So You’re Getting Hitched and You Want an Eco-Friendly Wedding

**Note this is a reprint (with some minor additions) from an article I wrote in 2010**

Well, ambulance first off, health care congratulations!  Whether this is the first, online second or third go around, you can make this one count not just for yourself and your soon-to-be-lifelong partner but also for the earth.

You can turn an event that is typically blissfully unaware into a blissfully aware affair.  Starting from the engagement ring to the cheering, you, too, can have an eco-conscious wedding.

This is a day that can redefine abundance and joy, because the message of love and peace goes well beyond your vows and is woven into every thread of the fabric of your union.

While you can still have a traditional wedding, in order to be eco-aware, you’ll be switching out some old concepts for new ones.  In this post I share suggestions and information with you based on my own earth-friendly wedding experience.  Ours was a fairly informal affair in which the male guests were requested to wear their favorite Hawaiian shirts and the female guests were encouraged to wear flat sandals.

Let the journey begin!

The Rings:

Your ring does not have to contribute the tons of earth and wildlife uprooted by people who have a sub par way of existence.  You can go to an antique store (and fantasize about the life of the person who had the ring before you), ask grandma if you could wear her ring, go to estate sales or get a ring made of reclaimed (as in recycled) gold and by a sustainable jeweler.  While diamonds may be ego-friendly, they are less likely to be eco-friendly.  Did you know that diamond engagement rings are on their way out?  Soon-to-be brides are now expressing themselves in many colorful ways.  For me, the color red lifts my spirits and symbolizes passion, so I chose a ruby.  The ring shown in this photo is a Chatham lab-created ruby.

While this ruby has the same molecular structure as a ruby pulled from a Burmese mountain, it caused neither habitat destruction nor human suffering.

I was absolutely adamant that I did not want to wear a piece of jewelry – the one piece of jewelry representing all-encompassing enduring love – that came at the expense of another’s pain or that caused harm to the earth.  There are more sustainable and responsible jewelers cropping up.  We lucked out to find a local jeweler, The Vault Gallery in Santa Cruz to meet our needs.

Even Leonardo DiCaprio has jumped on the earth-happy wedding bandwagon (get it?). Check out his efforts to ditch mined diamonds here. Now more than any other time in history is it easier to find ethical engagement rings. Check out The Knot to learn more about earth-friendly and conflict-free engagement rings.

rings croppedAs a gesture of community and love and just before the ceremony began, we passed our rings around to each guest and asked them to place their positive intentions onto them. While this may sound like an activity that is too new agey for the average wedding Joe and Jane, our guests took it very seriously.

The Invitation:

My fiancé and I used an evite and a video.  While we attached a document to the online invitation, we requested it only be printed if necessary and please on recycled paper.  By using electronic means, we reduced 1) the amount of paper and 2) the natural resources necessary to get mail from one place in California to several places in North America.  Oh, and it saved us a lot of time and money.  Please overlook all video dorkiness. Check out environmentally friendly invitations here.

The Venue:

When possible, find that yummy outdoor place that can hold as many people as you like while using solar lighting (aka daylight) or candles at night. Many now are heading outdoors not just for the natural beauty but also because it requires no decorations!  Let Mother Nature be your venue designer – she comes with eons of tasteful experience!

Butterfly's Eye View of Monarch Cove

Butterfly’s Eye View of Monarch Cove

My fiancé (let’s call him Scott, because well, that’s his name -(I love that word, fiancé so much that I still use it today calling my husband my ex-fiancé) and I took over an entire Inn that housed all of our family members under one roof.   Monarch Cove, a dog friendly establishment, is situated in Capitola, California on a bluff overlooking the Monterey Bay. It is surrounded by eucalyptus trees – a favorite hangout for the Monarch butterflies.  Beautiful is an understatement.

Having all family members at one locale reduced back-and-forth driving from the rehearsal to the wedding to the reception, because all three were at the same place. And sure, it can be risky business to put all family members together.  They were all on their best behavior and we all emerged unscathed from the experience.  Outside of a shuttle to shuffle guests back and forth from one main meeting place to the Inn, we consciously chose not to rent any fancy vehicles for the affair – thus cutting back on limo expenses and saving some fossil fuels in the process.

The Dress:

Any chance you would consider wearing a second-hand dress or one that can be used again elsewhere?  I realize this may be a huge sacrifice – even a deal breaker.  Just give it some thought.  The options are endless if you are willing to move away from a traditional white wedding dress into a gown or party dress that can also be worn to your holiday celebration or later loaned out to grateful friends.  If you must have the more traditional white wedding dress, there new lines of good-for-the-earth bridal wear cropping up throughout the US, Europe and Australia.  Check out the Natural Wedding Company.

Earth friendly wedding dresses are even hitting the high fashion worldLucy Tammam , a vegan bridal wear designer, is taking the world by storm with her ethical, sustainable, organic, environmentally friendly and stylish bridal fashion.  Lucy is a featured designer with Bel Esprit, a showroom for international designers of ecological and fair trade fashion.

