Real ethical weddings

Eco-matrimony by Julia Belgrave

I grew up in a small house, on a mountain, surrounded by trees, rocks and fields. I grew up watching deer graze next to our house and wild turkeys meander through the grass. I grew up respecting and revering nature in a way that seems to be lost on those who have always lived in an urban setting.

My husband, Beau, grew up in a more urban setting than I did, but in the midst of trees and horse pastures – a sort of suburban forest. I believe because of this he came to have the same respect that I do. So, even though it isn’t always convenient or easy, we try to live our lives in a way that lessens an impact that we don’t intend to make.

Wastetastic weddings

Weddings are a celebration of waste - a gathering of useless junk that detracts from the meaning of the festivities. If you peruse any popular wedding site you come across a table of contents with no less than 10 very important things you must think about as a modern bride. Cake, flowers, invitations, rings, dresses, tuxedos, bands, lighting, photographers, videographers, and caterers. The list is endless.

A friend who recently got married told me that as a surprise her father had bought both her and her sister an ice sculpture fitting to the theme of their wedding. Imagine showing a person living through a drought a picture of water frozen into the shape of a cactus – it’s one purpose to look pretty and melt. When we put things into this context it seems silly to have these extremes in commemoration of wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone.

Small is beautiful

So my husband and I decided to do things small, efficient, and as mindful as we could. In no way were we perfect. My bride brain caught me at some moments, and wouldn’t let go of certain aspects I felt I couldn’t live without. Looking back, I try not to allow the guilt to meander into my memories of that day, but there are always things we would do differently.

What's in a ring?

After being given a beautiful 1.5 carat engagement ring, and no documentation of what country the diamond was from (GIA does not require this listing on a diamond certificate), I felt it was important that our wedding rings symbolize the importance of recycling and fair trade. But what was available for “alternative” wedding rings was not my style. I enjoy modern trends and fancy department stores, but I have my ethics.

I stumbled upon a wonderful site that was a lot like popular ring design websites only it offered conflict free diamonds and recycled and renewed platinum. Although I couldn’t see the rings in person and try them on, it meant more to me to be able to support this venture. We ordered simple rings, both in renewed platinum and mine with channel set Canadian conflict free diamonds.

Love your local suppliers

Because I grew up in Mendocino County, the middle of wine country, I had always imagined having a wedding at sunset by the vineyards. I chose Redwood Valley Cellars (now Barra of Mendocino) and was surprised to find that the majority of wine they produce is organic. Although in a small town it’s hard not to support local business (chains and franchises are rarely established) it was important to me to not have to order supplies from all over the country. Our wine was grown, fermented, bottled and served all within a 1 mile radius of our wedding site and all with the support of natural and organic methods. We also served a beer that was locally produced as well as organic.

Food was one of the more difficult items to remain in the “green” theme. Unless you want to pay too much money and have someone travel up to 100 miles, it’s hard to find a solely organic, cage free and locally grown caterer. We just didn’t have the budget, although I stumbled across some delicious sounding natural and organic caterers. We compromised by choosing a local caterer (less car travel) who promised to do her best to use organic locally grown items.

To give or not to give?

Registering for gifts was another land mine. Although I knew the right thing to do would be to have guests donate to charities and organizations of our choice, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for Fiestaware and Kate Spade vases. This is the consumerist in me that is hard to avoid. Here we made another compromise – we registered for only things we needed. Macys had a surprisingly wonderful selection of organic bedding and towels.

We also registered at Gaiam.com – an online only store that has natural, organic and green living items. Instead of ridiculously expensive and never used china, we accepted an offer from my grandfather for his and my late grandmother’s wedding china and a set of passed down silverware. I feel this is an option that is more meaningful and less wasteful.

Green guilt

Besides, the above, there wasn’t much more that I was able to “green” in my wedding. I felt a sense of guilt about this, but often doing things green necessitates a larger budget. I didn’t mail a bunch of information printed on paper, we just kept a wedding website with pertinent information. We encouraged our guests through our website to use TerraPass and donate money for the travel carbon emissions. I encouraged guests to recycle their invitations, to not choose gift wrap on purchased registry gifts, and to just be aware.

Although many green wedding wonders were not in our budget, I did find the beauty of having a small wedding budget. It limited our ability to buy useless trinkets that magazines and websites wanted us to believe we needed. No paper favors, no programs, no paper menu per person.

What's important?

Throughout the stressful wedding process just keep asking yourself as you plan –“ Do I really need this and is it important to me?” If so, then your green guilt is unnecessary and unfounded. After all, it is your wedding, and the fact that you are aware is helping more than you may imagine.

By Julia Belgrave