The average UK wedding – with its long-distance guests, elaborate dinner, hothouse flowers and fleet of taxis – has a carbon footprint larger than the average person has for a whole year. It drains fuel and sends vast quantities of waste to landfill.
Planet-conscious alternative choices for brides are multiplying rapidly. If you love luxury, a wedding can be ethical but still dazzling and extravagant – organic caterers, conflict-free diamonds, Fair Trade fashion and silk bouquets are all available for an 'eco-chic' wedding.
But all this luxury – whether you choose eco-friendly options or not – can be massively expensive. The average wedding now costs £20,000. The pressure of putting on a perfect wedding sometimes panics people into buying things they don't need. The suppliers of drinks, dresses, cakes and flowers certainly know how to capitalise on pre-wedding nerves.
When I planned my wedding recently, adverts pressed me to buy all kinds of extravagances that I had never before considered. I found myself confused about what we really needed for the wedding and totting up wild budgets in my head. Could we do it frugally, I wondered, by begging, borrowing and making everything? Would a DIY wedding be fun, or would it take all the fun out of it? In fact, our adventures planning a DIY wedding were almost as much fun as the day itself. Here are my top tips for a wedding that won't break the bank or plunder the planet.
Green Wedding Flowers
Find out which plants flower during the month you are marrying, and grow some yourself or encourage green-fingered family members to grow some for you. We grew crocuses, daffodils and primroses. My mother-in-law, who is a gardener, helped to make sure there were enough and took charge of planting up some attractive pots for the tables. A bag of 90 crocus bulbs was £5 and miniature daffs came in bags of 30 for £5. Some came up too early but many were flowering on the day. And after the wedding, the pots of spring flowers lived on for weeks.
It may be possible to use your own flowers for the bouquets too – but if flower arranging is not your thing, many silk flower arrangements are very beautiful and can be bought second hand from eBay or charity shops.
Green Wedding Receptions: Fair Trade & Local Catering
If you have a small number of guests, consider asking family, friends or a local mobile caterer to cook the food and serve it. This keeps costs down and means you can choose how the food is sourced. To manage the work involved, you can prepare some food weeks in advance and freeze it. This is a tall order for anyone with no professional experience and is probably only sensible for a very small wedding. Our wedding had too many guests for this. If this is the case for you, but you still want to make the menu as sustainable as possible, your best bet may be to choose a venue where food is part of the package and simply try to pick a menu that is likely to be sourced reasonably locally. For example leek and stilton soup as our starter was probably, we decided, a better bet than melon.
The package deal meant we had little control over the sourcing of the food. But I wrote to the centre's chef offering to find local and Fair Trade suppliers who would match the prices of their existing suppliers. The centre did allow us to contact their meat supplier, who turned out to be very sympathetic and agreed to make sure that the chicken was from a British farm. They also took the time to tell us where the different meats they sell are sourced.
Green Wedding Venues
Many of our friends have held their weddings in their own gardens, perhaps in a marquee – which is great if you have a big garden and a summer wed-ding! Our wedding was in spring, and after investigating waterlogged fields, portable heaters, parking problems and tent costs, we quickly decided that indoors was much more feasible and more ecological.
Holding the wedding in a hall means you don't need energy-hungry heaters, you're not attempting to cook or heat food on outdoors appliances, and no large structures (marquees, portaloos and tables) will need to be transported on lorries. You can use the facilities that a local hall has waiting for you, and the weather can't spoil your plans.
Green Wedding Invitations
We made an online invitation for our guests, linked to a website with all our wedding details such as venue maps and the plan of the day. Guests could click to RSVP and were offered text boxes to fill in food allergies or other notes. We could monitor who had visited the site without having to phone guests and chase them.
The online invitations saved paper, energy and money, as we did not need wed-ding stationary or stamps. It turned out only two guests did not have internet access, and printing the information out for two or three people was no trouble – a lot easier than printing for two hundred people.
Eco Wedding: Favours
We borrowed a van the day before the wedding and collected potted plants from helpful friends and family. This gave us plenty of foliage. We also borrowed a cake stand from friends. Chat to other couples who have recently married and they will often have things you can borrow – I was offered all kinds of things that are usually bought and used once before being discarded.
We got more pots and plants by posting a note on www.freecycle.com. This online community helps people who desperately need something find people who are giving that something away. It is a fantastic re-cycling tool which I use all the time for giving away my clutter and picking up useful bits and pieces.
Eco Wedding: Dresses & Shoes
I got my wedding shoes from Oxfam for £6 and I returned them there after the wedding. They still look almost new, and as nobody could really see them under my long dress, it wouldn't have mattered even if they were blemished. If I'd bought them brand new from a bridal shop, they would have cost at least ten times the price.
A friend of mine bought her wedding dress from Oxfam too. Some big branches of Oxfam such as Southampton and Brack-nell specialise in wedding clothes. My local Oxfam is not a wedding specialist but before the wedding I went nosing around it every couple of weeks anyway. It did not take long for the perfect shoes to appear.
