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wedding guests

Be my ethical guest

By Sarah Nicholson 

As increasing numbers of couples stop to count the cost of their wedding – to the earth as much as to their bank balance - wedding magazines and websites are starting to devote space to environmental and other ethical issues.

A quick Google search reveals dozens of sites dedicated to helping the happy couple make socially responsible decisions about their wedding day, from the purchase of an ethical engagement ring to romantic destinations that avoid clocking up the air miles.

But what about the guests? You might already try to ‘do your bit’ and feel disappointed that a friend or relative hasn’t paid a moment’s thought to ethical issues. Or you might have been invited to a carbon-neutral wedding – and haven’t a clue what it means.

Or, as is so often the case, your lifestyle and the event you are planning to attend may be an ongoing compromise between ideals and reality.

Whatever your situation, there is always something you can do and, as the saying goes: ‘every little helps.’ Even if you do just one thing, you will be making a difference to the planet.

1. RSVP
If you were asked to reply by email – why not?! It saves paper and the cost of transporting your letter to its destination. If you really want to send a card, choose one made from recycled materials, or a fairly traded one. Of course, you could also send an e-card rather than a straightforward email. The money you save by not buying a card and a stamp could go on the couple’s present, or to a charity collection box.

2. What shall I wear?
Charity shops might not be your usual cup of tea, but it’s worth keeping an open mind as often (especially in more affluent parts of the country) they can be a goldmine of designer or unusual one-off items. But there are other options too: M+S have a strong ethical policy, and even if you don’t find anything to wear there, you could always take a break in one of their cafes which sell only fair trade tea and coffee. Some Fairtrade outlets, like Traidcraft, sell a small selection of clothes as well as beautiful accessories like scarves, jewellery and bags.

3. How am I going to get there?
Of course, it depends how far away the venue is from your home, but consider the options. If several of you are going from the same place, could you hire a minibus? Or share cars? Or use public transport? If the venue is abroad can you get there by train rather than flying? If you live in London or the South-East, hiring an electric car is an option, but not unfortunately for people in other parts of the country.

4. They’re getting married in the middle of nowhere!
As I heard someone comment about my own wedding, although I doubt the inhabitants of a market town between Leeds and Bradford would agree! But if the venue is in a part of the country that you don’t know, why not make a weekend of it and visit the local tourist attractions while you are there. It will help the local economy, especially if you visit small, independent shops…and you might discover a hidden gem!

5. Where shall I stay?
Staying in local B+Bs rather than big hotels helps the local economy, and if you can find one that serves Fairtrade tea and coffee, or uses energy efficient lightbulbs – so much the better!

6. What shall I get them?
This is the biggie. There are so many options now for ethical giving that the hard part is choosing! If the couple have specifically asked for Fairtrade, or environmentally friendly gifts, then the easiest way is to do as requested! There are many beautiful and original gifts that can be bought (online or in an independent retail outlet) that make a difference, either to some of the world’s poorest communities or to the preservation of the environment. The couple may have asked for contributions to a specific charity or to a charity gift list. If they have, and you still feel you want to give them something ‘to remember the day by’, why not buy a small fairly traded present and make a slightly smaller contribution? If the couple have asked for big-store items, you could always buy something smaller and make an unusual addition – planting a tree in their married name, for example! If the couple have a good sense of humour, a ‘condom kit’ (the money goes to providing contraception advice in Africa) from Oxfam Unwrapped can be a humorous present to remember!

7. I think it’s easier to give them money and let the couple choose what they want
So it is…but how about suggesting that the couple put that money into an ethical investment fund, which buys shares in companies that make a positive contribution to the community or environment. Socially responsible savings and investments are becoming more mainstream nowadays, and (hopefully!) the investment will do well –at the same time as doing good.

8. Yes, but I don’t want to choose something from a list. I want to do something different!
Fine! How about making up a hamper of Fairtrade products – not just the staples like tea and coffee, but wine, pasta, rice, honey and jam would make a tasty addition to any kitchen! Or if you want to be really unusual you could make up a box of environmentally friendly cleaning products from Ecover and throw in some energy efficient lightbulbs!

9. On the day itself…
Tissues made from recycled paper, biodegradable confetti and digital cameras (not disposables!) would all help to save the planet.

10. It’s their anniversary already!
A year has gone and it’s time to send them a card to celebrate. How about a beautiful Fairtrade one? And the present? Well, traditionally on the first anniversary paper gifts are given, so how about some recycled paper products – or a book about ethical living?