Real ethical weddings

Sarah and Theo's green wedding

Sarah and Theo

The couple: Sarah and Theo
Wedding date: 11 October 2008
Venue and location: The RSA, London

What inspired you to have an ethical wedding?
There was never any question that our wedding would be an ethical affair.

Living as ethically as possible is a fundamental part of our lives, and of Sarah's job as sustainable development manager for a travel company, and both of us were determined that this would be reflected in our wedding.

However, neither of us has ever embraced the ‘hair shirt' aspects of sustainability, and a mystical ceremony in a yurt was never going to be for us.

We wanted a traditional wedding day, and weren't concerned about it being overtly green - in fact, we didn't mind if none of our guests noticed, as long as they were having a good time.

What was the most difficult part about organising an ethical or green wedding?

Sarah and Theo's green wedding

Because our wedding was ‘secretly' green, we didn't encounter too many problems in organising it.

We chose a venue with an environmental policy (The RSA in central London) where we could hold both the ceremony and reception, and that was easily accessible by public transport.

We used as few decorations as possible, selecting reusable items where we could - for example, fairy lights owned by the venue, and orchids rather than cut flowers to decorate the tables. We had to compromise on the bouquets, though, as Sarah deemed it too difficult to walk down the aisle with a pot plant...

Rather than holding a formal wedding list, we asked our guests for home-made or creative presents. While some of our friends thought this was a fantastic idea, others were less confident in their creative abilities, and we ended up choosing a range of crockery as a back-up option.

What was the most fun bit?

Sarah and Theo's green wedding - the orchids

From the moment we decided to ask for home-made presents, we were both looking forward to finding out what our guests could create. We weren't disappointed: from paintings and mix CDs to jam and quilting, our guests proved themselves a very creative bunch.

Our favourite present of all was a ‘talking stick' - something to hold during a heated debate so that one person speaks at a time - made by a young family who found the stick in their local woods and decorated it by hand with beads.

We found that organising an ethical wedding was full of unexpected delights. For example, once we'd decided we weren't going to be seduced into buying anything we didn't really need, we had lots of fun flicking through the wedding magazine pages dedicated to party favours, monogrammed napkins and ever more expensive gifts - and completely ignoring them!

As part of our commitment to use as few cut flowers as possible, we bought eight beautiful orchids for our tables. At the end of the night we needed to find good homes for them. In a day when we'd received so many gifts and compliments, it was lovely to give them away to the guests we thought would appreciate them.

How did it go on the day?

Sarah and Theo's green wedding

The day itself went better than even we could have hoped - despite the stresses of organising the wedding, we both found time to relax and enjoy ourselves.

The ceremony itself was small, with family and close friends in attendance. Our families all contributed to the ceremony: the bridal march and exit music were written for us, a scratch choir of family members entertained the guests, and two of our grandparents witnessed the signing of the register.

Our wedding breakfast was entirely vegetarian (giving it a much lower carbon footprint) and locally sourced where possible, and we chose fair trade wine to go with it. We were concerned that our guests wouldn't like the veggie food - but in the event, we had lots of compliments on how delicious it was!

In the evening we invited all our friends to join us at the reception, and it was wonderful to be able to share our special day with so many people.

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

We followed some simple rules for our wedding:

    Sarah and Theo's green wedding - the cake
  • We looked at the elements of the wedding that caused the biggest impact - in our case, the environmental impact of our guests' travel and the ‘food miles' of our wedding breakfast - and concentrated on reducing that impact.
  • We decided what was important to us and didn't budge when people questioned our decision. For example, we were determined to have locally sourced, vegetarian food, and were prepared to defend it to our guests. In the event, everyone loved it... and we were more relaxed about the smaller things being less than perfect.
  • Our aim was that everything we used at the wedding would be taken away and re-used somehow - we wanted the cleaning staff at the venue to fill fewer binbags than they ever had! In the event, the only footprint we left at the venue was a few biodegradable rose petals.
  • We concentrated hard at the weddings we attended as we were organising ours - and we weren't afraid to steal good ideas!
  • We asked for help where we needed it. My friend Lulu, a graphic designer, created our beautiful wedding invitations and organised for them to be printed on recycled paper - and Theo's mum Phillipa baked and decorated our wedding cake.

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