The Flowers: 

Photo by Jim

Photo by Jim

Kenda walking with Mom and Dad
Our caterer picked up two dozen flowers at a local farmer’s market the morning of our wedding.  Some, Dahlias were placed around the ceremonial arbor, and the rest; Sunflowers were placed on the buffet table.  In lieu of my carrying flowers to the arbor, I walked in between both of my parents and instead held their hands.  This made the moment very precious and even more so now, because my father died a few months after the ceremony.  Holding their hands while walking toward my future husband is a memory I will forever hold dear to my heart.

The Officiant:

We had a petite, spunky and local Officiant named Christine Thunderrunner Jones.  Phone: 831.462.1823 While we wrote our own vows, she added a lovely Native American flare with some poems and words of wisdom. We felt a strong connection to her and were delighted to have her presence at our wedding. It was important for us to have an Officiant with whom we synergized.

In the ceremony, she included some special words about our commitment to each other and to the earth:
You, Kenda and Scott, have an obvious commitment of greater service and consideration of your impact on the earth.  You see that this life is not yours alone, but a sacred interaction with the world as a whole. May this marriage signify a circle of hope, compassion and a balanced life that honors the earth.  May you approach life with open hearts and loving spirits, a willingness to be authentic and speak the truth, and may each step that you take be of your highest choosing.

Christine then asked all the guests to stand and vow their commitment to supporting our union and our commitment to one another and the earth.

We had individual bubble containers at our wedding and reception so if folks felt inclined to pummel us with anything, that thing would not harm any person or animal. We were acutely clear about not having a butterfly release.  For those of you who are considering a butterfly release, I have some disappointing news:  Butterfly releases are not eco-friendly.

Frankly, any wildlife release of any type is not eco-friendly.  It is just not friendly in any way eco or otherwise.  Releases tend to put nonnative species in an unnatural place not to mention many butterflies die from the crowding or stress of being in a box waiting for their release.  It’s like butterfly prison, and it does not support the natural progress of an earth-friendly wedding.  Add to it, balloon releases and Chinese lanterns releases wreak havoc on the wildlife and their habitat. Yes, even the so-called biodegradable balloons and lanterns are dangerous. Sorry to disillusion.

However, because I was married in October along the central coast of California just the time when Monarchs arrive for their overwintering, a few Monarchs crashed my wedding.  A totally natural release took place in front of our eyes. The photo to the right captures both of us looking up and admiring the fluttering party crashers.

Something to consider?  Get married outdoors during the time a year that you can experience your favorite aspects of nature.

If you must celebrate at the end of your wedding ceremony by having your guests toss something on you, try ecofetti or lavender buds.  These are biodegradable and earth-happy options for your guests to douse you in colorful and fragrant joyfulness.

The Communal Meal:

We contracted with a local, vegetarian chef, Poppy de Garmo  who only uses locally grown products.  Our wedding was in October, and we had a beautiful, colorful, abundant harvest of foods.  It was vegan except for one type of local, organic, goat’s cheese and a main entrée that also had organic goat’s cheese.

Buffet Line
Pre-dunch (the reception was lunch and dinner combined) we offered a cheese and fruit platter with gorgeous locally baked bread and spreads:

Grilled polenta with roasted red pepper topping
Kungpao lettuce cups (tofu, dices vegetables, hot chilies, and peanuts)

Table Setting

Table Setting with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop

On each table, instead of a centerpiece there was an antipasti platter with a loaf of local bread and one
brilliant Sunflower crown.

Some food for thought:
  The fare you offer at your wedding is one of the most important decisions an eco-friendly bride and groom can make. Putting animal carcasses on your guests’ plates misses out on the perfect opportunity to help others build awareness of their impact on the environment…not to mention their bodies.  Offering vegetarian fare saves water, reduces deforestation, reduces fossil fuels, and the animals like it too.

bread on table

Go healthy.  Go earthy. Go groovy. Have an abundant Veg fest.

The Main Menu

Butternut squash, fennel, white beans, chard soup
Harley farms goat cheese raviolis
Pasta with cherry tomato and basil sauté
Red lentils with cumin crusted tofu, golden beets and chard
Grilled and roasted vegetables from Lindencroft Farm
Heirloom tomato platter

Sunflower by Jim

The Wedding Cake: 

Local Black China Bakery out-shined themselves, if that’s even possible, with our scrumptious vegan chocolate (white and dark) cakes.

The Photographer:

Cheri Larsh Arellano shares our earth-lovin’ values.  She owns a certified green business in Berkeley called Conscious Creative.  All photos were digital and we made online albums eliminating the use  of paper and toxic photographic chemicals.  Of course we were overjoyed with our photographs. Cheri, along with her assistant, Mark (who also happens to be her husband), really worked the gig too.  It seemed everywhere we were, there they were. They essentially created a photographic journal of our wedding weekends.

**All the photographs in this posting were taken by Cheri except for those labeled ‘Jim’.  Those photographs were taken by another dear friend, Jim Meyers. Please ask permission and apply appropriate credit to use any photographs for your own projects.**

The Dishes and Flatware:

While we used porcelain plates, glasses and stainless steel flatware for the main meal, we used all biodegradable ware from BioSmart for the cake and beer.  I have used their products in the past for other events.  They were proven to have a great product at a fair price with fabulous customer service.

