• Yana

25 eco-friendly wedding tips for a natural and sustainable event

Updated: Jul 23

Weddings generate an immense amount of waste. So, let’s start with some reality check stats. An average wedding produces 400 lbs of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. If you take into consideration an estimated 2.3 million weddings in the US per year, that comes out to approximately 1 billion lbs of garbage and as many emissions as 4 people would produce in a year. In a single day. 

Unfortunately, all of the wedding waste is contributing to a number of much larger issues, overflowing landfills, ocean pollution and rising carbon emissions. If you care about our planet’s future, here are a 25+ actionable items you can incorporate to your wedding day to reduce your negative impact on the environment. To help you measure your energy footprint and start to think about what actions might have the greatest impact for you, try out a carbon Footprint calculator.


Sustainable and eco-friendly wedding ceremony


Destination

The rising popularity of destination weddings leaves an increasingly higher carbon footprint behind, and the majority of it is being used on transportation. Reducing plane travel and car emissions by booking a venue convenient for as many wedding guests as possible is the easiest route to reduce your impact. If you do decide on a destination location, make sure to keep it small and choose sustainable accommodations. This could be a tiny house in the Redwoods powered by solar, or a sustainable tree house in the Big Island of Hawaii. You get the gist of it. If you’re on an island, try to ride a bike or a horse when available. :)

Sustainable venue

Choose a wedding venue that cares about the environment. But what exactly makes a venue eco-conscious? The most eco-friendly wedding venues might be well insulated, use solar power, sustainable building materials and are committed to recycling and reusables. Look for a venue that combines the most green initiatives. Another way to reduce your impact on the environment is to consider a dual-site. These types of venues can accommodate for both the ceremony and reception, rather than booking two separate locations for your wedding day. This approach will cut down on carbon emissions from guest and vendor transportation. Additionally, outdoor spaces such as farms and gardens tend to be more eco-friendly, so hosting your ceremony and reception outside will cut down on electricity usage. Just imagine a gorgeous candle lit al fresco dinner under the stars. 

Host a backyard wedding 

If you host a green backyard wedding in your home, you are also gaining more power over your green practices. Some venues have restrictions on bringing in vendors, so if you care about lowering your wedding day carbon footprint and you want to do things your way, this might be the right route for you. From the perspective of keeping everything eco-friendly, you can start with a budget plan to limit overspending on unnecessary things. Once you have a better idea of how your day will look, you can start thinking about setting up your home for a sustainable event, using local vendors, developing a garbage disposal plan and start your energy/water conservation efforts. 


Always support local

Use local vendors for your hair and make-up, photography, videography, bar service, catering, cake, florist and anything else you might need. This will help keep your money in the local communities and reduce the carbon footprint of tens of vendors commuting to your wedding site from afar. 

Green send-off

Instead of using sparklers for your exit, that often end up in a landfill after being used, consider dried lavender (amazing fragrance!), flower petals, birdseed, eucalyptus leaves, or bio-degradable confetti. These wedding exit alternatives are 100% natural and also make for beautiful photos.


Sustainable and eco-friendly reception


Candlelight

Limit the amount of electricity you need at nighttime by lighting eco-friendly soy-based or beeswax candles by local candle makers. This option doubles as romantic decor and sets the right mood after sunset. Soy and beeswax candles are clean burning (emitting 95 percent less soot than paraffin candles) and often last longer. When burned, these candles release essential oils, which can add enchanting seasonal scents to the air. 

Seasonal flowers and other wedding bouquet alternatives

If you’re a creative, artsy couple and you’d like to sprinkle a bit of surprise into your day, you might want to venture out to a local grocery store and explore their flower selection. Featuring local seasonal blooms in your bouquet and floral decor is one great way to cut costs and participate in sustainable floral practices. 

And then, there is this gorgeous but “off the beaten path” trend. Imagine you and your whole wedding party holding fluffy soft cotton bouquets with small pops of color! They’re especially popular with outdoor weddings and barn weddings.

Decorate with potted plants, succulents and cacti

If you opt for potted plants, they can live on for years! Potted plants, succulents and cacti will help decorate your space, invite cozy vibe and create a specific visual atmosphere. A gorgeous rainforest or a boho desert? You can really let your fantasy run wild with this one. 

Rent decor

Rather than buying all of your decor and furniture, use a rental for reusable items such as linens, furniture, and chandeliers. Buying second hand items is also a great way to repurpose and recycle unique, one of a kind, items. If you have to buy wedding decor, get things that you would love to use in your own home.

If you already own visually interesting furniture that you’d like to incorporate in your wedding, you can create a comfortable lounge area with carpets, poufs, leather camp chairs and colorful sofas. This approach will instantly personalize your wedding space. You can also use it for your portrait session. 

Reuse decor at your wedding

There are so many ways to reuse items at your wedding. Ceremony backdrop can be transformed into a photo booth, wedding party bouquets can become bar arrangements, dining table decor or food station arrangements. Ceremony chairs can become dinner chairs when it’s time. 


Sustainable and local food


Local spreads of antipasti

Grazing tables usually take shape as a charcuterie board or spread of antipasti with assortments of sustainable meats, local cheeses, olives, and artisanal breads. You can give these a seasonal take by adding fruits and herbs. This delicious array lets guests nibble on multiple things from the same display. 

Farm-to-table caterer

Carbon emissions involved with shipping food across the globe have a negative impact on the environment. Choosing an eco-friendly caterer will ensure that your food is prepared in a sustainable way. It’s important to find caterers that not only compost, but source their food from sustainable and local farms, by identifying which foods are in season and locally available. Imported meats (lamb, beef, pork) and cheeses have the highest carbon footprint, so you will get serious eco points if you opt for a vegetarian or a vegan menu.

