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 today.
Note: Maxime Ducker, founder of Our Good Brands, and I sat down to chat about how to plan an eco-friendly wedding in our new episode of “Mad & Max try to save the world.” From picking the perfect wedding dress to their biggest regrets, if planning an eco-friendly wedding is something you’re curious about/want to try for yourself, this is an episode you don’t want to miss. Check it out here.
In today’s episode Madeleine, of The Wise Consumer, and Maxime, of Our Good Brands, will explore the do’s, don’ts, tips, tricks, and challenges around planning an eco-friendly wedding. These two are about to get REAL real with each other/you about how they went about planning their special days on a budget.
A few facts before we dive in.
- It takes 2377 gallons (9000 liters) of water to produce 1 dress. 1
- 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. 2
- 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. 3
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 You Start Planning Your Eco-Friendly Wedding:
1. Budget: 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, sustainable booze, etc. As a result, throughout this guide, I provide various eco-friendly ways you can celebrate your special day regardless of budget.
Tip #1: if you’re on a tight budget consider hosting a backyard pot-luck wedding. Rent a few picnic tables, ask friends to bring food that is locally sourced, seasonal, and organic, if possible and within your budget, 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.
2. Size: How many people are you inviting to your wedding? How many people in your 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 are expecting you to invite your cousin’s cousin’s friend (you know, the one you never met?!). Yeah, I know how that can go.
Tip #2: 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.
3. Location: 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) your guests have to do. Rather, if you live in a small town and most of your family/friends live closeby consider hosting your wedding locally.
Fact: “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.” 4
Granted, depending on where you live it may be hard for your guests to avoid not traveling. For instance, I have family all over the world so picking a location that was convenient, i.e., required no airflight 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.
4. Date: 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
- Hiring the right team
- Single-Use plastic Items to Avoid
- Ethical/eco-friendly wedding rings
- Dress attire/eco-friendly wedding dress
- Reducing Food Waste/Compost
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 zero-waste 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 vision for a sustainable/eco-friendly wedding and ask them if this is something they’d be willing to support. Explain your vision, goals, and why it matters to you, etc. Be courteous and offer to provide any support should this be something new to them.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: 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.
Tip #3: Regardless of how large or small your wedding budget it, consider supporting and working with small local businesses and vendors.
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.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: If you have a smaller budget, consider making your own food using organic and locally sourced ingredients. If this sounds like a nightmare to you — “ummm…cook for 100 people using organically sourced ingredients?! WTF, I am not Julia Child!” Here’s the thing, if you are on an extremely tight budget it doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal. You can make a huge quinoa salad and just add seasonal veggies to it. Or, as mentioned above, just ask everyone to bring something to your dinner, organize a pot-luck style wedding.
What We Did: We ended up working with a small catering company Harvest Kitchen. We had tacos, churros, and a large family-style kale salad. Everything was delicious and our catering company was super aligned with our sustainable/eco wedding vision and values. All ingredients were seasonal, and for the most part, locally sourced.
If you’re planning on serving booze on your eco-friendly wedding day, here are a few things to consider:
Drink booze and do good? Yes, please. If it’s in your budget, consider serving some of the following ethical/sustainable brands on your big day: Simple Vodka, Snow Leopard Vodka, New Belgium, Finnegans, Fair, Fetzer Wine, Purple Heart Wines, Koskenkorva Spirits, Boulevard Brewing Co., Toast Ale, Northcoast Brewing Co. (this is my husband’s favorite brand!)
Tip #4: Reach out to your local craft breweries and get a few kegs from them. This way you can ensure it’s locally sourced.
Budget-Friendly Alternative + What we did: Our venue didn’t permit hard liquor without a bartender being present, for obvious reasons. Because we were on a smaller budget, we just opted for wine and beer to be served.
Wine: 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 (confession: I am a wine snob), then opt for an organic wine that was sustainably manufactured and packaged (see list above).
Beer: We rented a few kegs from a local beer store. This allowed us to reduce beer packaging — we just returned the keg to the store after the wedding.
Avoid single-use plastic utensils. Rather consider renting or, for a more budget-friendly alternative, using utensils you already own.
- Single-use plastic cups
- Paper napkins (unless they’re recycled which is a better alternative)
- Single-use plastic straws
- No styrofoam
What We Did: We rented all our cups, cutlery, and napkins. Only thing we didn’t rent were our plates as it was easier for our catering company to prep the plates/food in the food truck (plating the food also helps to reduce the amount of food wasted, see below). They used compostable bamboo plates, so we composted the plates after usage.
