Weddings go green

Matrimonial vows of commitment extend to planet Earth.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Tara Brown-Selders and Michael Selders left for their honeymoon under a shower of ecofetti, environmentally friendly confetti, after their green wedding in Houston.
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Haily Zaki and Brian Tuey trekked four miles up southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains with 32 friends, accompanied by pack mules carrying granola bars and organic lamb. There, in a propane- and hydro-powered campsite dining hall bedecked with pine cones, they exchanged wedding vows.

Tara Brown and Michael Selders incorporated 21 “eco-initiatives” into their wedding at Houston’s Four Seasons Hotel. To make up for the pollution caused by their honeymoon flight to Hawaii, the Selderses purchased carbon offsets, a means of reducing carbon emissions by contributing money to plant trees or develop renewable-energy projects.

Dana Wilmert wore a 1950s sea foam green prom dress purchased for $1 from a thrift store when she married Johnny Damm in DeLand, Fla. She made the paper for her invitations and stitched magazines together to make the envelopes. At the reception, her guests ate local, organic fare served on biodegradable bamboo plates, which were later composted.

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For these – and some other – brides and grooms, wedding traditions and festivities are taking on a distinctly greener hue. These ecoconscious couples are donating leftover reception food to shelters, planting trees in honor of their guests in lieu of giving favors, and eschewing gifts in favor of contributions to the charity of their choice.

This is no fleeting trend, insists Corina Beczner, founder of Vibrant Events, a sustainable-event consulting business in San Francisco. “This is something that’s here to stay,” she says. “It’s an alignment with people’s values in the world.”

In a world in which “green” is increasingly appended to just about everything as the adjective of choice, defining a green wedding isn’t easy.

For some, it is no more elaborate than limiting the guest list to reduce carbon emissions. It may mean organizing carpools for the guests or hiring biofuel buses and hybrid limos. Or it may mean simply recycling that old family diamond as an engagement ring.

Still, there are many shades of green. The Tueys’ three-day camping trip wedding cost $6,500. Though Ms. Brown-Selders wouldn’t comment on the cost of her wedding, she hired Jessica Zapatero, founder and director of Green Lily Events in Houston, who caters to brides with budgets over $30,000. Ms. Zapatero helped Brown-Selders find an elegant raw-silk dress and yarmulkes made from recycled cardboard.

“A green wedding is not just wearing a burlap sack and walking down the aisle barefoot,” says Mireya Navarro, author of “Green Wedding: Planning Your Eco-friendly Celebration.”

Precious as some of the efforts to go green may seem to some, what all green weddings share is an effort to conserve resources and reduce waste, to make a commitment to the planet the newlyweds will live on as they make a lifelong commitment to each other.

“It just seemed natural to me to want to green my wedding,” says Brown-Selders. “Once I learned how much waste accumulated from one wedding, I learned I [couldn’t] do this.”

Not everyone is running out to rent portable solar panels to power a DJ booth for the reception. Of the 2.5 million weddings that take place each year, just a small fraction could be considered green, Ms. Navarro says.

That interest may be picking up, however, according to a 2009 David’s Bridal Internet survey. It found that 45 percent of some 500 engaged or recently married women had considered some aspect of the environment in their wedding planning decisions.

Although hard figures are difficult to find, evidence of the growth of green weddings can also be seen in the availability of green wedding planners, caterers who serve only organic food, and carbon-
neutral DJs and photographers.

But with the popularity of green weddings comes a word of caution: Not everything is as green as it may seem. “Greenwashing is happening,” says Ms. Beczner, who warns that some companies are calling their products green without any substantiation. She cautions couples to research carefully.

Since launching her business in 2006, Beczner has planned 20 green weddings. She was already seeing the growth of green weddings when Michelle Kozin wrote “Organic Weddings” in 2002. Soon afterward, sustainable jewelry companies such as greenKarat emerged as conflicts over the mining of diamonds became a mainstream issue. Other green companies followed. Everything from “Martha Stewart Living” to green wedding websites such as wedvert began focusing on ecofriendly nuptials.

Navarro says green weddings began gaining even more traction after former Vice President Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” brought home the dangers of climate change. “People are trying to do their part,” she says.

