Easy Tips to Plan a Green, Earth-friendly Wedding: To Love, Honor and Cherish the Earth

A couple celebrates their union in keeping with their values.


The bridesmaids, comfortable and elegant in their hemp gowns and artisan-crafted Thai shawls, relax in the vineyard after the ceremony.

Rick Hornick

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I remember details from my wedding with photographic clarity: a sea of white tables, adorned with brilliant orange and red flowers from the farmer’s market, all set against a clear blue sky. A spectacular field of grapevines stretching toward the September sun. The sound of a busload of guests arriving—the signal that our ceremony was about to begin.

When I consult with others on how to make their buildings, businesses and events more environmentally friendly, I always consider the economics—but usually the funding isn’t coming from my bank account.

Our money—a lot of our money—was at stake in planning our wedding.

Fortunately, my husband, David, and I found that many of our green choices cost less than the alternatives. The average cost for a wedding of 175 guests is $22,000, according to Consumer Reports. We celebrated with 170 friends and family members, and the cost came to $15,000, including the band, our attire and all the extras.

We did a lot of the work ourselves, and our natural wedding was not without compromise. But then, what’s a marriage without compromise?

The big decision

Because the largest environmental impacts often go hand in hand with the largest expenditures, David and I vowed that our biggest financial decision—where we would hold the wedding and reception—would be made responsibly. We chose Flag Hill Winery in Lee, New Hampshire, a small winery and distillery that had recently put its land into a conservation easement in partnership with a local land trust, permanently protecting 106 acres of working farmland, scenic views and river frontage.

We approached the winery staff about serving local and organic foods, and they happily looked into it. When they told us organic food would cost 25 percent more, we declined, knowing that our budget would still allow us to support local farmers by choosing seasonal food.

We asked our friend Brian Hart, the land trust director, to be our Justice of the Peace, and after the wedding we donated some of our gift money to the trust.

Going green makes cents

Our 220 handmade wedding invitations, including the save-the-date postcard, cost $182, about 60 percent less than traditional invitations. We saved paper by double-siding everything and by cutting and pasting the three-fold invitation on tree-free kenaf paper. (Kenaf is a fast-growing, fibrous plant related to cotton and okra.)
We bought the kenaf paper through our local university’s printing center; colleges and universities often buy green paper in bulk, and their print centers may be able to handle small print jobs. We had to compromise on paper color and weight because the print center carried a limited selection, but we spruced up the invitations by gluing smaller amounts of decorative paper to the covers and adding a few ribbons.

Our Just One Miracle thank-you cards helped support ovarian cancer research.

Our table centerpieces included nontoxic beeswax candles from the local farmer’s market, fall flower arrangements in glass vases we found at a thrift store and buckets of flowers from a local farmer. My bridesmaids and I spent the day before the wedding arranging flowers and decorating the site. We also borrowed some decorations from recently wedded friends.

Wearing green

Shopping for natural wedding clothes and accessories was great fun. My bridesmaids set a festive tone in their long, burgundy hemp dresses from Rawganique, a company that sells certified-organic hemp clothing that’s sweatshop free.

To dress up the gowns’ simple lines, they wore colorful shawls, handmade by Thai artist Thanyarat Sananpanich and purchased through Novica, an online, National Geographic–affiliated arts agent for artists worldwide. Moonstone necklaces handcrafted by Indian artist Alok Jain, also purchased through Novica, completed the elegant look.

My biggest environmental compromise was my wedding dress. My Zum Zum gown was made out of rayon and acetate, a petroleum substance that won’t make the “most natural” list anytime soon. Wedding dresses made from vintage and heirloom fabrics or natural materials are expensive, and I couldn’t find a used dress in a consignment store that spoke to me.

The good news is that my $135 dress will likely last forever, and I’ve started what I hope is a long cycle of reuse by donating it to the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, which uses the proceeds from selling my secondhand dress to help people with terminal breast cancer.

My feet were comfortable in a funky pair of clear sandals purchased from Zappos’ leather-free (“vegetarian”) shoe selection. My makeup from Burt’s Bees was natural, and my hair product from Aveda was organic.

My biggest lesson in planning this event, however, is one I probably share with every bride, “green” or not. The best part of my wedding wasn’t in the details—the flowers, my hair, the food—but it was the moment I walked down that aisle and saw the loving, proud smiles of my friends and family.

