By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Love, honor and obey: That was then.
Reduce, reuse and recycle: This is now.
Brides, grooms and the $73 billion wedding industry that caters to them are paying more attention to the environmental implications of their choices.
It is a trend that was barely on the cultural radar screen a couple of years ago. Couples concerned about global warming are scaling back and thinking green as they plan wedding venues, menus, flowers and transportation, helped by a multiplying array of Web sites, stores and catalogues. Twenty-something brides blog about using hybrid cars instead of Hummer limos, about dumping mailed response cards for e-mail RSVPs. Some couples ask retailers not to wrap gifts in yards of paper and ribbons that will just be thrown away. The truly committed can choose wooden wedding rings carved from downed trees, and biodegradable confetti called Ecofetti. Washington flower designer Sidra Forman says half of all couples now ask where flowers for the bouquets and centerpieces are coming from and whether they have been organically grown using fair-trade practices.
Take Jessica Deskiewicz and Luis Castro. The young Washington couple wanted a natural setting rather than a glitzy ballroom for their September nuptials, so the celebration will be held outdoors at Woodend, headquarters of the Audubon Naturalist Society, in Chevy Chase. Invitations are being printed with soy ink on paper made of 100 percent post-consumer waste; place cards will be handwritten on pressed magnolia leaves. The couple are using an online "wedding carbon footprint" calculator to determine the amount of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions that will be generated by guests flying and driving into town for the big day. They then will buy "carbon credits" to help offset the environmental damage (through TerraPass, see box at right).
"I'm not about doing everything for the moment and then throwing it by the wayside and not thinking of the aftereffects on the environment." says Deskiewicz, 25, an avid hiker who heads an environmental interest committee for the Academy for Educational Development. She and Castro are active in the Sierra Club. "This is all very important to us."
Aimee Dominick, a local wedding and events planner, says: "I've seen a lot more of it in Washington in the last six to eight months. Brides want to know where to get locally grown food and how the trash is going to be recycled."
In its 2007 February/March issue, Brides magazine carried its first major article detailing how to have a green wedding. (Serve soup in cucumber cups, leaving no bowls to wash; choose an organic wedding cake carried in on a bamboo platter.)
"Couples are thinking of their future families and how they can do something kind for the planet with this occasion," says Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief. The new thinking, she says, is "looking at the wedding as a way to do something really beautiful but not waste."
According to a survey in 2006 by Conde Nast, Bride's publisher, there are 2.3 million American weddings each year, with an average cost of $27,852. After a reporter asked how many couples are considering a green wedding, the magazine staged a quick survey last weekend on its Web site, http://www.brides.com. Sixty percent of respondents said the environment was important in planning their wedding; 33 percent said they were planning to have a green wedding.
Emily Elizabeth Anderson, who produced weddings for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, is the author of a new book, "Eco-Chic Weddings" (Hatherleigh Press, $12.95). "Baby boomers are the ones who cause trends in our society, and now they are interested in living longer and healthier," Anderson says. "They are paying for these weddings and are part of this environmentally responsible movement."
Fueling the awareness, she says, is a reaction to overconsumption. "Some weddings have become like an out-of-control freight train. It's not about getting into debt."
Green weddings, it should be noted, do not necessarily cost less.
"Sure, it's easier to be green when you're affluent," says Rebecca Mead, the London-born author of the just-published "One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding" (Penguin Press, $25.95). The book, currently generating a lot of buzz, takes stock of how and why many weddings have become among the most overwrought, over-funded social events in American culture.
Mead says the environmental awareness has exploded just in the year since her book went to the publisher. She suspects, however, that the green wedding will remain a small segment of the market.
"While I think there are many people who are very environmentally conscious -- and that is a good, important thing -- there is always something so classically American about turning everything into a new way of consuming products," she says. "It's not a good thing if you end up buying five green products instead of one."
She says the most ecologically sensitive way to throw a wedding is to have a small one: say, 20 guests instead of 200.
Deskiewicz and Castro say they do not think of green weddings as a fad and wanted to incorporate only elements that reflect sustainability in a responsible way. Instead of toss-aside party favors, they are giving departing guests small jars of honey from Ritchie's Honey Farm in Manassas. The caterer will set up a recycling station on-site. Organic fair-trade coffee will be served. Leftover food will be donated to a homeless shelter.
But there are limits: "I did go ahead with a regular dress," Deskiewicz says. She chose a silk wedding gown rather than one made of hemp (though those are indeed available, for $329, at http://www.rawganique.com).
Carol Kolsky's daughter Rebecca was married two years ago at a Virginia farm to fellow medical student Timothy O'Meara. Instead of formal floral centerpieces, Maryland caterer Susan Gage arranged edible centerpieces of artisan breads, heirloom tomatoes and olives around terra-cotta pots holding fresh heart-shaped rosemary topiaries. The bride (who had no bouquet) and groom were accompanied by Harold and Maude, their two chocolate brown Labs. The couple planted a weeping beech tree as a symbol of their new life together. In lieu of gifts, guests were invited to donate to a small foundation the couple established to help children in Zambia.
At her wedding a year and a half ago, Ilonka Oszvald of Silver Spring wore an ivory silk wedding dress that had belonged to her fiance's grandmother. She had it dry-cleaned by a cleaner who didn't use harsh chemicals. Guests carpooled to the church, and the couple decided to forget party favors.
"Now some of my friends are having the cloth diaper-disposable debate," she says. "That's in the way future for us."