By Lindsey Miller-Voss, American Forests

Your wedding is a wonderful celebration with family and friends as you and your spouse embark on one of life’s greatest adventures. While weddings can be a magnificent thing, they also make quite the environmental impact. In fact, the average wedding leaves the same carbon footprint as the happy couple will for their entire first year of marriage! Multiply this by the over 2 million weddings that happen each year in the U.S. alone, and it’s clear to see that your joyous celebration might not be so great for the planet. Luckily, it’s easy to make choices along the way that will help “green up” your wedding.

Location, location, location:

The venue is easily the biggest decision of your wedding, other than choosing your spouse, and can set the tone for your green wedding. Outdoor venues are obvious choices, as they allow you to take advantage of natural lighting and often stunning scenery that lessens the need for decor. When possible, hold your ceremony and reception at the same location. This cuts down on fuel emissions as your guests shuttle from one location to the next. As an added bonus, this can save you on venue rental fees as well! If this isn’t feasible, aim for locations within 30 minutes of each other and encourage guests to carpool. If your location is a trek, consider hiring a charter bus to move larger numbers of guests.


Repeat after me: Less is more! Your paper goods are an easy way to cut back on the environmental impact of your wedding without sacrificing your vision for your special day. Consider going paperless for save-the-date cards by creating email announcements. A wedding website goes a long way in reducing invitation extras as well; maps, registry information and special notes can be digitized. Even your RSVP cards can be tracked online! Another option for your RSVP cards is to simply eliminate the envelope from a traditional card and use postcards instead. For your printed invitations, look for recycled papers and vegetable-based inks. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to paper goods – plantable papers embedded with seeds or those made from sustainable materials like cotton or bamboo are lovely eco-friendly options.


Another easy way to go green without sacrificing a stunning wedding is with your floral arrangements. Look for florists who work with organic growers and ask for sustainable blooms. Find out what is in season and grown locally. Just like food, flowers can be “farm-to-table”, which cuts down on refrigeration and shipping. Using local and seasonal blooms will also save you money along the way. Brides with green thumbs can even consider growing their own flowers. This is also a great opportunity to express your unique personality by looking for non-traditional options for bouquets, including silk flowers or arrangements of antique broaches. If you do have your heart set on something a bit more tropical or out of season than your local area supports, look for VeriFlora Certified growers — they produce their blooms without the harsh chemicals other growers use.

Wedding Attire:

Of course, you and your wedding party want to look amazing for your special day, but this doesn’t mean you can’t also be green. Bridal gowns can be vintage, either borrowed from a family member or found at a vintage shop. There are also numerous charities that operate bridal resale shops around the country. Consider these for both purchasing your dress and for expanding the social impact of your wedding after the fact. There are also a number of eco-friendly wedding dress designers who utilize sustainable materials in their work. Bridal parties can be encouraged to wear dresses they already have or to rent dresses for the day. Many of your groomsmen probably already own basic button-down shirts and dress slacks, so consider skipping the jackets and costly rental fees. Once the party is done, make sure to have things cleaned by an earth-friendly dry cleaner using natural products.


This is one part of your wedding that your guests will definitely remember! Similar to flowers, think local. Work with a caterer who serves locally sourced, farm-to-table food. Ask for options that are in season and local to your area, all which reduces the need for refrigeration and transportation. While planning your menu, make sure to discuss how leftovers will be handled. Include in your contract whether the food should be packed up for guests to take home or delivered to a local homeless shelter or food bank. Renting dishes and flatware is the best eco-friendly choice, but if you would prefer a disposable option, ensure your venue will assist you in recycling when the celebration is over.


While there is a good chance some of your wedding jewelry has already been purchased by the time you start planning a wedding, it’s not too late to assure that the rest of your jewelry is as eco-friendly as possible. Many jewelers are now using recycled gold and fair-labor gemstones. Don’t be afraid to ask the origin of a stone. Looking for something unique? Make sure you check out antique options for stunning designs and a lighter environmental impact.


Let’s face it, do your guests really need another scented candle or a koozie with your names on them? Consider creating a greater impact with your wedding favors. Present your guests with something they can feel good about: the knowledge that you have planted a tree in their honor with the Gift of Trees. You can choose to donate a number of trees per guest or make a grander impact and donate one or even five thousand trees! This will also help offset the carbon impact of other wedding splurges.


Many couples are realizing they often already have everything they need to start their new lives together! When creating your registry, allow guests the option of making a donation to your favorite charity or gifting trees in your honor. Imagine knowing that as your love grows over the years of your marriage, a forest is growing as well! When registering for other items, consider sustainable materials, vintage items, pieces from local artists, and products produced in eco-friendly ways, like lead-free glass and china.


You want your wedding to be memorable — luckily your decor is one area in which going green can help! Look for found objects or fun collections to decorate your table tops. Consider using potted plants that guests can take home or you can plant in your garden later. Be on the lookout for antique or vintage items you can upcycle, like bottles, crates, or thrift store books. Another option is natural materials like fruits and vegetables, which can be enjoyed during or after your reception, or branches. Make sure to get your whole wedding team on board with your green goals. Ask your lighting team to only use LED lighting, and when renting your linens, request those made from natural materials.


Of course, you’ll want to capture every memory from your day, but this is still a great place to go green. Request your photographer do online proofing only, or better yet, seek out a photographer who works in digital entirely. This cuts down on the chemicals used in processing film and allows for less waste of unwanted prints. When it comes time to print your photos, look for Forest Stewardship Council Certified paper to ensure proper forest management and soy-based ink.

It’s easy to see how with a few simple changes, you can still have the wedding of your dreams while doing your part to help our environment. So go ahead, close your eyes, imagine your special day, and get planning. Your guests will love celebrating with you and we hope you enjoy every minute of it!