By Suzan St Maur
Author of How To Get Married In Green
If you have your heart set on a wedding on a beach in the Caribbean surrounded by several dozen of your closer friends and relatives, the occasion is hardly going to be environmentally friendly even if you all wear locally-made sarongs and no shoes. Bottom-line says that transporting yourselves and even a few attendants and family/friends will result in an aviation pollution bleurrrgghh of many times that which any of us should contemplate.
Combining wedding and honeymoon: does this help?
In a word, yes. It does. A bit. But even if it’s just you and you’re intended jetting off to an exotic location in the tropical or sub-tropical wild blue yonder, you will need to assuage your consciences by ensuring that you offset the air journey there and back. For example, should you and your fiancé decide to fly from London to Jamaica for your wedding, the emissions you’d be responsible for amount to well over 4 tonnes of CO².
And before you start thinking that handing over the cost of a good bottle of wine to offset your flight pollution to Barcelona and back is well worthwhile, ponder this. Just how effective is it if you do hand over offset money in compensation? Increasingly over the last few years there has been talk in the media of carbon offset schemes and companies mushrooming up all over the place, and while all may be keen to take your money to plant a few new trees in Nicaragua, not all are quite as altruistic as you would want them to be. Carbon offset has now become potentially profitable business, and as such is beginning to attract its fair share of snake-oil salesmen. Be warned!
Home, sweet home
Although at first glance your own home – or the (large) home of a close relative – might seem to be a green choice. However it probably isn’t the greenest choice you could make. Unless the home in question is pretty unusual it won’t have the facilities and equipment on hand to cope with the cooking, food, drinks, seating, etc. and all the necessary items will have to be brought in, perhaps from some distance away. That adds to the pollution load. It’s true that putting a marquee up in a garden should not cause any lasting damage to the lawn and surrounding areas, but it’s surprising just how much damage a few dozen tipsy wedding guests can cause to flower beds and vegetable gardens. Plus, should your wedding take place at any time other than mid-summer (and even then we’re being optimistic for the UK) the marquee may need to be heated, which is incredibly wasteful and uses a great deal of power or fuel.
Unless your wedding is to be very small, there are other reasons why having it at home is probably not a good idea, not least of which is the stress and chaos that such an activity causes. This is hardly welcome when the run-up to the wedding in itself can be stressful enough without the added angst of caterers, florists, table servers, bartenders and various others leaping around like headless chickens.
Also, people often find that there is little or no cost saving by having a wedding at home; bringing in all the necessary supplies and suppliers can end up costing more than if you take your wedding to a venue that’s already set up and organised to handle it.
The location objective in terms of “green” weddings is to try to ensure that the wedding reception takes place either at the same venue as that of the ceremony, or failing that pretty close. In addition, a green wedding will be held at a location that’s within the shortest possible travel distance for as many guests as possible.
This may rule out your long-held fantasy of getting married in a church on a remote Scottish hillside no matter how eco-friendly that is – especially if you, your family and friends all live in Plymouth. However let’s not be total killjoys. If that’s what you’ve set your heart on yet you can’t bring yourself to disrupt the environment to shuttle everyone up there, get married locally in a registry office and afterwards go up to your church on the Scottish hillside for a blessing – just the two of you, and preferably by public transport.
If you are having a religious wedding, to an extent your choice of venue becomes much narrower, as you may well choose to be married in a specific church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other religious building. Try if you can to select a venue for the ensuing reception that is within walking distance of the ceremony venue. If it’s too far, consider organising a “park and ride” system for your guests so they travel independently to a given point at the beginning of the day, then get taken to ceremony and reception – and back – by coach or minibus.
Especially with all the controversy about just what really is green and what isn’t we probably shouldn’t agonise over whether three 15-seater minibuses are going to create more pollution than one 45-seater coach, or whether the reception is 100 yards from the ceremony or half a mile. What does make a difference is in containing the entire event within as small a geographical area as possible, and also in making the best use of local businesses and local produce. Not only does that keep transport and associated pollution down, but also helps keep alive the local economy.
