Going green. Being eco-friendly. Making more conscious decisions as a consumer. All of these hopeful statements have been topping the 2020 New Year’s Resolutions list for both ourselves and loved ones alike. For those of you who are getting married in 2020 or hope to get married someday in the future, the wedding adds an entirely new layer to our desire to do good, or do better, for the planet. The problem is, getting through a day without a plastic bag or plastic-lined coffee cup can seem like a big enough challenge as is. Green-ifying our wedding? Where does one even start. That’s why we turned to the Sustainability Concierge herself, Friday Apaliski. She is a sustainability expert who has made it her life’s work to help others live sustainably as both a personal guide and an implementation guru. We sat down with her to talk all things weddings, from choosing the right vendors to little things that you can do to help throw the eco-friendly wedding of their dreams.
I was working at the San Francisco Department of the Environment as their Marketing and Communications Specialist. As part of this job, I sat with the scientists and policy makers every day to understand exactly what they were doing and why so that I could explain it outwardly, to our constituents, in a clear way. One of the delightful consequences of learning this information so well and being so close to so many experts was that my friends and family would text me all the time asking about sustainability solutions. “Is this recyclable?” “Can this go in the compost?” “What shampoo do you use?” “Where did you buy a non-toxic mattress?” Should I be worried about hot coffee in to-go cups?” I realized that there are A LOT of people who realize they need to make a change, but just don’t know how to. They want to do better, but they need a little help. I started Sustainability Concierge to do just that.
It means that my day to day is always some mixture of learning and sharing best practices with my current networks, reaching out to meet new people in my field, and helping clients directly to make change. My clients benefit from my encyclopedic-type knowledge, combined with my experience as a parent and wife and career professional, on how to mix sustainability with real life. I don’t look like the traditional environmentalist, which I think is a good thing. That image can turn many people off. I’m focused on helping my clients do the best THEY can do, not turning them into someone else or the textbook stereotype of an environmentalist.
Overall, remember that there are no rules you have to follow for a wedding. This is YOUR event. And your choices matter. This isn’t a time to brush off sustainability in favor of convenience. This event marks the beginning of your union, your love, and your family. If you want it to be sustainable, you can make it so.
Anytime we use single-use items, this is not sustainable. It takes a large amount of energy and resources to make something that is only used once and then thrown away. Whenever you can avoid this situation, it is best. Try substituting cloth napkins for customized paper napkins. With your flowers, opt for potted plants as centerpieces and decorations and avoid cut flowers where you can.
Food waste is one of the biggest problems we face with weddings, and in general. It takes a lot of energy and resources to grow and deliver food. When it isn’t eaten and is left to rot in a landfill, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 32 times as powerful as what comes out of the tailpipe of your car. Ensuring that extra food doesn’t end up in the landfill is a big thing to be conscious of for any couple getting married. You could provide guests with to go boxes so they can take home leftovers. You could even get reusable metal ones from a place like EcoLunchbox or UKonserve and make them your party favor. You can also work with your caterer or use apps like GoCopia to ensure that the leftover food is taken to a shelter where people in need can enjoy it.
Gifting is another area to consider when going more eco-friendly. Getting married is a great time to think about “buy me one” type items. I encourage everyone to choose fewer but higher quality, items so they will last for decades. Ten years later I still know who gave me the kitchen tools that I use each day. If you are worried about the cost of these items, use a registry tool that will allow guests to buy a portion of one gift, rather than the whole thing. And if you are able to register at a local store, work with them to see if you can pick up your items once a week or once a month so you don’t have everything packaged and shipped to you individually, which is wasteful.
Out of town welcome bags are really popular and a nice way to thank your guests for traveling to your big celebration. One easy thing to do is to skip the plastic bottle of water. If you are getting married in the US there is almost no reason not to drink the tap water. Give your guests a reusable water bottle for their trip. You can even pre-fill it if you like. Also, consider the packaging you use and put into the bags. If you want to give your guests some tasty treats, work with your caterer or a local bakery/deli to purchase items that can be put into your own packaging. I love a stamped wax paper bag. If you are giving your guests some ideas of where to visit, make sure to list locally owned small businesses - this can be cafes or restaurants or boutique shops. You might even consider offsetting their travel as an additional thank you. A round trip cross-country flight emits about 1.5 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, which only costs about $15 to offset. Check out TerraPass or CoolEffect for offsetting projects.
When you are thinking about any event start with asking yourself this:
What businesses am I going to support when I spend money on this event?
The second thing you want to think about is how to make these events experiences that will be joyful and long lasting for your guests. Do you really need chotchkies and favors to make the experience memorable?
I’m a big believer in a paper invitation for a formal event. When you are shopping for invites, whether for the engagement party or your big day, make sure to look for recycled paper, or even bamboo paper. And when you are planning all of the encompassing events, consider an electronic invite. One thing I love about Paperless Post is that you can send an electronic invite, but have a printed copy sent to you for your scrapbook.
Before: make sure all your vendors are on board with your ideas about sustainability. They are working to make your event to YOUR liking, so use your voice to ensure your values are upheld. If you can hire a small local business, preferably one that is Green Certified, you’ll have a better chance of making this happen.
Even though I know every bride envisions their bridesmaids wearing their dresses over and over, we all know that is a real rarity. Rather than ask folks to buy a dress they will only wear once, consider using Rent The Runway for your bridesmaids’ dresses and jewelry. For gentlemen, renting tuxedos has been a common practice. For a less formal look, ask them to all wear suits of the same color (this has become quite popular for bridesmaids as well).
During: just enjoy yourself. It’s better to spend your time ahead of time planning, so that you don’t have to think about anything during the wedding except enjoying the loved ones around you who are there to celebrate you.
After: the best thing you can plan for after the wedding is over is to make sure nothing goes to waste. If you have flowers, send them home with guests or have them delivered to a senior center. If you have centerpieces or other decorations that can be used again, put them on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace so that another couple can enhance their wedding (something old or something borrowed!).
1) Skip the disposables for eating. Use cloth napkins, durable cutlery, and real glasses. These can all be rented fairly inexpensively.
2) Skip the plastic favors. Really consider if this is something someone will use again for a long time. If not, maybe skip it. I love food as favors. I gave away small jars of homemade jam.
3) Have take-home boxes for the leftovers. There is sure to be a ton of food left over at your wedding. Make sure guests can take home anything they didn’t eat on their own plate, or if it is a buffet, take home leftovers that can be shared.
4) Borrow or rent as many items as you can so you are buying less.
Sustainability and being eco-friendly now really has to be part of everything we do, even weddings. It is up to all of us to change the status quo to ensure that our environment is healthy so we can thrive in the future.
Many couples get married are going to be thinking about starting a family. If that is you, you have extra motivation to kick off your union in an eco-friendly way. The choices we make today affect all future generations. You don’t want your children or grandchildren looking back on photos of your big day and commenting about all the waste we were accustomed to generating.
There are not many events in one’s life where a person spends as much as they do on a wedding. This is a big opportunity to use the power of your dollars to demand change from many businesses. Vote with your dollars. Buy local. Reduce your plastic footprint, especially single use plastic. Show this industry that these practices matter to you.
A party without cake is just a meeting.
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