My recommendation here, if you want to get an actual wedding cake, is to support your local bakers, unless you have a friend who is a chef and can make it for you! But you can also get creative and opt for something completely unique — donuts, cupcakes, fruit salad, etc.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: 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.
What We Did: We didn’t do the traditional wedding cake — we opted for churros as dessert instead. But, seeing that we did want to cut a cake, the day before the wedding I went to Whole Foods and got a tiny little Vegan chocolate cake “to-go” while en route to our rehearsal dinner. Cake was delicious and was so fun to cut with our extremely large cake cutter, ha.
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.
What We Did: We had one menu and it was written out on a chalkboard located on the side of the food truck. So nothing was printed.
- 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). Check out Pinterest for amazing eco-decorative ideas!
- 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.
- If you’re going to use candles try finding all-natural beeswax candles. If this isn’t in your budget, consider using plastic-free and unscented candles.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: Make your own decorations. Keep it simple and get your friends to get creative with you. Again, Pinterest has a whole bunch of ideas, highly recommend you check it out for inspiration.
What We Did: I chose an outdoor venue (a small farm in Temecula California) that already had decorations available — mother nature was the star of the show along with a few hay bails, tractors, and windmill in the farmyard. My venue already had picnic tables, cocktail tables, and lighting on hand.
Tip #5: 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:
- Budget-Friendly Alternative: 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. If graphic design isn’t your forte consider hiring someone on etsy.com to make them for you on recycled paper.
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.
What We Did: 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 “regular” 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.
Budget-Friendly Alternative: 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: Rejuva Minerals, Kjaer Weis, Mad Hippie, Vapor Beauty, and Zao Organic.
What We Did: I opted for a dress from Reformation which I am planning to dye and rewear/reuse in the future. I also wore these beautiful sandals from RoHo (gifted to me for my wedding day!) My husband wore his USMC uniform so dressing him was extremely easy.
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 #6: 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. I 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 second-hand.
Tip #7: 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.
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.
What We Did: I opted for a vintage engagement ring (my ring dates back to the 1940s and I love it!) I often wonder who wore it before and what their story was. I found it in store that carried only vintage rings.
- 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!
What We Did: I opted to use very few flowers. I had flowers for my wedding bouquet, my bridesmaid bouquet, and one bouttoniere for my brother-in-law. I used potted lavender plants (pictured below) as center pieces for the cocktail tables that guests could bring home and used one long green shrubbery as the centerpiece for our dining/picnic table. Otherwise, mother nature took care of the rest.
Tip #8: 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.
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 dinner. 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 Transfernation 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.
What We Did: Food waste was something I tried my best to avoid. As a result we planned a lighter plated dinner menu. This could very well have back-fired, i.e. we could have run out of food, but our caterers knew exactly what they were doing and how much food needed for the number of guests we were feeding.
There is bound to be some waste at your wedding. Try your best to have a compost/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.
Tip #9: Put it in your contract: One thing I would have done differently would have been to add a clause in my venue contract specifically requesting that any waste be disposed of responsibly, i.e. all organic matter should be composted, recyclables should be recycled, etc. This would have guaranteed that all waste was properly disposed of.
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, reusable utensils, cups, spices, biodegradable seed packets, etc.
What We Did: I provided everyone with a tiny jar of Himalayan salt to take home. I based this gift idea off the story of the Princess and the Salt, a story I had heard while growing up. Plus I figured most people use salt when they’re cooking so it wouldn’t go to waste.
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.
If you actually would benefit from a traditional registry, here’s what I recommend:
- 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 (free from pesticides and better for the planet, read more about why organic is better here)
- Organic Eco bedding (sheets, pillow cases, etc.)
- A suspendable drying rack
- 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.
What We Did: While I absolutely wanted to support ethical/artisanal makers I didn’t actually need all that much new stuff. We already had the basics (plates, cloth napkins, vases, furniture, etc.), — I just needed a few additional appliances (blender, mixer, etc). Because most ethical/eco registries don’t offer blenders, I went ahead and registered with Crate and Barrel — selecting only a few high-quality items that I knew would be used in years to come.
Tip #10: Ask that your gifts remain unwrapped.
Final tip: 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! I recently 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!