Real ethical weddings

Sarah and Marc's green wedding

Sarah and Marc

The couple: Sarah Irving and Marc Hudson
Wedding date: 27 September 2008
Venue and location: Manchester Registry Office and Manchester Bridge Club
Approx budget: £3500

What inspired you to have an ethical wedding?
I've been involved in environmental and human rights campaigning since my mid-teens, including spending time doing human rights accompaniment in the Middle East and working in social and environmental journalism.

Marc works in the NHS and is very involved in local and national climate change campaigning and education.

So an ethical wedding was always the only option for us - we wouldn't have been comfortable with anything that didn't reflect our values. Both our immediate families were very much in sympathy with this.

Sarah and Marc's green wedding

We were working to a pretty small budget so we wanted to keep consumption to a minimum, and this fitted in with our environmental values too. Both of us preferred not to have a big wedding list - we'd been living together for several years, and didn't feel we could justify getting loads of new 'stuff'.

Instead we opted for a small list of a few things that we did need around the house, for people who were happiest getting us a conventional wedding present, and asked everyone else to donate to an environmental charity or to a youth theatre project in Palestine.

What was the most difficult part about organising an ethical or green wedding?
Finding a venue that allowed us to use our own caterers, but also had reasonable kitchen facilities.

We originally booked a local church hall, which was perfect, until about 6 weeks before the wedding they announced that their building work was going to over-run and they couldn't guarantee that the new concrete floor would have set in time! I nearly had a heart attack.

But then we remembered Manchester Bridge Club, which doesn't advertise itself as a wedding venue but does host functions, and we'd organised benefit events there before so there were links to our everyday lives, which was quite nice.

What was the most fun bit?

Sarah and Marc's green wedding

For me, getting married in a lovely little gold dress which made me feel fantastic but which I'd got for a tenner in a second hand warehouse on Oldham Street in Manchester's 'up and coming' (read: still a bit dodgy) Northern Quarter.

For Marc, probably getting to wind me up about what surname I'd be using after the Big Day...

How did it go on the day?
Great. Our caterers, GreenPlate were incredibly helpful and took so much off my hands.

But Marc's best man, Dave, was an absolute Godsend, and completely saved the day when it came to the cake.

I'd ordered 100 vegan, organic chocolate brownies from On The 8th Day, our local ethical co-operative grocers, and at about 4 in the afternoon, sitting on a lounger in a hotel spa on my hen day, wearing a terry robe and swimsuit, I realised that I'd forgotten to pick them up that morning. But one phone call and all was solved... what a star.

What would be your 5 top tips for brides and grooms planning an ethical wedding?

  • Accept offers of help, but find people single, clear tasks to do that fit their skills - if your mate really 'gets' organic food or second-hand clothes, sign her up for help on that.
  • Find suppliers who will talk to you and listen to what you want; our caterers were just great at talking through what was important to us in terms of organics, local food, fair trade and so on, and working out how best to meet our aspirations within our budget.
  • If you're just looking for a reception venue and don't need it to have a marriage ceremony license, look for places that don't advertise themselves for weddings - they're often cheaper and more flexible in their terms.
  • Most mainstream wedding venues really don't 'get' ethical food. This is likely to be one of the biggest expenditures of the day and to use up the most resources, so if you really want to keep things ethical find a local independent caterer who understands what you're looking for, or use a venue which specialises in this kind of thing.
    The Vegetarian Society and Soil Association have good national listings for vegetarian and organic caterers, hotels, function rooms, and so on.
  • Have fun! What's really more important - matching your seat covers to your napkins, or spending a really special day, not stressed out to insanity, surrounded by the people you love most, and enjoying it?

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer - read about Sarah's work at www.sarahirving.net