Everyone loves a wedding and your own can be the best day of your life. But not everyone stops to think of the impact that their perfect day can have on the planet. Davina Shiell talks to brides who have chosen a green wedding.

The average wedding emits around 14.5 tonnes of CO2, much more than the 12 tonnes emitted by the average person during a whole year, and costs around £20,000. With an estimated 260,000 couples planning to marry in 2010, this means that at least £5.2 billion will be spent on weddings this year in the UK alone.

Glasgow resident Mirella de Jonge was married two years ago. For her, having a green wedding was about “not being able to justify excessive waste just because we were getting married.” Her wedding day cost a mere £2000 and had a minimum impact on the planet.

[img_assist|nid=697|title=Green weddings|desc=Photo: Benjamin Earwicker|link=none|align=middle|width=450|height=299]Rings

It all starts with the engagement ring. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but there are ethical factors to consider if this is your choice of stone. In the 1990s so-called ‘blood diamonds’ were used to fund the conflict in Sierra Leone, which resulted in a worldwide campaign to stop this unethical trade. Despite over 70 countries signing up to an international agreement, diamonds from Sierra Leone are still smuggled out of the country by rebel groups and diamond companies, who take advantage of loopholes and traffic them through legitimate markets.

If you want a diamond, avoid the De Beers cartel and buy a certified and branded diamond that has been mined in Canada or one from Martin Rapaport’s fair trade mine in Sierra Leone. Even better, you could use a family heirloom or have an antique rock re-fashioned to the style you want. Alternatively synthetic diamonds, or having a different type of stone entirely, are both cheaper and more ethical options.

New gold is also problematic as mining releases poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere. I had a small budget when I got married at the age of 24 and I was delighted when my Grandmother offered her wedding rings to me. Not only do they have a sentimental value but it also saved us having to spend money on new gold rings.

Dresses

The trend for most weddings is to buy an expensive gown, with some brides spending thousands of pounds on a dress that they wear for just a few hours. Many bridal dresses are mass produced in the Far East in factories with poor labour conditions. If your gown is made of polyester, its fabric comes from petrochemicals, is non-biodegradable and uses water and energy extensively in its production. There are also issues with silk, as silk worms are often boiled alive or electrocuted to extract the silk from the cocoon.

“I made my wedding dress from organic cotton and Justin took it as an opportunity to buy the new suit that he needed,” says Mirella. Another option is to go vintage – you could re-style your mother’s gown, buy second hand from one of the many charity bridal shops that now exist, or you can even look on eBay. If you are buying dresses for your bridesmaids, consider getting dresses that they could wear again, or that could be transformed into cocktail dresses by dying them.

Location

Tempting as it may be to get married on a beach in the Maldives, there is a large carbon footprint attached to having a wedding abroad. Most of us these days have family and friends around the world so it is inevitable that some of your guests will have to travel some distance to get to your wedding. But try and choose a wedding location that means that the majority of your guests will have to travel a minimal distance – your guests will thank you for it too! You can have a wedding with a difference by arriving at your venue by horse-drawn cart, rickshaw, hybrid car or even a hired double decker bus for all your guests. You can also choose a unique wedding venue, such as a botanic garden or an organic farm, rather than the standard commercial hotel chain.

Food

Feeding your wedding guests can be vastly expensive and if you hire a commercial venue you are often tied in to using their caterers. A green venue is more likely to be flexible about allowing you to make your own choices, selecting organic, locally sourced produce and sustainable meat and fish produce. Edinburgh resident Emily Townsend, who is currently planning her green wedding, is looking into various eco-friendly options. Top on her list is having a barbeque on recycled compostable paper plates, to reduce energy from washing and transporting cutlery and plates.

Flowers

If you are buying flowers for your wedding, ask your florist for flowers grown in the UK. In Latin America and Africa, pesticide use is not controlled in the same way as it is in this country. Labourers on flower farms are mostly women of reproductive age, and exposure to pesticides can be very harmful. And of course flowers flown in from overseas come with a hefty carbon footprint too. Mirella chose to have flowers picked from her mother-in-law’s garden, adding a personal touch to the event. You could also give away small potted plants to your guests rather than buying favours.

Invitations

Most people you know are in touch by email these days – so save yourself some money and some trees by emailing your invitations. If you want to post invitations, follow Emily’s example by making sure the paper is from sustainable sources that use vegetable inks. If you’re a creative type, why not make them yourself?

Spreading the green message

So does the green message rub off on the guests as well? Emily certainly thinks so. “We hope that it may spark an interest and inspiration in them to make some small easy changes at home once the wedding is over,” she says. If you’re currently planning your wedding, what’s important to remember is that every little helps. Even if you are able to add just one green element to your wedding, it can make a real difference.

What you can do

Getting married and got everything you need? Why not set up a wedding list in aid of Friends of the Earth Scotland? www.foe-scotland.org.uk/donateincelebration

For a nearly new stylish wedding gown, check out Bliss Studio in Edinburgh.