We used rice paper napkins with a butterfly imprint for the cake.

Waste Not Want Not:

We attempted to reduce our waste in all areas including leftovers.  Perishable foods that could no longer be consumed were composted.

The Spirits:

We called upon the spirits of our past to join us…just kidding.  We’re not that groovy.  Seriously, we used a local, Santa Cruz organic micro-brewery for our beer and purchased wine from a local winery.  This saved us time, money and resources while supporting local businesses.

The water came from either the tap or was filtered – no plastic bottles.

The Seating:

We chose to not waste paper for seating arrangements, so instead we wrote one list and posted it by the wine bar – knowing that would be a high-traffic area.  Each table was differentiated by a unique Zen card and each Zen card had an inspiring philosophical message.  And no, I’m not even Buddhist.  Only two people who came to the wedding are actually practicing Buddhists, yet the Zen cards were a huge hit!

Jim's Zen Photo

Jim’s Zen Photo

Zen cards can be found on Amazon.  Buy the used cards, save money, reuse and still get a great product.

Table Seating

Scott, Kenda along with family

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Names of guests

Speaking of paper:  We had no program.  We figured a lack of program would keep folks waiting in great anticipation at the edge of their seats for what comes next.  Okay, not really.

The Favors:

Seed Favors

So you prefer not to have your party favors crafted by child slave laborers in Indonesia?  Fantabulous!  The good news is:  you can have your conscious favors at a reasonable cost to your wallet and at no cost to humanity or the earth.  The bad news is:  Oh yay, there is no bad news.

At each place setting, we had personalized seed favors from Ecoparti. The guests could later plant the entire favor and grow beautiful wildflowers – a constant, annual reminder of the wedding and our marriage.

Also, each table had Milkweed seed packets.  Given the wedding was along the Central Coast of California and how I am incredibly passionate about the decline of the Monarchs, I wanted the local California guests to plant the native Milkweed in order to help the Monarchs thrive.

I checked into buying tree saplings for each guest, but alas, that was out of my budget.

The Music:

Salsa Dancing with My Guy

We researched and hired a like-minded local Cuban band, Los Boleros, and totally rocked the house and got everyone on their feet moving to the salsa beat -many doing that saucy salsa for the first time! Scott and I took lessons so we could pretend that we actually knew how to dance at our wedding.

The Registry:

Scott and I were both very clear that we did not want to collect ‘things’.  We’ve both been in the process of minimizing for years, so the idea of not adding stuff to our home felt freeing and clean.  Given this was the second marriage for both of us and that it was shaping up to be an informal and intimate event, we also put out a clear message that the presence of our guests was the best present we could have. Some honored that wish and some simply needed to give – we were grateful either way.

We registered online at Honeyfund – a gift registry for the honeymoon.  I did extensive research and decided this was the best online honeymoon registry – both from a cost effectiveness and ease of use perspective.  So we hunkered down and decided on some activities for our eco-friendly Costa Rican honeymoon and posted those on our registry.  Our guests could support us on any one of many activities using pay pal.  Pay pal then deposited the money into our checking account.  It was easy, simple and required very little effort, and it contributed to our having a fantabulous honeymoon!   We sent thank you postcards from the respective places to each of the guests who helped us pay for that specific activity, night of lodging or spa treatment (yes, we spoiled ourselves with a couple of those).   I just learned of another online registry option that sounds very good – Wedding Republic.  You can check it out here.

The Three Peppers
Scott and I exchanged gifts we created ourselves – unknowingly we each had an artistic surprise for the other.  Scott, his daughter, and his father formed a little band (The Three Peppers) and sang Harvest Moon (I cried).  I painted him a picture of our old dog, Jack, who we had to euthanize less than a month before we were married – Jack, who was fourteen, was going to be our best man. I cried then too.

Pic of Jack

Post Party Play:


campfire cropped
Many of our guests hung out with us well into the night.  We sat around a small, contained bonfire playing music, the only source of light flickering flames.  I think it might have been my favorite part of the day.  Everyone was super chill and casual, just enjoying the company of others.

So, do I have any regrets from our wedding day?  Absolutely not.  I do, however, wish Scott and I paid for the carbon footprint of those guests who flew in and at least for the footprint of our honeymoon, so we’re trying to make up for it in other ways.

Oh…and I wish I had worn one of those breezy, hippy-girl, hemp dresses, but overall, I am still smiling from the event.  And our guests are still talking about one of the most spectacular, inspiring, unique and fun weddings they ever attended.  Turns out most of them don’t get out much.

It was a wonderful, loving, bountiful experience, and being earth-conscious helped make it so.  We believe in our hearts we did the right thing by beginning our marital union with peace and full consciousness and by making efforts to create abundance without causing harm to other beings or the earth.  After all, it’s only fair to create a lifelong partner with the earth just as you are doing so with your dearly betrothed, right?

All photos are copy written and have been included with permission from the photographer.  To contact Cheri Larsh Arellano here.

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