While I normally consider myself a better-than-average environmentalist-I rarely drive, I recycle, I don a sweater before turning up the thermostat-my green aspirations have been put to the test as my fiance and I plan our wedding.
Any kind of consumption has an environmental impact. The "wedding-industrial-complex," as the commerce in wedding planning has been deemed, certainly has the potential to leave a serious carbon footprint. Guests drive and fly in from far-flung towns to attend the big day, reams of paper are printed for save-the-date cards and invitations, and flowers and food are imported from around the globe.
But lately, brides- and grooms-to-be realize it doesn't have to be that way. They're choosing local foods and flowers, and making a donation to their favorite environmental cause in honor of their guests instead of offering yet another box of chocolates as a parting gift.
My fiance and I lead a simple life, especially for city dwellers. We take public transportation to work, cook most of our meals at home, spend our Saturdays running in Rock Creek Park and go to bed early. We are striving to have our wedding reflect our relatively wholesome lifestyle.
But the 21st century version of a wedding makes simplicity hard to come by. According to the book, "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding" by Rebecca Mead, weddings have become a $161 billion industry in the United States. The average wedding in the United States has a budget north of $20,000. And in the Washington, D.C. area, where I live, costs can be much higher.
Fortunately, voices of reason have begun to emerge from this wilderness of ice sculptures and customized aisle runners. The "green wedding" has evolved, complete with its own vendors and customs. Couples can seek advice from blogs, magazines, books and wedding planners dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of weddings.
Brides can choose from a broad selection of lovely organic cotton-or even hemp-dresses for their special day. Catered meals and the floral centerpieces can be produced locally and organically. Couples can light a soy-based unity candle rather than one made of petroleum.
Some green choices can set you back. Recycled paper invitations and organic cuisine are typically more expensive than their conventional alternatives. But not all environmentally friendly choices cost more. If a sustainably made, locally pieced organic silk gown is not in the budget, there's always the option of purchasing a previously worn gown. And if organic flowers are too pricey, the couple can grow their own or ask guests to bring a sampling from their gardens.
I'm still a year out from my own wedding, but I've managed to incorporate a few environmentally conscious choices in our early plans. We are marrying outdoors at a designated National Natural Landmark in Maryland-a small mountain I frequented as a child. Part of the site fee goes toward maintaining the area for the humans and wildlife that enjoy it year-round. As a bonus, the gorgeous natural surroundings lessen the need to bring in outside decorations.
Our caterer focuses on fresh and organic ingredients grown or raised in the mid-Atlantic region. We're planning to shuttle guests from their hotels to the wedding and back, cutting down on fossil fuel use and emissions. Instead of sending save-the-date cards, we'll use e-mails. Rather than give our guests favors, we'll donate to our favorite charities in their honor, and, if we can swing it, try to buy carbon offsets to mitigate the carbon footprint of our family and friend's travel and the celebration itself.
The wedding planning process can be crazy enough without trying to save the world at the same time. In the end, counting carbon credits may not be the way to spend a wedding day. But with small steps, lessening the environmental impact of a marriage union is possible.
And if we're lucky, ours will be followed by an eco-friendly honeymoon.
This commentary is distributed by Bay Journal News Service.