So you’re planning a wedding, or maybe you’re just curious — how the heck do people plan an eco-friendly wedding? Is it even possible?
Short answer: planning an eco-friendly wedding is actually less complicated than you might think it is, in some ways it’s easier. Not to mention that depending on the size and your wedding-day vision, it can actually be much more cost-effective. Of course, this depends on a lot of things, all of which we’ll be diving into in this post.
A few facts before we dive in:
- It takes 2377 gallons (9000 liters) of water to produce 1 dress.
- The Green Bride Guide states that the average wedding produces 400 lbs. of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. With an estimated 2.5 million weddings per year, that is about 1 billion lbs. of trash and as many emissions as approximately four people would produce in a year, in just one single day.
- Reports suggest that 4,910 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic was used up and left behind at In the UK it was found that 15% of newlyweds would throw the remains of their cake away and 37% of guests don’t eat edible wedding favors.
The most budget and eco-friendly wedding alternative?
Elope with your partner. (wink). Although, I realize this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, which is why I put this guide together.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
4 Things To Consider Before Planning Any Wedding:
What’s your budget? Your budget will determine a lot of things — the type of venue, size, etc.
While planning for my wedding I read a whole bunch of eco-friendly wedding guides — some were more eco-friendly than others but honestly a lot of it had to do with budget, vision, and what brides were willing to “give up” on their wedding days. I say “give up” because for some brides the eco-friendly alternative might not fit their picture-perfect day.
Also, I realize not everyone is going to have the means to order biodegradable wedding invitations, ethical wedding rings, sustainably harvested wine, etc. As a result, throughout this guide, I provide various eco-friendly ways you can celebrate your special day regardless of budget.
If you’re on a tight budget consider hosting a backyard pot-luck wedding. Rent a few picnic tables, ask friends to bring food (locally sourced, seasonal, and organic is a bonus!) and string up a few sparkly LED lights. Your wedding day can be whatever you want it to be. Just because you’re working with a small budget, doesn’t mean your day can’t be extremely special.
How many people are you inviting to your wedding? Will you have a large wedding party? The smaller your wedding party and guest list, the cheaper and more eco-friendly your wedding will most likely be. Again, a small wedding may not be possible for everyone. You may have a big family and/or your parents may be expecting you to invite your cousin’s cousin’s friend (you know, the one you never met?!). Yeah, I know how that can go.
If a small wedding is not in your cards consider hosting your ceremony and reception at the same venue. This will reduce the amount of travel your guests have to make on the day-of your wedding between hotel, ceremony, and reception.
Where are you hosting your wedding ceremony/reception? If at all possible avoid a destination wedding. This will help to reduce the amount of travel (flights) you and your guests have to do. Rather, if you live in a small town and most of your family/friends live close by consider hosting your wedding locally.
Why? Flying isn’t super eco-friendly. According to the Guardian, the aviation sector currently accounts for about 2% of global emissions, and is one of the fastest-growing polluters. “Taking one return flight generates more CO2 than citizens of some countries produce in a year!”
Granted, depending on where you live it may not be possible for your guests to avoid traveling. For instance, I have family all over the world so picking a location that was convenient, i.e., required no air flight for everyone was just not possible. Eventually I chose to host our wedding in a location that was most convenient for my husband and me. This meant family and friends were traveling from the East Coast and overseas to attend.
Before you start planning the table decorations, finding your dress, etc., you should select your date. Once you have a date everything else will fall into place. This is obvious and probably goes without saying, but figured I’d mention it seeing that this was actually one of the most challenging things for me. My husband-to-be was deployed for most of our wedding planning phase and my family was, and still is, scattered all over the world. So finding a date that worked for everyone was actually more of a headache than anticipated.
Ok, so now that you’ve decided on when, where, how big, and how much you have to invest in your big day, let’s explore next steps.
Planning An Eco-Friendly Wedding
1. Hiring the right team
If you’re going to be hiring and working with vendors (caterers, venue coordinators, florists, wedding planners, etc.) the first thing I recommend is to ensure they’re all on board with your eco-friendly values. If they’re reluctant to support you in your sustainable goals or could care less, I recommend finding someone else. You want to find people who “get” you, your values, and your planet-friendly wedding vision.