Have a green wedding (without spending all your green)

• Shop locally. Locally owned stores and local artisans may offer just what you need at a lower price—and your money boosts your regional economy.

• Visit your farmer’s market. Local farmers offer great bargains on flowers and food—without the environmental costs of transporting goods across the globe. Choose organic whenever possible.

• When a local alternative isn’t available, surf the Internet.
Websites are fertile ground for natural alternatives for almost everything. You might start your search at OrganicWeddings.com.

• Reuse.
Borrow decorations from recently married friends. Peruse thrift stores for vases and other inventive centerpieces.

• Shop around.
If that $5,000 wedding dress made of vintage fabrics isn’t in your budget, find an equally lovely dress for $80 at a secondhand shop.

• Be willing to compromise.
If organic food is out of your price range, ask your caterer for local foods or pick just a few dishes that can be organic.

• Remember that all that glitters is not green.
Diamonds are expensive—for you, the environment and the social fabric of the countries where they’re mined. Find something else just as beautiful but more in line with your values. Heirloom jewelry or recycled gold or silver rings are good options. Or shop at GreenKarat for ecologically responsible jewelry.

• Ask for nonmaterial gifts.
Offset costs by asking friends to lend their talents as musicians and photographers instead of giving a wedding gift.

• Match your wedding to your personality
. If you’re not into fancy wedding cakes and limousine entrances, your family and friends will have just as much fun munching on homemade brownies and hanging recycled crepe paper off the back of your Prius.

Earth-friendly gifts

You can register for eco-conscious gifts at these websites:

Gaiam : organic towels and linens, energy-saving and water-quality devices, furniture made from natural materials, home and outdoor goods

Greenfeet : home décor made of recycled materials, organic towels and bedding, hemp products and recycled glassware

Novica : furniture, rugs, recycled glassware and decorative items handcrafted by international artisans

Ten Thousand Villages : fair trade household items and décor from around the world

Amy and David's wedding budget

Reception at eco-winery for 170 guests



Bar bill for local beers, wines and sodas



Total for reception site and catering






Save-the-date postcards (210)



Invitations on kenaf tree-free paper (220)



Total for invitations






Wedding dress, donated to Making Memories



Artisan-crafted bridesmaids shawls (4)



Bride’s vegetarian shoes



Hemp bridesmaid dresses (4)



Antique wedding ring for bride



Artisan-crafted sterling silver necklace for bride



Natural make-up for bride



Organic hair product for bride



Groom’s attire and ring



Total for clothing and accessories






Used flower vases (18)



Local farmer’s flowers (20 bouquets)



Locally made beeswax candles (40)



Glass candleholders (40)



Other decorations (ribbons, etc.)



Total for centerpieces and decorations






Transportation of guests to site by charter bus



Donation to land trust as thank you to Justice of Peace



Band and other musicians



Marriage license



Total miscellaneous










Organic Weddings
(617) 367-1807
wedding-planning resource

Flag Hill Winery
(603) 659-2949
winery, eco-distillery and wedding site

Clothing and Accessories

Antique Jewelry Mall
(800) 292-4900
antique wedding jewelry

(800) 644-4831
natural makeup and hair care products

The Bridal Garden
(212) 252-0661
proceeds from secondhand and overstock gowns to children’s fund

Burt’s Bees
natural cosmetics

Conscious Clothing
(505) 982-7506
custom-made hemp wedding gowns

(800) 330-4605
recycled gold jewelry

Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation
(503) 252-3955
proceeds from secondhand gowns to fulfill wishes for terminal cancer patients

Market Square Jewelers
(603) 431-0322
antique jewelry

(877) 729-4367
hemp formalwear for men and women

(800) 927-7671
vegetarian shoes


(888) 349-4684
wedding invitations from tree-free and recycled papers

Just One Miracle
(781) 784-8373
profits from thank you cards to cancer research

Twisted Limb Paper
(812) 876-9352
wedding invitations from handmade, recycled papers

Vision Paper
kenaf tree-free paper


It’s Cactus
(831) 626-4213
folk art crafted from used materials

Ten Thousand Villages
(877) 883-8341
fairly traded handicrafts