Ethical and green wedding planning

Katie and her sister - Copyright Mason and Field Photography

How to have an ethical wedding

Ok, before we begin, let's take a few deep breaths...

This is standard procedure to prevent the spluttering that the words ‘ethical' or ‘green' coupled with ‘wedding' can induce when said to a bride already in the midst of frenzied wedding planning fever.

"Green? Ethical?

"I've got to find a half-decent caterer and a venue for 120 people on a fast fraying shoestring budget, keep Aunty Jean away from Aunty Joan, move house the week before the wedding, and you expect me to think about being ethical?

"And won't that be hugely expensive anyway? Everyone knows going organic is twice the price..."

As I said, deep breath.  The key to planning a greener, more ethical wedding is to recognise that you can't be perfect, and anything you can do is great.  When I say this, I have in mind Edmund Burke's quote:

"No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little"

Or to put it in the words of a certain trying-to-be-green grocer: "Every little helps"

You also need to decide what is important to you as a couple. One of the reasons we often say ethical weddings rather than green weddings is that we're trying to help people consider not just the environmental but also the social impact of their decisions. 

Do you want to support workers in developing countries by buying fair trade wine or offer an English tipple and cut down on booze miles? The choice, I'm afraid, is yours.

In fact, I've found that the whole planning process for this type of wedding fits loosely around three little words:

Beg, steal and borrow

Admittedly, it's not sounding too ethical so far, but stay with me.

Beg

...for help from family and friends - though to be honest they'll probably be thrilled to get involved. It makes everything that bit more personal (cakes, dresses, food, invitations), cuts down on costs and gives you more control over where everything comes from and how green it is.

...for understanding from your suppliers - explain to your caterers, your venue, your dressmaker what you're trying to do and it's more than likely they'll be on your side. If nothing else, you'll have given them something to think about.

Steal

... a moment to yourself to think, whenever you can - you'll need it.

My least ‘ethical' moments occur when I'm out of time: grabbing an over-packaged (not to mention overpriced), food mile-filled sandwich in the mad dash to catch the train; jumping into a taxi because I didn't leave time to walk.

A big part of ethical wedding planning comes down to this: think before you act. Think where you spend your money, and if you actually need to. Think what you can do without, what you can make yourself, what you are buying just because tradition dictates.

... ideas. Get on to the Ethical Weddings Forum and share ideas with other brides and grooms or get top tips from couples who've been there before in our Real Ethical Wedding section. I was kicking myself when I read some of the chat in the Forum - why didn't I think of using my mum's old dress? These tips can help you save money and save the planet.

Borrow (or hire)

... anything you can. After all, it's traditional: ‘something borrowed...' It may be a big day but it is just one day so why buy new if you can borrow a friend's dress, your mum's necklace, hire suits, tablecloths, crockery and cutlery?

One bride on Ethical Weddings is even borrowing friends' and neighbours' plants to decorate her venue.

Following these simple ground rules, there is no reason why a green and ethical wedding should be an expensive wedding - although this seems to be the perception of many. In our Ethical Weddings survey, when asked what would be the thing that might put them off having an ethical wedding, nearly 44% said 'cost'.

Granted, organic food does generally come at a small premium, but the word 'wedding' comes at a bigger premium so it's sometimes a good idea to avoid mentioning the 'w' word if you possibly can.

Our ethical wedding tips

Now that's settled, here are a few tips to help you get a greener, more ethical:

Venue

The most important thing when choosing your venue is to ask questions. Ask if they're:

  • recycling
  • conserving water
  • using renewable energy
  • supporting local suppliers

And then even if they aren't right at this moment, you'll have given them something to think about for the future.

Try if possible to find a reception venue close to the ceremony venue (or have both events in the same place) and near public transport to cut the carbon from all your friends and family travelling to share your day.

Dress

Ethical and eco-fashion is a growing concern among the undergraduates in the fashion colleges. Seek out a student and test their creative powers to fashion you a totally unique wedding dress from eco-friendly fabrics - and for maximum greenie points, make sure it's something you can wear again too.

If you want ready-to-wear, check out the charity and vintage shops - if the dream find isn't a perfect fit, a few snips and stitches and it soon will be.

Wedding breakfast

Make friends with your local suppliers to source different items such as cheese, cold meats, and local ales, and serve them up as a buffet or pack them into picnic hampers for a relaxed summer's wedding (weather permitting!). You can have lots of fun sampling all the local produce too.

Gift List

If you're setting up home, try one of the new green lists to furnish your nest with fair trade and eco-friendly items. It's also a sneaky chance to introduce your guests to some gorgeous green products. They might choose one for you and then realise they'd like one themselves.

If you have all you need, the charity wedding gift list is the obvious option. Your guests can fulfil their urge to give, and your chosen charity reaps the benefits. Everyone wins.

Honeymoon

If you regularly holiday abroad and are concerned about carbon, why not honeymoon closer to home, taking time to savour the delights on your doorstep?

If venturing further afield, don't forget the train: France in a couple of hours then high speed connections into Spain, Italy, Germany. Or ferry it to Belfast, Brittany or Bilbao.

If you do take to the skies, make that flight count by going somewhere your tourist money can really make a difference to the local people and environment - direct it towards conservation efforts and community development.

And last but not least...

Oh yes, I almost forgot the most important one, have a fabulous day and enjoy the rest of your great green life together.

What next?