Here’s how: During your initial phone call with each vendor, share your sustainable wedding vision and ask them if this is something they’d be willing to support. Explain your goals, vision, and why it matters to you, etc. Be courteous and offer to provide any support should this be something new to them.
If hiring vendors isn’t in your budget and you’re doing everything DIY, no worries. Consider reaching out to friends and asking them if they’d be willing to help you create a memorable day. I think most of us have at least one or two, super-duper-loves-to-plan kind of friends who would jump all over helping their friend plan a wedding.
Note: Regardless of how large or small your wedding budget it, consider supporting and working with small local businesses and vendors.
2. Food & Beverages
Hiring Vendors? If it’s in your budget to hire vendors I highly recommend working with a caterer/restaurant who is well-versed in working/collaborating with locally sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients and farmers (regenerative is even better!). This will ensure that they are easily able to create a menu for your special day using ingredients and recipes they’re already familiar with.
If you’re planning on serving booze on your eco-friendly wedding day, and it’s in your budget, consider serving some of the following sustainable brands — Simple Vodka, Snow Leopard Vodka, New Belgium, Finnegans, Fair, Fetzer Wine, Koskenkorva Spirits, Boulevard Brewing Co., Toast Ale, Northcoast Brewing Co.
Tip: Reach out to your local craft breweries and get a few kegs from them. This way you can ensure it’s locally sourced and to reduce beer packaging — just return the keg to the store after the wedding.
I went to our local Trader Joe’s and bought a few cases of locally sourced/organic wine (I was living in California so this wasn’t too challenging for me). Again, as I mentioned, I am pretty low key so bringing my own wine bottles worked perfectly for me. If you live in a state/country that doesn’t produce wine to your standards, then opt for an organic wine that was sustainably manufactured and packaged.
Avoid single-use plastic utensils. Rather consider renting silverware or, for a more budget-friendly alternative, using utensils you already own.
If at all possible, please try to avoid the following single-use plastic items on your wedding day:
- Single-use plastic cups
- Paper napkins (unless they’re recycled which is a better alternative)
- Single-use plastic straws
My recommendation here, if you want to get an actual wedding cake, is to support your local bakery (unless you have a friend who is a pastry wiz and can make it for you!). But, you can also get creative and opt for something completely unique such as donuts, churros, cupcakes, fruit salad, etc.
You can either make dessert yourself or just order a cake from your local grocery store. If you order from the grocery store, see if they’ll consider packing your dessert in your reusable cake carrier. This will help to avoid the amount of plastic packaging used to deliver your cake.
If you absolutely need to have a printed menu, consider a more eco-friendly alternative such as printing on recycled or plantable paper, writing it on a chalkboard, etc. Consider writing the menu out on a chalkboard where guests can easily view it.
Have mother nature do the decorating for you! The most eco and easiest way to decorate your wedding space is to select an outdoor location (a local farm, beach house, vineyard, someone’s backyard, garden, etc.). That being said, if you’re getting married in the dead of winter, an outdoor wedding may be a bit more challenging (unless of course you’re doing an ice-themed wedding, which would be cool (pun intended, ha). If you’re getting married indoors, this is your chance to get creative. Use foliage and greens that are locally grown and in season to decorate (spruce, evergreen, Pepperberry, sweetpea, etc).
Also, consider selecting a venue that already has the vibe/decorations you might consider using. This will make it easier for you as you won’t need to rent/provide additional decorations to fill the space.
If you do end up needing to provide decorations, consider renting. Renting decorations will avoid you having to buy things you don’t need and most likely that you’ll just end up tossing. There are actually a lot of options out there — just Google something along the lines of, “rent wedding decor near me.” Note: It’s helpful if your venue already provides tables, chairs, etc. for you to use. If not, this will end up being another thing you have to rent/provide.
Love candles? If you’re going to use candles try finding all-natural beeswax or nontoxic candles. Not in your budget? Consider using plastic-free and unscented candles.
Or, just keep it simple and make your own decorations. Get your friends to get creative with you. Pinterest has a whole bunch of ideas, highly recommend you check it out for inspiration.
