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Green Is the New White

Saving the environment one wedding at a time

by Jayne Keedle on July 11, 2010

Some little girls grow up dreaming of a white wedding. Annmarie Gianni, 30, wanted hers to be green. She and husband, Kevin, work together as personal trainers and nutritionists in Danbury, Conn. Kevin adheres to a raw food diet, and the couple’s monthly bills include paying for carbon credits to offset their global warming footprint. In short, they recycle, reuse and reduce their environmental impact in every way possible. So it was natural for them to want a wedding that reflected their lifestyle.

“I’ve been to so many weddings that are over the top,” says Gianni. “We wanted it to be how we live our everyday life. The food was the biggest thing. We wanted all organic: That’s how we eat, that’s how we live. My husband is pretty much all raw [food], so that was a challenge.”

There was one other hitch, too. “My parents were paying for the wedding, so they had their say and wanted something more traditional,” says Gianni, who comes from a large Italian family. “My dad was like, ‘What do you mean [there’s] not a pasta station?’”

The wedding was a compromise that didn’t force anyone to sacrifice their ideals. The couple relented on their “no red meat” rule to include a carving station. Creative salads of locally grown organic beets and leafy greens appealed to everyone. Instead of a traditional wedding cake, they had fruit-filled pies with raw almond and date crusts—everyone loves pie.

Like many couples looking to have a green wedding, the Giannis tied the knot outdoors. To reduce vehicle use, they held the ceremony and reception in the same place. The groom wore a linen suit. The bride wore an organic cotton dress. “I tried on the big poof for my mom,” Gianni says, “but my dress wasn’t even a typical wedding dress. It was off-white and just perfect.”

The Giannis’ wedding might not have been typical, but it wasn’t as unusual as it sounds. In these environmentally conscious times, green weddings are becoming quite trendy. At its core, says Emily Anderson, author of Eco-Chic Weddings, a green wedding “is about simplifying and paring down and not going crazy. It’s about conserving resources, the environment, and your time.”

A former event planner for Martha Stewart, Anderson wrote her book in reaction to what she saw as a trend toward ever larger, showier and more elaborate weddings. Anderson’s own wedding was a simple, elegant and organic affair. Her aim in writing the book was to let people know they could make similar choices. “I’m not a green expert. I’m the average bride,” says Anderson. “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Carol Byer-Alcorace, executive chef for New Morning Natural and Organic in Woodbury, Conn., received her first of many requests for a green wedding about four years ago. Organic and all-natural food is one of the main features of a green wedding. In most cases, that means buying local produce. Byer-Alcorace buys from local organic farms, which means her catering menus are seasonal. With enough advance notice, she says, local farmers will also plant additional crops such as asparagus or garlic for her, and a hydroponic farm in Hamden helps keep her in leafy greens and edible flowers year round. Even so, the Northeast growing season requires some creative catering.

Byer-Alcorace uses local bakers to provide natural and organic pies, pastries and breads. She can also direct people to organic wine producers. All of that, however, comes at a price. “One of the biggest challenges is the cost,” says Byer- Alcorace, “because the product line has a tendency to cost more.”

An organic menu can add 10 percent to the price of the wedding. Using recycled and compostable plates, flatware and napkins is also more expensive—and a bit risky. “There are probably lots of stories about forks that melted and spoons that, when dipped in the soup, became a straight line,” says Byer-Alcorace, who tests all the products she uses ahead of time.

Finding a location is another big challenge. The natural choice for many people is to hold the wedding outdoors, which cuts down on heating and air conditioning needs, but can be a logistical nightmare. Kate Harrison, author of The Green Bride Guide, lives in New Haven but chose to have her wedding in the Hudson River Valley to minimize travel for family members coming in from Philadelphia. She and her husband, Barry Muchnick, didn’t want to truck in food or flowers either.

“It was very important to choose a place that had access to [a] garden and organic flowers,” says Harrison. “The biggest thing we had to compromise on was the number of guests.” The couple settled on 150 guests and provided buses to cut down their carbon footprint. They tried to find biodiesel buses, but ultimately gave up on the idea.

Many couples suggest that guests buy carbon credits, which support low carbon energy projects, instead of gifts. (There’s a Web site that helps green wedding planners do that at terrapass.com.) The Giannis offset their wedding’s carbon footprint by donating money they would have spent on party favors to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (ftpf.org), which plants fruit trees in needy communities.

Organic flowers are pretty hard to come by. “In 2003, when I would ask a florist about organic flowers, they would look at me as if I was from outer space,” says Anderson. Although organic flowers are more available now, most cut flowers are imported, typically from South America where pesticides and unfair labor conditions are commonplace. Because flowers are particularly perishable, the floral industry also relies heavily on preservatives. Some couples skip the cut flowers and opt for potted plants that guests can take home. Another way to solve the problem is to hold the wedding outdoors when gardens are in bloom.

For brides, it’s all about the dress. The typical bridal gown, however, is hardly environmentally friendly, with yards of silk, satin, synthetic fabrics, plastic beads and sequins. Some designers make wedding dresses in organic cotton or hemp, but the selection remains comparatively limited. “It’s difficult to find [green] wedding gowns that are actually what the typical bride would like to wear, so the wedding dress is one of the challenging aspects,” says Anderson.

Anderson opted for a traditional gown, but donated it to a charity after the wedding. Harrison bought a damaged gown and had it tailored to suit her tastes. After the wedding, she donated it to Brides Against Breast Cancer. She also made sure all her bridesmaids had dresses they would want to wear again. For the groom, a linen suit or a rented tuxedo is a good solution. Renting from a store that uses a green dry cleaning service is even better.

Wedding invitations are great tree killers, but Emily Post, no doubt, frowns on wedding e-vites. Luckily, there are a wide variety of elegant invitations printed on recycled paper that use organic or soy ink. Some consist of one sheet of paper, which folds to become an envelope and includes a tear-off RSVP. Directing guests to the Internet for directions or to RSVP is another way to cut down on paper, and most people find their friends aren’t offended by an electronic invitation to a bachelor party or bridal shower. “If the only thing you do is choose recyclable paper, that’s fantastic,” says Anderson.

If you’re wondering what to get for the green couple who has everything, here’s a hint: Make a donation. Like many couples who opt for a green wedding, Harrison and her husband suggested that guests make charitable donations in lieu of gifts. Others find a gift registry that supports a cause. “The I Do Foundation allows you to use a regular registry with Amazon and 10 percent goes to the charity of your choice,” says Harrison.

Honeymoon registries are also quite popular, and even those can be green. Some couples combine travel with volunteer work. Others focus on destinations that support the environment in some way, such as staying at a safari park that supports conservation efforts or a beach resort that supports reef protection.

“For me, it’s not about having a green-themed wedding,” says Anderson. “It’s about applying your beliefs to every aspect of your life.”

Jayne Keedle is a freelance writer who first published this story in the New Haven (Conn.) Advocate.