If you’re having a civil ceremony, the whole thing becomes much easier from an eco-friendly point of view, because in the UK now there is a wide choice of wedding locations which are licensed for marriages, many of which are suitable as reception venues, too. These range from commercial businesses to charitable foundations. For example:
- Leisure Centres
- Community Centres
- Country mansions
- Historic buildings
- Pumping Stations
- Football Clubs
- Cricket Clubs
- Golf Clubs
- Film & TV Studios
- Botanical Gardens
- Theme Parks
- Theatres & Cinemas
- The London Eye
- Tower Bridge
- Blackpool Tower
- Railway Stations
And that’s not a complete list, by any means, especially as more and more venues are becoming available as time goes on. To find your choices, key “wedding venues” into your favourite search engine. There are several UK based websites like this one offering advice on venue selection, too.
Now, which are the greener choices?
Well, I suppose we had better rule out airports, to start with! But your primary criteria, as before, should be more about where and how big, rather than what, to minimise eco-damage. As I mentioned above, it’s pointless choosing a venue that’s very eco-friendly if it’s miles away from where most of the guests are coming from. A good hotel or restaurant in a town that’s within easy reach of everyone may not be as organic and may not even use only locally-sourced produce, but if it means avoiding 50 car journeys of 200 miles each, it may well be a better bet.
If the venue belongs to a large corporation – e.g. is one of many hotels in a chain – you may also want to consider how you feel about the business ethics of the parent company.
Next come the catering arrangements. Do the venue’s caterers use only organic and locally sourced produce? Do they offer organic wine, preferably British, or if not can you bring your own? Can you bring in your own caterers if you want to? Do they operate a good recycling and composting setup? If it’s a popular wedding venue, do they offer you the option of sharing floral arrangements and other decorations with couples immediately before and/or after you? If you’re going to bring in your own suppliers, how easy is it for them to access the venue? How much travel will be involved for them?
Another thing to bear in mind is that apparent beauty is often only skin deep in ecological terms. If you like the idea of having your wedding at a stunning country house hotel that offers all local produce from its own kitchen gardens and recycles all its wine bottles, you may like to consider how green they are with their gardening activities. That gorgeous, sweeping lawn may well have been treated with all kinds of noxious chemicals, weed killers, moss killers, etc., and be mowed almost every day by fuming petrol mowers. Even the vegetable garden may have been subjected to insecticides, weed killers, artificial fertilisers and various other things.
And before we leave the great outdoors, if you’re getting married in the UK, think about the weather. Much as it may be splendid, romantic and environmentally desirable to tie the knot in the open air under the great sky above, it won’t be much of an occasion if it’s raining. By all means seek an outdoor venue, but ensure that the ceremony and reception can be brought in under cover should the weather decide not to play ball.
As with everything else, making the greenest wedding location choice is about getting a good balance. Unless you go to ridiculous extremes, there will be some elements of your location choice that are probably as not as green as they could be. But if you ensure that there is a reasonable balance of eco-friendly measures you can go ahead and create a stylish, enjoyable wedding – with no guilt.
What you can do:
- Avoid choosing a location abroad, even if you’re combining wedding and honeymoon
- Pick a location that’s easily accessed by the majority of your guests
- Organise a “park & ride” arrangement for guests, especially if the location is far from home
- Pick a location that’s easily accessed by public transport
- Choose a reception location within as short a distance as possible of the ceremony location
- If you’re having a civil wedding, arrange ceremony and reception in same location
- Ensure reception location has a proper recycling policy
- Ensure reception location catering uses local, preferably organic produce
- See if you can “double up” with other couples getting married at around the same time, for things like flowers and decorations
Suzan St Maur is a multi-published nonfiction author with several books on weddings under her belt, along with more than 30 other nonfiction, self-help and humour books. Check her out on her award-winning website here. A former ad copywriter and content marketer, she now devotes all her time to writing more books of her own – plus working as an author coach, providing clients with the expert support and advice they need to become published authors. You can get in touch with her here: firstname.lastname@example.org