If you can't find what you need in a charity shop, try eBay. I got my five silk flower bouquets – one for each of my bridesmaids and one for me – for the grand total of £20 in an eBay auction. I gave them away to a charity shop afterwards.
Make Your Own Green Wedding Cake
My jaw nearly hit the floor when we saw the price of wedding cakes in the shops. I'm pretty sure they were not made with Fair Trade sugar or local flour and eggs!
We made our own – it's cheaper, and also much easier to make sure the ing-redients are locally and ethically sourced. It's worth a trial run if you are making a very large quantity, or a special flavour, as big cakes do cook more slowly. Friends and family seem to love being cake-testers.
My Mum bought me a giant cake tin with movable sides which has proved useful ever since. I've even lent it to friends who were inspired to make their own wedding cake.
A Two Piece Wedding Dress
I considered getting a second hand wedding dress, but I find it difficult to get clothes that fit me, so I had a dress made for me out of ethical fabrics. Jo Mackin of www.wholly-jo.co.uk uses ethical fabrics such as organic and vegetarian silks, Fair Trade cotton and natural hemp.
At £600 my handmade dress in bio-sustainable silk cost considerably less than buying a dress from a bridal shop and less than the £1,000 I was quoted, on average, by other dressmakers using ordinary silks.
Although it looks like a full length dress, it is actually a top and a skirt. I plan to dye both pieces and use them separately for other nights out. Apparently silk can be dyed very evenly and if you don't like synthetic dye you can use tea – it gives a beautiful rich brown colour.
Green Wedding: Transport
The opportunity to share cars or mini-buses proved popular with our guests. We put a tick-box on our wedding invitations for registering interest in shared transport. When the replies came back we matched up all the people who live in similar places and tried to organise minibuses to go and round them up.
The quotes I received from minibus companies were very reasonable. But be sure to book the buses well in advance! I left this too late and, with a big-budget film being shot nearby, found to my horror that all the minibus companies in the area were booked up. We had to try to match people for car-shares instead.
The best tip for minimising travel complications is to have the ceremony and reception all in one place and, if possible, near to where most people live. It's not just greener, but easier for the guests too.
Hen Party Ideas
Too often hen parties are all about excess, and I do know many hens who have found the expense, and the drinking, to be too much. I suppose the easiest way to be green about hen parties is not to have one but that seemed a shame to me. I had my party but resolved to have it near to home, so that most people didn't travel a long way to reach it. I also made it cheap – within the budget of all my friends and family – and made it creative instead of wasteful.
I hired a room in a local eco-friendly community centre that I like to support. My arty friends Lucie and Jo gave us a jewellery-making workshop, which was great fun. We were then able to have our party in the same building, keeping the carbon cost of the party low – a buffet dinner in the centre's organic ethical café which was nice and cheap too.
All my girlfriends were able to afford the £5 contribution to the jewellery and the £7 dinner and everyone, from my Gran to the most party-mad of my friends, came along to at least a part of the day.
Green Wedding Rings
Gold rings are threatening the rainforests as mining for gold has uprooted many thousands of hectares of forest, leaving a derelict wasteland without topsoil, where plants can't survive.
According to greenKarat, a company producing ethical jewellery, there is enough gold above ground to satisfy all our jewellery demands for the next 50 years. Much of it sits in bank vaults and in old and un-used jewellery. Many independent jewellers will melt down your old family jewellery to create new more personal wedding bands whilst reducing the cost. If you don't have your own jewellery to melt down but would like a recycled ring, try www.greenkarat.com. We were very happy with our recycled rings chosen from their website.
Eco Wedding Gifts
People will probably insist on giving pres-ents, which is lovely but can mean a lot of wasted toasters! Instead of a traditional gift list, we had a clickable map of our backpacking honeymoon. There was a list of things we needed to pay for, such as national park fees and overnight trains from one destination to the next. Each item was clickable, with a picture of the place or activity. Lots of guests liked the originality of this and it discouraged them from buying us household items that we didn't really need.
www.ethicalweddings.com has an ethical supplier directory, a brides' forum and all kinds of advice on how to make your wedding kinder to the rest of the world.
www.freecycle.org will link you with other recyclers in your neighbourhood so you can give away the things you don't want or collect the things you do.
http://vintageengagementrings.co/ makes recycled wedding rings in fantastic designs.
www.wholly-jo.co.uk is an ethical dress-maker with hundreds of organic, Fair Trade and bio-sustainable fabrics for you to choose from.
www.green-shopping.co.uk supplies eco-logical books, tools and products, and offers a wedding gift service.
Jenny Larby spent time volunteering in a farming community in northern India which inspired her interest in permaculture. Working abroad for charities also helped to begin her writing career. Now working in council communications, Jenny specialises in writing about local government sustainability projects. She is a keen allotment gardener and also writes for www.ethicalweddings.com