“By now it’s more of an extension of what people are already doing in their lives. People planning green weddings are people who recycle at home, buy food from farmers’ markets, drive a hybrid. It’s a mind-set Americans are adopting more and more.”

Brown-Selders’s awakening came in Oregon in 2004 when someone yelled at her for throwing a bottle into the trash. She was surprised: That’s what everyone did in her Houston condo complex.

But the memory of the incident stuck. So when 200 guests gathered at her wedding this past August, they were greeted with floral centerpieces featuring local flowers, an organic wedding cake, and programs on handmade lotka paper from Nepal.

Behind the scenes, the hotel recycled aluminum, paper, and cardboard. And after the wedding, the couple exited the hotel in a cloud of biodegradable, water-soluble ecofetti and set off on a carbon-free carriage ride.

The Tueys didn’t intend to have a green wedding. But the location they chose – an 1880s campsite powered by propane and hydroelectricity – meant that resources were limited and that no trash could be left behind. “When you go camping, you carry as little as possible,” Ms. Zaki Tuey says. “When you leave, you try to erase [any] sign of yourselves. And in a way, that kind of carried over” into the wedding.

For the Damms, green was the plan from the outset. Almost everything at the their wedding was handmade or used. In January 2008, the couple exchanged vintage rings they bought at thrift stores. Hers cost $50 and her husband’s was $150. The couple was married in a courtyard adorned with tin cans filled with wildflowers from a local garden.

Overall, their total wedding and honeymoon cost $7,500, considerably less than the national average.
They also created an alternative gift registry, where they asked for items such as family recipes, candid photos from the reception, and compact fluorescent light bulbs. After living through hurricane Katrina and seeing her friends lose possessions, Mrs. Damm says she wanted “things that are more meaningful than a vase [of] Waterford crystal.”

But a wedding is a single day. What happens afterward lasts much longer.

Perhaps this is why the Live Green, Live Smart Institute, an environmental research center in Minnesota has decided to study whether the environmental commitment shown on the big day carries over into a couple’s married life.

What Peter Lytle, executive director of the institute, has discovered so far is that green weddings not only influence the bride and groom’s lifestyle, but they can also influence guests to go green by teaching them about the environment.

That doesn’t apply to everyone, however. Other than recycling, gardening, and trying to compost, the Tueys admit they don’t live the greenest of lifestyles. But they did go on a remote camping trip in Baja, Mexico, for their honeymoon. Their friends so enjoyed the wedding that they’ve been asking if the couple will replicate the camping experience for their upcoming fifth anniversary.

The Damms’ lifestyle, on the other hand, has remained green. Mrs. Damm, who grew up on a farm and was used to composting and eating food grown in a backyard garden, still keeps a garden and compost pile.

Instead of buying commercial cleaning products, the couple make their own from natural ingredients, and they shop at the farmers’ market whenever possible. After the wedding, the Damms started a business making purses and wallets from salvaged materials.

But the biggest change has come for Brown-Selders, who once didn’t even recycle. Now she’s making money collecting other people’s bottles and cans. After her wedding, she started her own recycling business under the trademark Recycle4U. She makes weekly pickups, collecting from seven customers for a fee of $7 for residences and $50 for commercial businesses, dropping the recyclables off at the local recycling center.

Although her parents weren’t too thrilled at first about her ideas for a green wedding, they learned from the planning process. Now, her mother recycles paper at her office, and her father, who never recycled, sent her a photo of him when he recycled for the first time. “He totally came around,” she says.

Ideas for 'greening' a wedding

– Replace cut flower centerpieces with potted plants that guests can take home and replant.

– Rather than registering for china or pots and pans, dedicate a registry to a cause. The I Do Foundation (Idofoundation.org) lets guests donate money to a specific charity chosen by the couple.

– Go paper-free. Websites such as weddingwindow.com, theknot.com, and evite.com let couples create online invitations. Some brides are even using Facebook or regular e-mail to send out invites.

– If you want to have a small ceremony to reduce carbon emissions from traveling, consider webcasting your big day. Websites such as webcastmywedding.net and livevows.com offer guests a chance to view the nuptials on the Net.

– Give favors that can help the earth, such as a tree seedling or seeds to plant in guests’ backyards, by using the website plantamemory.com. Brown-Selders gave her wedding guests lavender seeds in a small pot.

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