/bowties. We are getting our groomsmen this set of suspenders and bow ties on Amazon Smile, a service that you should ALWAYS use when ordering from Amazon, because a percentage of the purchase will go to the charity of your choice at no extra cost to you.

The End.

WOW. That was LONG! I hope that you enjoyed this article and its departure from the usual content we post here. Remember that you (if you’re planning a sustainable celebration) don’t have to do every single one of these things in order to feel like you are making a difference. Every small action counts towards the larger goal, and we here at CIRT appreciate you taking the time to consider how you can integrate sustainable changes into your life.