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Jan 24, 2013 03:09PM

Eco-wedding: From flowers to favors, ways to green your big day

By Becky Langdon
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Taking a 'green' approach to your wedding choices can help create a unique event that fosters memories for years to come.
When you're saying your vows on your wedding day, odds are you won't be thinking about the environmental impact of the ceremony. In the preceding months, however, there is plenty of time to incorporate a few ideas to make your wedding more eco-friendly. "Greening" your wedding doesn't mean sacrificing elegance or beauty; it just means taking a different approach to get there.

Easy ideas for anyone

Let's start simple. Traditional weddings rely on paper for communication, but today many people are more comfortable with electronic communication over snail mail. Make sure you have up-to-date email addresses for your guests that you can use for "save the date" messages or even wedding invitations. To supplement your e-vites, you also can set up a wedding website to house directions, maps and pertinent information. Your guests likely will enjoy having this easy resource rather than keeping track of printed directions.

If you have guests on your list who aren't technologically savvy, that's no problem. Print and mail a few invitations for them and keep one for yourself as a memento. If you do go the printed route for any and all of your invites, consider choosing a supplier who offers recycled, handmade or tree-free invitations.

Choosing the right flowers is another easy way to make a difference. When possible choose local, fresh-cut flowers, which reduces the use of energy-intensive greenhouses and fuel for shipping. You can reuse the floral arrangements from the ceremony at your reception to cut down on the number of flowers needed, which also saves money. After the wedding, donate your flowers to a hospital or nursing home, or dry them and use them in handmade gifts later.

Speaking of gifts, wedding days are full of them, right? Not just for the bride and groom either. There are gifts for the parents and the wedding party, plus favors for the guests. Some couples are choosing to forgo all these material gifts and favors, instead donating to a worthy cause on behalf of their guests and attendants. You'll cut down on material waste while supporting a charity you love. Don't want to give up gifts entirely? Choose non-wasteful favors, such as edibles, seedlings or soy candles. For attendants, consider organic beauty products, gourmet chocolates, recycled jewelry or bottles of local wines.

Taking it to the next level

To those looking to have an even smaller environmental impact, the options don't stop there. Consider the wedding-day apparel and jewelry, starting with rings. Popping into the nearest big-name retailer for your wedding rings may be the easiest option, but not necessarily the most green, depending on the store. Choose a ring made with recycled gold and an ethically sourced diamond or gemstone. You can ask your jeweler if they have those options, or find a company online that does. Or skip the natural stones and go for a lab-created diamond instead. While lab-created stones may have once caused some noses to turn up, technology has advanced to the point that these stones compete in their beauty with their natural counterparts, and they don't involve mining a natural resource.

Of course, reusing something old is always green, so if you have an antique ring or family heirloom you love, go for it. The same applies to wedding gowns. Find a good seamstress who can alter a vintage gown to your figure and tastes or one who upcycles previously worn dresses. You also can shop for a once-worn wedding dress or rent one. If you don't have your heart set on a traditional white gown, choose a dress you can wear again and let your bridesmaids do the same.

After the wedding, you can donate your gown and bridesmaids' dresses to any number of organizations and causes. Brides Against Breast Cancer sells previously worn wedding gowns to fund programs for cancer patients and their families. For bridesmaid dresses, The Glass Slipper Project gives away free prom dresses to high school juniors and seniors in the Chicago area who are unable to purchase their own.

When it comes to choosing venues for the wedding day, consider timing the event so that it can be held outdoors or during a time of year when no heating or air conditioning is needed. Hold the reception at the same site as the wedding, or nearby, to reduce travel between the two. For food, choose organic when possible, but be careful to source locally as well. A local microbrewery or winery may be the best choice for your refreshments rather than organic wines and brews from out of state.

Advanced techniques

So you've done the easy ideas? Here's a bigger challenge: eliminate your gift registry. These days couples are getting married later, and many already have all the goods they need for a house. Instead of incurring the environmental cost of producing, packaging and shipping material goods, ask guests who want to give a gift to donate to a charity. Inevitably, some guests will still bring gifts, but many will happily help fund a project you support.

You can further reduce the environmental impact of your guests by offsetting or changing their travel requirements. Even if you want every distant cousin and friend-of-a-friend there in person for your special day, you can reduce your carbon footprint by paying carbon offsets for their travel. Here's how it works: use a simple calculator online (such as carbonfund.org/weddings) to identify the carbon cost of your wedding, and then make an equivalent donation to a project designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Just make sure the organization you support uses the majority of the money toward the project.

Whether you choose one or many of these nuptial tips to try, you'll be making a positive impact. And the icing on the wedding cake? You'll create unique memories to treasure for years.

Becky Langdon is a frequent Radish contributor.

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