Dear Umbra,

How about some practical thoughts on “green” weddings? My daughter is planning an outdoor July wedding in Wisconsin — any tips? The reception is going to be outdoors at our home.

Tomm G.
Waukesha, Wis.

Hi Tomm,

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Environmental issues to consider for weddings are going to be quite similar to the everyday issues: transportation, food, non-transit energy use, consumer waste. Green weddings are a potentially awkward proposition because elaborate three-day affairs have become the cultural norm. Obviously in consideration of the environment less is more, but in the modern wedding context it might be difficult for the family to feel happy or comfortable just having a simple event, which we might call the “reduce” wedding.

The wedding industry is large, and the “green products” industry is sizable, and they have an area of overlap. The trouble with a lot of “green” consumer stuff is that it is simply substitutive. Vendors exist who can sell you all the things you would like for a regular old giant wedding, only with a green pedigree: organic flowers, organic party favors, hemp gowns, registries with ecologically minded companies. My feeling is that this is somewhat better than the traditional route, and if you want to go ahead with that kind of idea, please punch “green wedding” into your search engine. You might also read my earlier columns about rings, registries, and flying all your guests to Hawaii. My big heretical notion is: the smaller wedding (see last column for heretical notion about smaller family). Either that’s possible given family politics, or it is not. Consider it thoroughly. A small guest list will mean fewer resources used in every category.

Less transportation will be the big goal, but it can be achieved in a variety of ways. Since this is likely the largest impact of your backyard shindig, let’s list some emissions-reducing transport schemes. For others who haven’t yet chosen their location, consider one to which guests will travel the least total miles. Try to do everything possible to reduce individual car trips from airports and hotels — provide buses, shuttles, provide incentives to use the buses and shuttles (snacks? keeping event location secret? guilt?), have the wedding at a hotel where everyone stays, have ceremony and reception in the same location. Consider purchasing green tags to make up for unavoidable carbon emissions.

In choosing the food, look for organically grown and/or locally sourced products, as you should when possible in your daily life. Find a caterer who will work with you to use the products. Here’s an unpopular but environmentally sound idea: have a vegetarian menu. Hey, speaking of unpopular ideas, how about a composting toilet at the reception? Quelle scandale! But seriously, folks, what other categories do we have? Outdoors in summer is a great choice, because you won’t need to heat or air-condition the space. Any paper goods such as invitations can be printed on recycled-content paper. Any festive garments can be purchased secondhand or reused — the tradition of using a mother’s gown fits in nicely with environmental ethics. There’s a whole brides-against-breast-cancer gown resale project too.

Never having planned a wedding, I’m sure I’m missing some vital piece of the event, but reduce — go smaller and use less stuff — seems to be the key. If you’ve been reading Grist, you already know the major considerations for daily life with an environmental bent. Think carefully about each step of the planning, keeping your knowledge in mind, and I don’t think you can go too wrong. Besides transportation, almost everything about a wedding would happen anyway, right? People at home would eat and sleep and crumple napkins anyway. So follow your common sense, and hopefully being ecologically minded won’t add to the stress of planning a big event. And congratulations.