13 Ways to Plan a More Sustainable Wedding

There has been a noticeable shift in recent years toward sustainability in all areas and industries, and weddings are no exception. No longer the shabby-chic affairs of old, sustainable and eco-friendly weddings have gotten an elevated upgrade thanks to vendors getting in on the game.

“This shift (toward sustainability) seems to have picked up momentum in the past three years,” says Jill Garrett, secretary for the Green Wedding Alliance (GWA), a Chicago organization that brings together eco-conscious wedding and event vendors. Planners, too, are taking a stand. Paige Fox is an event planner and the founder of Paige Events, which launched in 2018 and works with couples to curate purposeful weddings up and down the coast of California. Her company is one of a few across the country that focuses specifically on creating events with sustainability at the forefront. “I believe you can create any look while staying sustainable,” Fox says. “You just have to be open-minded to things you have not thought about previously—and it may end up even better than you envisioned.”


How to Get Started Planning a Sustainable Wedding

Both experts acknowledge that the topic of sustainability is somewhat vague. “Wedding sustainability is more of a general term, as events at their core are not sustainable; there will always be waste generated from any event,” Garrett says. “So, how do we make weddings and events less impactful on our planet? The GWA was formed to help create weddings that produce less waste, and the only way to truly do that is to hire vendors who prioritize sustainable business practices, starting with an eco-minded planner to help guide the way and make those connections on the client’s behalf.”

Ultimately, Fox adds, it’s about “creating less waste and not using items that will only be used for six hours and thrown away.” While there are a few official certifications you can look for, a simple conversation with vendors about how your values align is equally important. “I would recommend couples ask their vendors on the initial phone call what steps they take to be more sustainable,” Fox says. “Depending on their responses—and if they even have a response—it will give you an idea about who is thinking about sustainability and trying their best.”

You can also look to organizations that curate like-minded vendors under one umbrella, like the Green Wedding Alliance and similar nonprofits across the country or check the member directory at MUSE (Members United for Sustainable Events).

To spark some eco inspiration, and with the help of Fox and Garrett, we’ve rounded up 13 tips for couples to be more mindful of the environment throughout wedding planning—from the proposal to the post-event pickup. But remember that it’s not an all-or-nothing pursuit. “You can be sustainable in every aspect of your wedding, or you can pick and choose aspects,” Fox says. “Everything you do can make a difference, so we just hope we can open people’s eyes to make educated decisions and (get them) thinking of the impact they are making.”

  • Jill Garrett, secretary for the Green Wedding Alliance, a Chicago organization that brings together eco-conscious wedding and event vendors
  • Paige Fox, event planner and founder of Paige Events, a company that focuses on sustainably executed events



Choose an Ethical Ring

ETSY



Go green from the get-go by opting for a vintage ring or non-conflict lab-grown diamond. Etsy offers a stellar selection of vintage engagement rings—we love some of the deco pieces from NYC-based seller The Idol’s Eye—but beware of knock-offs. (Idol’s Eye owner Tara suggests doing an Etsy search using the vintage drop-down filter to help sort results.)

If you’re looking for a modern piece or want to size up on diamonds, a surge of lab-grown diamond purveyors makes it easy to source ethical diamonds. Check out HauteCarat, Brilliant Earth, or VRAI. Brilliant Earth uses renewable energy to make diamonds; VRAI creates zero emissions. There are also sustainable options for men’s bands as well. Check out Ring Bear, which crafts carbon-neutral wedding bands from recycled gold. 




Be Mindful in Venue Selection

One of the first steps in wedding planning is securing the venue. Garrett suggests a few things to look for in your search. “A beautiful space that includes many design features or LED lighting options can minimize the amount of décor you need to add or light you need (to bring in),” she says. Outdoor venues reduce the need for cut florals. Check out Blue Hills at Stone Barn in New York, Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, or Big Delicious Planet, an urban farm in Chicago. “For buildings, a LEED certification is a great indication of an efficient building,” Garrett says. You can ask about the availability of composting and recycling programs for vendors to use, rentals included with the venue, and locations convenient to public transportation. 



Source Earth-Friendlier Invites

E-vites may be more environmentally friendly, but luxe invitation suits are a gorgeous wedding detail many couples don’t want to give up. If you go with paper, there are a few options to keep it friendlier for the earth. Opt for recycled paper (Paper Culture is a great online option, or collaborate with a local stationer to source the right materials), and select a rubber stamp or embosser to add the return address. Work with a calligrapher for gorgeous hand addressing (and small-business support!) rather than printed labels. 

If you stick with printed invitations, you can still save paper in other areas. Try an audio guestbook like After The Tone or a video version from Voast, rather than the traditional bound paper book. 



Register Responsibly

As you register for items to outfit your new life together, be mindful of looking for products that might be sustainable, organic, natural, or recycled. Everlastly is a great place to start: The registry site does the eco-curation for you by tapping environmental scientists and data analysts to assign each available product an “Evergrade” based on factors like carbon footprint, predicted durability, and packaging. The goal is to empower couples to make sustainable choices that make sense for their lives and homes. Some of our favorite items? An organic bamboo sateen duvet cover from Ettitude, ceramic mezcal cups made from local clay, and an upcycled cotton table runner. 

Be honest about what you need, though. If you’ve been sharing a home with your partner for a while and don’t need new items like dinnerware and towels, opt for donations to your honeymoon or home renos instead through Everlastly’s Cash Fund or services like Honeyfund.



