It’s Valentine’s Day, and couples all over the world will be getting engaged to be married. Marriage is one of the few things that hasn’t changed much over the past couple of generations, and one thing we don’t stop to think about is how much it costs to have a weddingnot in dollars but in social and environmental damage. A gold diamond ring? Very pretty, but mining for gold is one of the most environmentally hazardous of human occupations, releasing toxic chemicals into the surroundings as its ore is removed from the ground. And diamonds, from places like Sierra Leone, have become so closely associated with war, smuggling, and other conflict that the phrase blood diamonds is now familiar.
Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives out there (you can buy or ask for a vintage ring, for example, which is way cooler than a new one anyway). If you are planning a wedding, here are a few simple ways to change it up and get married consciously and in style.The Ring
Since forgoing the ring is not an appealing option, especially for most womenaccording to Grist columnist Umbra, if I had a nickel for every married American woman who doesn’t wear a ring, I’d have at least 35 centsthere are two good options. Choose silver instead of gold. Silver mining has a much lower impact. And there are plenty of gemstones besides diamonds to choose from which are equally beautifultry your birthstone, for example. Or, appeal to family tradition and use a relative’s wedding or engagement ringyou can have them resized and repaired, if needed. If there isn’t a vintage ring available from your family, there are plenty of vintage jewelry stores where you can find a beautiful ring.The Dress
Having a summer wedding? How about a nice, simple yet elegant, organic cotton summer dress? If that doesn’t float your boat, you can have wedding gowns made from organic hemp/silk blends. There is an increasing number of suppliers to meet this demand, Organic Weddings, for example. Katie Fewings got so frustrated over trying to plan a green wedding that she created a website called Ethical Weddings, to help others find these resources. Of course, you can always search vintage stores if you want to be ultimately unique, and have alterations done if needed.The Invitations
That’s a lot of paper, and often wedding invitations include non-recyclable elements such as plastic, so it all goes to landfill. A friend of mine had her invitations hand-written on handmade paper, and they were beautiful. Try to go with post-consumer recycled paper, and stay away from bright whites, which use a lot of chemical bleach. You can also get tree-free paper that is made from recycled coffee beans, recycled denim, organic cotton, or hemp fibre. How about organic cotton invitations that contain wildflower seeds which will grow if planted? Your love can bloom literally as well as symbolically.The Food
This part should be self-explanatory. Organic, local. If your wedding is in or near a small town, for example, there should be plenty of local small-scale farmers to support. You can also find organic wines, organic, fair-trade coffeeeven recycled glasses. Try to keep waste to a minimum, and in buying local, organic food you sacrifice absolutely nothing in taste.The Flowers
Cut flowers, as you may already know, are quite toxic, both to the environment and to the workers who grow them. Most cut flowers in North America come from farms in South and Central America, so there are transportation costs and emissions to think about, too. An interesting idea is to force your own bulbsin other words, grow your own flowers in your home. You’ll have to start a few months early, but you can grow anything from tulips and daffodils to begonias and pineapple lilies. Failing that, there are suppliers of organically-farmed cut flowers that you can support. They have a fairly strict set of guidelines for growing practices to protect both the environment and the farm workers, and the flowers will be healthier for you and your guests to enjoy.The Honeymoon
Some friends of mine got married a few years ago and after the wedding, a group of eight or so close friends went camping at a local provincial park. It was a great getaway for everyone, we got to spend five days together (a rarity these days, especially for people spread out across the country), swimming and canoeing and horsing around, with no jet fuel expenditure. Be creativeyou don’t have to fly halfway around the globe to have a memorable honeymoon (and you don’t have to bring all your friends with you, either). If you do want to fly somewhere, think about offsetting your carbon emissions, by planting trees at your new home, for example. Or there are many options for low-impact, ethical eco-tourism.
Most people spend more on a wedding than they will spend on any one thing besides a car or a house. Talk about using your dollars to make a difference! Having a green wedding will definitely send a message to suppliers that we want better, more responsible ways to live.
Happy Valentine’s Day!Sources
How To Marry Your Sweetheart and Love the Planet http://www.grist.org/advice/possessions/2003/05/08/
Organic Weddings http://www.organicweddings.com/wedding_dress/designs.html
A New American Dream http://www.newdream.org/consumer/dirty_gold.html
Organic Bouquet http://www.organicbouquet.com/i_1/about_organic_bouquet.html
International Flower Bulb Centre http://www.bulb.com/
Wholly Jo’s Ethically Made Wedding Dresses http://www.treehugger.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/wholly_jos_ethi_1.php
Ethical Weddings http://www.ethicalweddings.com/
Deplored of the Rings http://www.grist.org/advice/ask/2003/02/12/umbra-rings/