Consider using fruits or herbs as centerpieces on your eco-friendly wedding day. People can eat the fruit or use the herbs to flavor their food (or just take it home!)
Between the save-the-dates, official invitations, and thank you cards, it’s easy to see how stationary can easily become a large waste producer. It wouldn’t be a big deal if just one of us did this, but the reality is almost every single bride out there is creating some form of invitations a few tips:
- Create a wedding website and send out digital “Save The Dates” and RSVPs. Rather than mailing your save the dates or asking guests to mail back their RSVP’s consider using an online “stationery” service such as:
- If you want to do things the old fashioned way, consider using an eco-friendly stationery company such as:
- Artifact Uprising
- Paper Culture
- Botanical PaperWorks
- Bloomin (plantable seed paper)
If you have a limited budget but still want to mail out actual invitations, consider creating your own invitations and printing them out on recycled paper using eco-friendly ink. This is what I did and it saved me a lot of money. But, if graphic design isn’t your forte consider hiring someone on etsy.com to make them for you on recycled paper.
9. Makeup & Hair
If it’s in your budget, hire a “green” make-up artist. This isn’t something a lot of people talk about but seeing that I am a huge believer in using only all-natural products, it was something I spent a lot of time looking into.
Depending on where you live finding a make-up artist who is either willing to work with natural products or only works with natural products, may be a bit harder to come by. And, although I’ve found more and more make-up artists are offering this option, they’re often a bit pricier. It was unfortunately out of my budget.
If hiring an eco-friendly make-up artist isn’t in your budget but you don’t want to do your own hair and makeup, talk to a “conventional” make-up artist and see if she/he is willing to work with you to reduce single-use waste and ask what type of make-up they use/have on hand. You’ll find a lot of artists actually use natural skincare brands, they just don’t promote themselves as “green” makeup artists.
I spoke to my make-up artist about my zero-waste goals and she made it a goal of hers to use the least amount of cotton and applicators. She also used her most natural make-up brands on me.
Most cost-effective is to do your own make-up and hair. Ideally you already have non-toxic make-up brands on hand but if you don’t and you’re in the market for some, here are a few of my favorites: Cheekbone Beauty, Mad Hippie, and Zao Organic.
10. Sustainable Wedding Dress
Finding an ethical and sustainable wedding dress these days is becoming easier and easier. I wrote an entire blog post on finding the perfect sustainable wedding dress. You can check it out here: 10+ Sustainable and Ethical Wedding Dresses.
11. Flower Girls, Bridesmaids & Groomsmen
Ideally, you can just have your wedding “support” team wear items already found in their closet. If that’s not an option, consider renting or buying from a secondhand store. If it’s in your budget and you want to support an ethical fashion brand consider purchasing your flower girls dresses from brands such as Malu Organic, Cosmosophie, etc.
Tip: Ask your bridesmaids to wear dresses they already own and/or if they want to find something “new” ask them to shop secondhand or to rent something.
What We Did: My flower girls needed new dresses (they had unfortunately outgrew their spring dresses from the previous year) so their mom opted for a handsewn USA made dress from Etsy. I didn’t have bridesmaids. Rather, I simply had a maid of honor and just asked that she wear a dress she already owned. I asked all my girlfriends attending the wedding to try to refrain from buying something new. They found this request to be hilarious and a lot of fun. While most just wore dresses they had in their closets, a few opted to rent a few dresses or buy secondhand.
Tip: Ask guests to rewear their favorite dresses, suits, etc. on your wedding day. Just include a note in the invitation under the “dress attire” portion.
12. Engagement Rings
There are a few different options you can opt for here:
- Vintage/Heirloom: You don’t necessarily have to buy a new wedding ring/band. Consider using an heirloom diamond/setting (if it’s been offered to you of course, don’t just ask your grandma for her ring!) and resizing it. Or see if your local jewelers offer vintage pieces.
- Ethical: If you’re going to opt for a new ring, I highly recommend supporting ethical jewelers who sell conflict-free diamonds, sustainably sourced metals, etc. Here are a few brands I considered buying from:
You can forgo flowers altogether if you so choose, like I said, this is your big day and you can do whatever you want.