Biodegradable utensils

When you’re thinking about a DIY wedding, you might be looking for something simple and easy when it comes to table settings. Unfortunately, if you use single use papers and plastics for your dishes, cups, or utensils, these items are likely to end up in a landfill. You can have a conversation with your vendors about using sustainable, compostable, or reusable dishware and recycled paper goods. Cutting plastic straws and choosing eco-friendly alternatives can make a big impact. Bamboo plates, corn syrup utensils, and biodegradable straws are all readily available.


Single glass for beverages

Giving guests a new glass every time they come up to the bar leads to a whole lot more dishes to wash, which doesn’t exactly help with conserving energy and water. Providing each guest with a glass (or a personalized mason jar wedding favor) throughout the wedding reception keeps things simple and sustainable. The bar produces immense amount of waste, not just from excessive glassware use, but also from serving beverages that come in individual cans or bottles. Opt for a keg instead when you can. 

Natural edible favors

Traditional wedding favors are so last decade. Give guests edible favors served in reusable containers such as mason jars. Consider serving local jam or sustainable honey purchased from a local farm so the guests can get a taste of the local flavors. Giving out succulents or personalized seed packets is another great and literally green idea. Whatever is left behind can be collected by the couple and used to start a garden.


Donate or compost flowers and food waste

Food and flower waste makes up for a large amount of trash and it often ends up in a landfill, while it could be easily composted or donated. Talk to your eco-conscious caterer about what happens to your food waste after the wedding, and make sure there is a plan in place to either donate or compost leftovers. The same goes for your flowers. If you have bouquets and centerpieces on every table, that means a lot of flowers go to waste at the end of the day. They can either be given to guests to take home with them, composted along with your food waste, or donated to people in health care facilities.

Sustainable and eco-friendly wedding fashion


Ethical rings

Start your engagement off on a green foot with an antique diamond that has been in the family for decades. If you plan to purchase new, make sure your diamond is collected in a socially responsible manner. Diamond and gemstone mining and the use of precious metals means that wedding jewelry has a long negative history for our planet and laborers. That’s why choosing ethical and eco-friendly wedding jewelry should be the first decision you make for your wedding day. You can also consider ditching the diamond entirely in favor of a gemstone that is more ethically sourced.

Sustainable and ethical wedding attire designers

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a brand new wedding dress, but fast fashion is a huge contributor to pollution and water use. Look for local and sustainable designers for your wedding attire instead. There are dozens of designers that are thoughtful about their process, who use recycled fabric and natural dyes. If you're looking for amazing sustainable fashion, Leanne Marshall creates wedding dresses made for movement. The company use natural fibers and sustainable textiles packaged in recycled materials or eco bags that completely dissolve in hot water. 

Secondhand or vintage wedding dresses and accessories

Wearing secondhand or vintage means you are giving a wedding dress a second life. One of the best places to search for a pre-loved wedding dress is Ann Arbor’s Brides Project. They take donations from all across the country. Some are donated by brides who want to see them dance another day. Many are donated directly from bridal salons, so they are brand new! The best part of all is that the money raised from the sale of gowns supports families touched by cancer.

And if you are a vintage lover, I don’t need to tell you that Etsy is full of unique vintage wedding finds. Additionally, antique veils are classic and timeless, and a great way to include a one-of-a-kind accessory in your look.

Rent suits and tuxedos, mix and match bridesmaids dresses 

Rather than having the groom and groomsmen purchase matching suits or tuxedos, rent instead. Bridesmaids don’t have to all match either. You can give them a specific color scale to buy a flattering dress they feel comfortable in, rather than spending hundreds on a fast fashion dress they might never wear again. 

Faux fur and shawl

If you live in Michigan, there is a good possibility you might be getting married in the winter. Fur coat or a shawl can add unique elegance to your look, but make sure your fur is faux before you buy it. It will help save an animal’s life.

Cruelty-free cosmetics

When booking your hair and makeup stylists, ask about their product line choices. Make sure the makeup and hair products aren’t tested on animals.


Eco-friendly wedding stationery

Wedding invitations from eco-friendly brands

Save the dates, engagement announcements, wedding invitations, and RSVP cards are another source of waste when it comes to weddings. The good news is that there are many eco-friendly stationery brands that do everything they can to reduce their impact on the environment. Choose paper products made from recycled materials and try to reduce the number of printed pieces you need. For example, use one menu per table instead of one for each place setting. Use recycled paper products, email correspondence when possible or try plantable paper for other wedding stationery.

Print your invitations and placeholders on natural plantable paper

If you’re choosing to print your invitations at home, you have plenty of cool options on how to make them more eco-friendly. Natural plantable paper is one of my absolute favorites, because it grows into flowers when …planted! The best part is, that you can buy high quality card stock and print your plantable wedding invitations and guest place cards right at home.

Or skip wedding invitations entirely

If you aren’t paper obsessed, you can also choose to go entirely digital with your invitations. There are many options that will accommodate your digital wedding stationery needs, for example Greenvelope.

Wedding gifts

Choose experiences over things

If you are an adventurer, a free spirit ready to embark on your honeymoon rather than receiving a plethora of wedding gifts you might never use, creating a Honeyfund registry might help you receive money for airfare, accommodation, restaurants, and experiences that make your honeymoon absolutely epic!


Follow these 3 simple steps to book me for your sustainable wedding day:


  1. Check out my contact page

  2. Say hi

  3. And share your story!


Cheers,

Yana


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Ann Arbor, Detroit, Michigan & Midwest boutique wedding photographer.
Traveling worldwide for adventurous weddings & intimate elopements.

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