When I first got engaged, I had ideas of a big wedding with all the trimmings to fit the image of what I’d always thought weddings should be (thanks Disney). But the more my fiancé and I discovered about our options and the more we stripped it back to our ideals and values as a couple, we realised that our wedding choices didn’t match our life choices. We are both very eco-conscious; we love the ocean and nature, we shop locally at our farmers market, avoid single-use plastic, always take our keep cups everywhere and often do spontaneous beach cleans on our walks. So why wouldn’t we incorporate these values into our wedding day?
Planning a wedding is no simple feat and it can be easy to get swept up in the tidal wave of bridal industry trends, expectations and targeted advertising. As quickly as you become engaged, you will notice your social media filling up with ads, inspiration, sponsored posts and an inundation of information to help you plan your “perfect” day.
But what does perfect mean to you as a couple? What values and memories do you want to carry into your married life? When we decided to strip our wedding down to a beach elopement, we were lucky to find our celebrant, Arlene McInherny, from Oceans of Love Elopements. Arlene taught us that the most fundamental thing for a couple to do is to explore your shared values. If one of your shared values is being kind to the environment, then allow that to flow into your wedding day.
Did you know that the wedding industry in Australia generates about two billion dollars each year? The average couple has a wedding of around 100 guests and spends from $30,000-$60,000 to say, “I do”. And that isn’t the only staggering statistic. The numbers show that a traditional wedding also emits approximately 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide and around 180-270 kilograms of garbage and waste. When you consider there are estimated to be 116,000 weddings in Australia every year, these numbers very quickly stack up against the environment.
Arlene explains that this detriment can extend further, from guests and the wedding party buying a new outfit for one day (fast fashion) to carbon usage from travel, unwanted wedding gifts and even aspects that may not necessarily be considered, such as environmental damage from pesticide sprays on florals.
If you want more from your wedding day than a hefty bill and a hangover, the good news is that there has been a noticeable shift in the wedding industry as couples begin to buck the trend of lavish weddings and lean into elopements and micro weddings.
Especially during 2020, with many couples having to postpone or drastically scale down their plans, it has put a mirror up to the traditional-style celebration, with hundreds of guests and a huge carbon footprint. It has proven that your wedding isn’t about the big venue, flashy cars or a seven-course dinner; ultimately your wedding is about being united with the person you love. And whether that is in your back garden or on a deserted beach, the end result is the same.
Part of this industry shift towards elopements tells us that it’s okay for your wedding to be green and kind to the earth. It’s okay to do your own thing and totally own it. Arlene explains that choosing greener options doesn’t mean couples need to make huge sacrifices to their day; it’s about being educated and creative to discover the most eco-friendly approaches.
For eco-conscious brides and grooms, there are many considerations that help to protect the environment and minimise the footprint of your big day.
We know that transport is the biggest contributor to global carbon emissions, so the first thing to consider for a low-footprint wedding is your travel situation. It’s ideal if you can have a local wedding where most of your guests live, however these days it’s more than likely there will be interstate and even overseas travel involved. Consider how many guests will have to fly and how far, and try to find a destination that will have the lowest impact. You can also politely request or invite your guests to tick the carbon offset for any flights, which will donate money from the airline to a program that reduces carbon emissions. If your guests are driving, consider carpools or hiring a bus, rather than taking separate cars.
Choosing your wedding dress is such an iconic moment for all brides, and something that should feel special and align with your values and beliefs. There are several ways to find a dress that is sustainable, rather than opting for a fast fashion fix. As most dresses are only worn once, there are many high-quality, second-hand dresses available on sites such as Still White and Love Me Twice, or you could consider hiring or borrowing options. You could also get creative and opt for a vintage gown or recreate a piece from your family, such as your mother or grandmother if they still have their dresses. If refurbishing isn’t your style, choose a local designer and try to find one who has sustainable practices and, where possible, designs and makes their dresses onsite. Some of our favourite ethical Australian designers are Lenka Couture and Pearl Button.
The greenest option for catering is to choose local and find a company that sources local, seasonal ingredients. Plant-based menu items will also be the most environmentally friendly options and although having a vegan wedding won’t suit everyone, perhaps you could talk to your caterers about opting for 50-75 per cent plant-based. There are some delicious and creative dishes to be made with plants and if you don’t make a “thing” of it, then most guests won’t even notice. Or you can just own it and make the whole affair proudly vegan, including the wine and cake!
One of the most important sustainable choices that Arlene recommends is to choose local. This includes suppliers of food, drinks, flowers, musicians and other vendors. Consider their values and environmental policies as well. Arlene offers eco-friendly confetti for her couples after the ceremony as a way to have the celebration moment in a conscious way. You can even choose to have an eco-friendly staycation for your honeymoon to help limit carbon emissions from travel and transport.
Invitations and decorations
In 2021, paper invitations are almost a thing of the past. Using e-invites may not seem as personal, but it will help to reduce paper waste. If you are nostalgic and really want to send invitations in the post, why not opt for plantable wedding invitations? These are recycled and biodegradable invitations that are embedded with seeds so they can be planted after use and grow into flowers. You can find these on Etsy or Eco Bloom.
Arlene also highlights the option to choose a “give back” option for your wedding gifts to help with carbon offsetting, such as a donation to a not-for-profit organisation that plants trees. Or if you planned bonbonnieres or favours for your guests, you could make a donation on their behalf to a charity or conservation fund such as Australian Conservation Foundation or the Clean Ocean Project. Alternatively, if you choose a gift registry or to have physical bonbonnieres, consider supporting local and sustainable businesses.
As engaged couples, it is us who are leading the way for the environment and creating change in the industry with the power of our choices. You can make informed decisions every step of the way, feel empowered by educating yourself about options and keep connected with conscious consumerism. Ultimately, when it comes to wedding planning, if you’re a nature-loving couple, you don’t need to compromise your core values. There are so many opportunities to incorporate eco-friendly practices into your day that you can be ethically responsible and still have the wedding of your dreams.
Jade Hunter is a writer, yoga teacher and naturopath. She is passionate about sustainable living, herbal medicine and plant-based nutrition. When Jade isn’t writing or studying, you’ll find her surfing, going on road trips or curled up with a good book.
Thoughtful insights from Arlene McInherny of Oceans of Love Elopements. Oceans of Love Elopements is a group of vendors from the mid-north coast of NSW that have become part of the mindful movement for eco-ethical and sustainable weddings. They are a team that is often surfing, bushwalking and spending time with their families in nature and they do business that respects and reinforces their love of the environment.