Ever since a certain fancy inspiration blog got my dander up by being nominated for best "green" blog, and I wrote a post calling for a Green Revolution in weddings, I've been thinking about 1), why someone would take environmental and social responsibility into account in planning their wedding, and 2), what those terms, bandied about so freely these days, mean, or could mean, in relation to weddings. These days you can find the labels 'sustainable', 'green' and 'eco-friendly' on the most unlikely of products - just another marketing tool - so it's worth trying to parse the meaning a bit. There are some good tips around the internet (here and here), as well as many others, no doubt.
For now, I want to take on the first question: Why would someone plan an eco-conscious wedding?
Four reasons occur to me (chime in with more!):
1) The economic reason: Economists know that wasteful processes cost more, so businesses seek efficiency with materials and labor. Applied to a wedding, the economic reason might mean cutting down on unnecessary or expensive items (inner envelopes with invitations, aisle runners, favors for guests, number of invitations, number of guests) to save money, and consequently create less environmental impact. Cost-cutting measures that decrease the amount of stuff consumed at the wedding (one-time-use stuff - see, e.g. the wedding dress!) are essentially also eco-conscious measures.
2) The outdoorsy reason: It's fashionable these days to get married at a spectacular outdoor site that bears some connection to the couple's personal interests - skiing, hiking, swimming, being outdoors. These outdoor sites often end up providing much of the decor through their own inherent beauty. If the sites are remote or difficult to reach, it may mean that less 'wedding gear' is transported to the site. Couples may choose these sites as a statement of their values and interest in enjoying and protecting the outdoors. Of course, outdoorsy sites can still support the full-on splash-out, with imported flowers and decorations galore.
3) The values reason: Though not necessarily separate from the other two reason, this one is the most interesting to me. Traditionally, weddings were held in houses of worship that represented the couple's cultural and religious traditions. Holding the wedding in such sacred space, and adhering to the traditions of that space honors the values represented by the religion: faith, hope and charity, and the like. The religious traditions also offer teachings about honoring and caring for Creation: stewardship for the Earth, tikkun olam, repairing the world. So I'm wondering if any couples are planning sustainable weddings as an expression of their religious values?
4) The future reason: Along with meeting my darling nephews, getting married has been the rite-of-passage that has put me most in touch with time unrolling into a distant future. Suddenly, rather than planning a day ahead (or a week at best), I was making a promise for the rest of my life. And when I thought about the time stretching in front of us, I really, really wanted to know that the future world we and our families would live in would be just as gorgeous, diverse, vibrant and full-of-life (if not more so) than the one we inhabit now. But I think we, or our parents' generation (maybe grandparents'?), were the first to have to contemplate that the glorious future we could imagine might not come to pass. With the unleashing of the atom bomb in the 1940s, our parents and grandparents realized that absolute destruction of life was possible. Now, with climate change (wacky weather suggests that it's already happening) and the global biodiversity crisis (species are going extinct at 100 to 10,000 times the usual rate in what scientists call the Sixth Mass Extinction), it appears that the world of the future might not be quite as rich and lively as the world of the present.
When I think about sustaining my marriage into that future - whatever it holds, richer or poorer, better or worse, on the local or global scale - I feel ever more called to do whatever I can do right now to make that future more positive. This for me is the most compelling reason for planning a sustainable wedding: as a solid foundation, and a vote of optimism for a sustaining and sustainable marriage.
Just like I've become better about flossing my teeth since we got engaged - how embarrassing it would be to lose my pearly whites! - I've become better about riding my bike around town (the exercise will keep me around, and prevent the drowning of another polar bear) and seeking out local, organic, whole foods (let's eat our veggies now, rather than deal with a chronic illness in the future). I realize that none of these steps is a guarantee against calamities that could happen in the future, but it feels better to do something positive than nothing. And that's what I want my marriage to be about, too: doing something positive and sustaining.