But if you do, here are a few things to consider:
- Explore your local options. Are their farms nearby that grow flowers? Check out the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers they will help you select flowers depending on the season + direct you to local growers you can support.
- Use potted plants as centerpieces. Guests can take the plants home and/or you can plant them in your garden after your wedding day.
- Donate your flowers to an organization such as the Full Bloom that recuts, repurpose’s and recycle’s donated, gently used flowers and turns them into beautiful bedside bouquets for patients in hospitals, hospice care, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.
- Another option? Bloomrent. Bloomrent will repurpose your flowers after your big day so nothing is wasted. Better yet, you also opt to reuse someone else’s fresh flowers for your centerpiece, this is 40-60% cheaper than traditional pricing!
Tip: If you decide to include flowers on your wedding day, my recommendation is to try your best to make sure they’re organic, locally sourced, and don’t include plastic wrapping.
14. Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is one of the biggest waste culprits at weddings.
Here are a few ways to try to avoid food waste:
- If your getting your dinner catered, try to stay clear of the buffet-style. While this might seem like the better option, often times more food than will actually get eaten is created (no caterer wants to have to tell the bride that they ran out of food!). Rather, consider opting for a plated meal option, this will give the caterers a better idea of just how much food to prepare and serve, thus reducing food waste over the course of your event.
- Have leftovers? Consider donating any untouched leftovers to your local food bank/shelters or collaborating with an organization like Raeri that will collect and distribute the food for you. Make sure you’ve reached out potential organizations you wish to work with a few weeks beforehand as you want to ensure food is still fresh when delivered and that a plan is in place.
- Send guests home with leftovers.
15. Compost & Recycling
There is bound to be some waste at your wedding. Try your best to have a compost or recycling system in place beforehand. Work with the catering company and venue to provide a bin for compost, glass recycling, etc.
I made sure that composting and recycling would be an option at our venue. This was something I asked about in one of the first calls with our venue. Seeing that my venue was a small farm and already had a compost pile on the premise it was easy for them to add any biodegradable waste from my wedding to the farms compost pile. I printed signs (on recycled paper) for each bin — one for recycling, one for trash, and one for compost.
Over the years I’ve found that most wedding favors I’ve received really don’t serve a purpose and, unfortunately, often end up in the bin a few weeks later. If you’re going to be including favors, I recommend considering something you think your guests will actually get some real usage out of. For example: reusable water bottles, cups, spices, biodegradable seed packets, etc.
17. Registry & Gifts
Depending on what stage you are in your life you may or may not actually need additional home decor, appliances, etc. If you fall under this category, consider asking guests to donate to one of your favorite charities, your honeymoon fund, or donating towards experiences.
A few eco items to consider adding to your registry:
- Ask yourself what you really need? Can any of these needed items be purchased from your local thrift/consignment store? You’d be surprised to find how many appliances they have in perfectly good condition. Plus, it will be much cheaper than buying new.
- A few items you might consider requesting:
- Reusable sandwich bags, such as Stasher
- Stainless Steel Food Containers
- Cast Iron Skillet, such as this one from Made Trade
- Organic Cotton Towels
- Eco bedding (sheets, pillow cases, etc.)
- A few ethical/eco registries/online stores you might consider: Zola (Zola offers a few ethical and sustainable brands), Made Trade, Ten Thousand Villages, and Life Without Plastic.
Tip: Ask that your gifts remain unwrapped.
Have fun! Whether you’re hosting an eco-friendly or not, remember to relax and enjoy every moment of your special day.
What do you think? Is planning an eco-friendly wedding something you’re willing to tackle? Have you planned an eco-friendly wedding/event? If so, what was the most challenging part for you?
Moment of gratitude: This post has lovingly been edited by Susan Farley. Editor’s Note: I was so happy to be a guest at Madeleine and Shawn’s wedding. It was so beautiful and full of love. I wore a dress I already owned and gave her a gift card — not much waste there! Recently, I used my salt favor and still have the personalized clothes pin that she used instead of place cards. The food was great and the table was stunning. As a guest to an eco-friendly wedding, I can say it did not lack for anything!
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