Will You Eco-marry Me?

Weddings are one of the few occasions in our lives when family and friends all gather in the same place. With the spotlight on the bride and groom, the event is an ideal chance for a couple to showcase their style and beliefs to a captive audience.

For the ecologically-minded, this means celebrating with an ‘eco-wedding’ rather than a conventional one.

Tokyo couple Shigeru Komori and Tomoko Hoshino embraced the opportunity to create a beautiful wedding day without leaving behind a huge environmental footprint. Both are passionate about the environment, so applying their shared eco-philosophy to their wedding was a true reflection of who they are and what is important to them.

In essence, our wedding celebrations can be low carbon-emitting, socially-responsible, energy efficient and embrace the four Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle, repair). Even with all these commitments, the event can still live up to the expectations of being one of the most memorable days of your life!

This may be easier said than done, depending on where you live in the world. Saying that you want to hold an eco-wedding may draw blank stares from vendors, parents and guests alike. In most cultures, weddings provide a good reason for elaborate and showy celebrations.

Just think about how big fat Greek weddings can draw 300-500 people, or how Chinese wedding banquets roll out expensive delicacies such as lobster, suckling pig, and the ever-controversial shark-fin soup. In India, weddings might continue for several days and the whole village attends (i.e., thousands of people).

Yet all over the world, not just in developed countries, the temptation for bigger, climate changing and credit crunching weddings is being resisted, as this young Indian couple has shown. Although wedding traditions are hard to change, there can be both ethical and financial reasons for being the first in your family to marry with sustainability in mind.

The average American wedding costs over $26,000, and one in five UK couples start their married life together in (post-wedding) debt. Therefore, it is easy to fall prey to the “wedding industrial complex” that lures unsuspecting engaged couples into believing that they must spend big in order to Do-It-Right.

Some wedding planners in Japan are just beginning to appreciate the negative environmental impacts of their industry, as shown in the video below.

In Tomoko and Shigeru’s case, they decided to bypass traditional bridal salons and the glamour-touting, pre-packaged approach and instead embark on their own fun adventure of creating an eco-wedding.

Since the concept is an emerging one in Japan (as in most places), they applied their own creativity and research initiative to make it a genuinely green occasion. For instance, they selected locally produced, organic, seasonal food, served buffet-style in order to minimize waste. They also e-mailed invitations and used minimal amounts of post-consumer waste recycled paper.

They felt that their wedding was carefully hand-crafted, elegant and simple and importantly, their guests agreed.

“I’m so impressed with how they have adapted their day-to-day eco-conscious approach to their wedding celebrations — the food is delicious and the style is natural,” said a friend of the couple.

As with any large get-together, it is venue selection and event transportation that profoundly influences just how “eco” the wedding may be. Are you making it easy for your guests to bus, train or walk there, rather than drive individually?

International marriages and “destination weddings” require guests to travel considerable distances. Since air travel, more than any other activity, determines how much carbon dioxide a person generates, it is in this area that couples can really make a difference with their planning.

Carbon offsetting, i.e., reducing greenhouse gases from other emissions sources to compensate from our own actions, remains controversial. It allows people to buy themselves out of responsibility for the emissions they create and, some would say, their indulgent behaviour.

Yet, paying into carbon mitigation schemes that are well-managed and accountable, or going on a tree-planting blitz yourself, for example, still seem to be the most compelling ways to reduce the environmental impact of the wedding — other than not holding one at all.

So why would anybody purposefully choose to make the commitment to hold a green wedding?  Here are four motives that help to explain why eco-weddings are set to gain in popularity:

  1. Trend setting – “Eco chic” is a new buzz word. Google “eco-wedding” (in English) and be prepared for an abundance of how-to websites, blogs, books, podcasts and vodcasts. More and more people are jumping on the green bandwagon to capture the latest niche market in the flourishing bridal industry. Beware of “green-washing” (disingenuous corporate spin), however.
  2. Austerity – With the global financial crisis continuing to make daily headlines, a pre-loved wedding dress and 50 guests instead of 150 seem like attractive ideas.
  3. Incidental – Your rather progressive wedding coordinator/stylist introduces you to green alternatives such as ethical, conflict-free diamond rings, locally-harvested flowers, and eco-gift registries.
  4. Eco-consciousness – If Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” film triggered you into action years ago,  your wedding is a natural extension of your daily effort to walk the talk and show your family and friends why individual efforts do matter.

Weddings are about making a public commitment to your partner that your relationship will be a loving and sustainable one. While opting for an eco-wedding may involve greater effort, it will no doubt be more rewarding for you – the Happily Married Couple –  and future generations.



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Will you eco-marry me? by Johanna Stratton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Johanna Stratton is an Academic Programme Associate at the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace. She is currently planning her own wedding in New Zealand and enjoying the challenges of making it green.