Planning a sustainable wedding: a southern bride's experience

posted on: Friday, December 19, 2014

As this blog clearly states, I recently got married. What may not be so obvious is that I also recently received a master's degree in sustainability. I know what's coming...what does that even mean? 

For some people and programs it's researching and devising better ways to measure carbon footprints, honing policy, or environmental engineering. My program was 'transdiciplinary' - meant to bring together many backgrounds and educational paths that all had an interest in sustainability. From there we could find our niche and build on our backgrounds by being exposed to topics in clean water research, politics, and cultural studies for example.

My interests lie in shifting lifestyles and beliefs about what we (and the planet) need to be happy, healthy and whole. While that's an idealistic explanation, my strategy for doing this is using communications principles, like event planning for example, to show how such a life can be achieved without coming across as suffering from a loss of quality, style and elegance. 
all photos by Loft Photographie, LLC.
So as a recent graduate of a masters program in sustainability with a personal focus on lifestyle choices, I knew my own wedding was a perfect platform to try and flex my sustainable event planning muscles. As I care deeply for the environment and human wellbeing within it, I was out to prove that I could have a sustainable wedding without sacrificing a lot of the elegance I'd always hoped for (can we say, "southern bride?"). I've worked in design and events before and love both, in addition to being a wedding photographer before the onset of graduate school. 

(The "Duh" Disclaimer: The most eco-friendly wedding is NO wedding at all, but was not an option for us as we wanted an event to bring our families and friends together.) 

I can proudly say, we did the best we could. I had hoped for more sustainable options having the wedding near Austin (half-way between my husband's and my hometowns) and can say from experience now that sustainable, elegant weddings are viewed by the industry as a commodity, something to charge extra for. 

For a year, I worked diligently with my coordinator and all the vendors to identify the parts of the wedding that we could shape sustainably within our budget. This means as little environmental impact as possible, and thinking about lessening the number of "links in the supply chain" that items had to travel to get to our wedding, in addition to the livelihoods and wellbeing of those providing services to us. 

That's a lot to think about, but I think in the coming years, it will become an easier process as brides ask for sustainable elements to their events.

The venue we selected is built of reclaimed materials. To lessen the burden on the rapidly declining Edwards Aquifer, they have installed rain water collection cisterns to water the large grounds. In a drier climate, this certainly helps. 
Ma Maison
Most of our guests were far apart, and even my husband and I live over 1,000 miles from Texas! We opted out of excess travel for wedding showers, as air travel is such a large carbon producer. We had our gifts shipped to us, and just had a little shower for ourselves whenever a box arrived! To make up for any lost family time, we held a wedding weekend for guests with a dinner the night before and brunch the next day. We offered local cabin rentals as options for guests to stay in, especially if they were coming with lots of family.

Not all of our wedding finery was sustainably sourced unfortunately (read: not a lot of options other than "wear what you've got").  I did make an effort to search for sustainably-produced gowns and found many out of my price range, style taste, not to mention I'd have to travel to places like Washington state or even Canada for fittings! I ended up purchasing an off-the-rack sample gown in my town. This means I did not order a gown to specially fit me that would've use new materials and have to be shipped from overseas. I simply had it altered at the store.

The bridesmaids gowns were purchased from a store in my hometown, run by a local resident. These dresses did have to be made to order from a larger company. Groomsmen outfits were rented. Cody's outfit was bought for the occasion, and can easily go from the wedding to work, to other events. 

Our rings were a special case indeed! My engagement ring was Cody's great-grandmother's, and our wedding bands were from a vintage jewelry store. I love the 'never-ending story' feel that comes with selecting antiques.

We used as many local vendors in Austin as we could for food, florals, music, photography and invitations. Our invites were printed on 100% recycled paper. The only things that came from big box stores were the picture frames for signage at the wedding, and even these are going to be used again in our home for the wedding pictures!

All florals were of organic origin (no pesticides used during their growth that can harm nursery workers and seep into groundwater) and were donated to the Girl Scouts the next day. This was done through a new startup company that donates wedding flowers called Repeat Roses. Though based in NYC, they work with your floral designer to find other brides, or charity organizations that are willing to use second hand flowers (after all, they usually look fine the next day!) Candles were all beeswax, a clean-burning substance that contains no harsh fragrance or fumes that can irritate lungs and skin. 

created by EcoChic Floral

The four trees present at the reception were Lacebark Elms and are native to the Austin region. Three were donated to the Girl Scouts to plant, and one was donated to Ma Maison to be planted at the venue. 

Table decor, specifically the place card holders, were wine bottles my parents collected. I spent Halloween scrubbing the labels off in a bathtub, and sawing slits in the corks to hold the paper numbers. These were donated to the venue for other brides to use.

Most of the food was seasonal, USDA-certified organic and locally sourced. By serving seasonal and local veggies as the largest part of the wedding dinner, we prevented shipments having to come from distant regions that subsequently produce huge amounts of carbon. Any leftovers were composted by the caterer at our request (for a considerable fee, sadly). We'd like to highlight that one of the locally grown meats served was local Wild Boar. This animal is growing in destructive numbers across the south and is fairly dangerous to people. It has a wonderful rustic flavor, and made quite a tasty ravioli filling at our wedding. 

All beer and wine served were from the Austin area vineyards, or from my hometown in Louisiana. 
See sign!

There were few, if any disposables at the wedding besides cocktail napkins, and for our grand exit we opted for organic rose petals to be tossed instead of sparklers. Sparklers are made of mined metals that can come from environmentally stressed regions and have dangerous conditions for workers. 

Now, this my blow all my credit with sustainability gurus everywhere, but there really isn't a way for me to know exactly how sustainable my wedding was in the end. I kept no record of the miles traveled by our guests and vendors, and there were certainly pieces that I had wanted to make sustainable but couldn't find an eco alternative I liked, such as bridesmaids dresses for instance. 

 Think systematically, everything comes from somewhere else these days. Act as locally as you can, think about what you can make for yourself (I made pralines as a favor, a local treat from my home state of LA!) There are even sites where guest can purchase carbon credits instead of physical gifts to offset travel, like company Patagonia. I didn't go that far, but would be proud of anyone who did!  For anyone looking to try and plan a "sustainable as possible" wedding, one of my greatest planning resources for a "green" wedding was The Green Bride Guide

Everyone is learning with you at this point in time. I did tons of research into sustainable options, and worked with each of my vendors to identify what would truly be environmentally-friendly and within the style we were going for. I can only thank them for their patience and hard work to make it happen. 

I wouldn't change a thing about my day. I do wish there had been more options that didn't require total DIY on my part (or else it was unaffordable), and I encourage the industry itself to consider the impact it has on the environment and suppliers and accept this challenge I put to them. 

A wedding is a beginning.  It's renewing, humbling and indescribably special. I know I wouldn't have felt entirely wonderful if I hadn't considered my impact, both visible and invisible, in creating my own. We all know that anything with 'wedding' in the description will be charged more for, emotionally-charged purchases are the lifeblood of the industry, after all :)

But with that cost, we can support so much more. 


Post a Comment

Meant Green All rights reserved Design by Blog Milk : Blogger