Shop Sustainably

Austin Gros



Your wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses don’t need to be brand new. “Consider buying a used wedding dress and other attire,” Fox says. “There are incredible boutiques that create the same dress shopping experience, and you are saving money and the planet at the same time.” Rowely is an online shop for pre-loved wedding attire; it boasts some seriously chic—and barely worn—pieces. It’s our top pick for all your ancillary events, like a sophisticated bridal shower midi, a sequined minidress for the afterparty, a reception dress, or a bachelorette night-out look.  

For an ultraluxe and earth-friendly big-day look, check out sustainably-minded designers. Bricolage Bridal reinvents archival gowns and uses vintage fabric to create modern and one-of-a-kind wedding gowns. Nordeen is a bridal label inspired by nature and committed to preserving it; the brand uses natural fiber materials, collabs with manufacturers that adhere to responsible production practices, and is crafted by skilled artisans in New York and Los Angeles. 

And why stop at the dress? A recent surge in bridal jewelry rental options makes eco-friendly accessorizing an option, too. Check out Verstolo and Aveil for everything from fine jewelry to the latest Jimmy Choo handbag.




Veer Toward Vintage, Or Rent Reusable

The vintage look is in—think colored glass goblets on bare farm tables or cohesively mismatched china at each place setting—and that’s a plus for the planet. Arcana Vintage Rentals is one of many companies repurposing beautiful pieces from eras past for wedding rentals. If the vintage look isn’t your vibe, there are countless other firms with inventories of pieces that lean modern, minimalist, gilded, boho, you name it—and they’re still a sustainable choice as the pieces are rented and reused. You can rent everything from tables and chairs to linens and silverware for weddings. Theoni, BBJ La Tavola, and Broadway Party Rentals are some of our favorites; look for local companies in your area to reduce transportation emissions. 

Where disposable products are necessary—i.e., napkins and straws—”stay away from single-use plastic everything,” Fox says. Garrett suggests swapping in bamboo paper products for the restrooms.



Decorate with Double-Duty Items

Reuse the floral arch from your ceremony as a photo booth backdrop or focal point for your sweetheart table; your vendor team can make this happen during the room flip. Create a unique escort wall that doubles as wedding favors—we’ve seen ones that include small potted plants, spice jars, Christmas ornaments, and more. Leave notes on the reception tables letting guests know they can take the centerpieces or florals home with them.




Glow With Candlelight

I Do I Do Studio NYC



There are countless ways to cut down on energy use and emissions and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding—some of which even heighten the vibe. Try using candlelight instead of electric string lights to set a romantic tone; dinner party-inspired dripping wax tapers are on-trend.

But, make sure to discuss options with your venue ahead of time. Some venues don’t allow open flames for safety reasons; others require candles to be contained in glass hurricanes. Have an honest discussion with your vendors earlier than later to convey your vision and eco goals.



Be Conscious in Catering

“Catering and floral production are two areas that create a large amount of waste, and there are some essential practices in each vendor category that can make a large overall impact on reducing the waste of a single event,” Garrett says. Look for a Green Restaurant Certification in your caterer search, and “choose food selections based on the season and what is grown locally and sustainably,” Fox says.

Garrett also suggests opting for a plated meal over a buffet, as buffets are pretty wasteful—the caterer can’t manage the exact amount of food needed for the event, and leftover buffet food is often not able to be donated because it’s likely been left out or possibly not kept at the right temperature. She recommends using an organization like Rescuing Leftover Cuisine to donate what’s left of dinner. “They have branches around the U.S. to help connect food donations to those experiencing food insecurity,” she says.



Recycle (or Compost) Florals

Make sure your florist works with chicken wire, rather than floral foam, to create structure in arrangements, and find ways to recycle or reuse florals after the fact. You’ll also want to make sure your florist composts waste produced during floral processing as well. “Leftover florals can be taken with guests, reused the next day at a brunch, or donated to a service that can repurpose them in hospitals and nursing homes,” Garrett says. “Sometimes florists come back to pick up the florals after the event and can reuse them for other purposes.”




Opt for Potted Plants

Sylvie Gil Photography



Instead of cut flowers, showcase planted blooms that live long past your wedding day. For the ceremony, large outdoor planters can set the altar apart. Inside, hanging baskets can create a cool ceiling installation, and miniature potted plants can decorate tabletops (bonus: guests can bring them home as favors!)

Where you do use cut florals or greenery, “find a florist that sources local flowers that are grown organically,” Fox says. Or, fake the florals altogether: Something Borrowed Blooms is a rent-and-return floral firm specializing in ultra-realistic silk florals. They ring in at a fraction of the cost of fresh flowers and get loved again and again. 




Donate Leftovers

Donate your leftovers—food, flowers, products, and décor—wherever possible. For items you’ve purchased, search your area for events like the Green Wedding Alliance’s Wedding Recyclery. It’s a twice-yearly garage-sale-style event for wedding pieces. “The vendors are usually couples who’ve just gotten married and want to repurpose their décor pieces—and recoup some costs—and vendors who have an overstock supply of vases, votives, candles, et cetera, and want to free up their inventory for new items,” Garrett says. Shop sales like this as a to-be-wed, and resell your items after the fact.



Pay It Forward

The work toward sustainability is never truly done—even when the wedding is. In lieu of wedding favors, showcase your commitment to sustainability by planting a tree in guests’ honor (American Forests offers this service), or make a donation to an eco-friendly cause close to your hearts.