After a year of cancellations, it feels like events are fully back on as we’ve headed into summer 2021. Our social calendars are slowly and safely filling back up, and for many of us, that likely means a wedding or two. As the executive editor of the Knot Worldwide, Lauren Kay, shared with TIME Magazine, there’s an expectation of a 20% to 25% increase in weddings this year and into 2022, with about 47% of those happening between July and October 2021. Perhaps the biggest wedding year ever?
While that’s certainly exciting for couples and guests, it’s hard to deny the impact the wedding industry and traditional practices can have on the environment. (Hint: it’s not a good one.) The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. in 2019 was $33,900, and increased spending usually means increased waste. It is estimated that the average wedding produces 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide. Yikes.
While scrapped plans were certainly disappointing, one silver lining of the pandemic was a shift in priorities and spending on weddings. In fact, the average cost dropped to $19,000 in 2020. Smaller guest lists, outdoor ceremonies, a rise in intimate elopements, and general downscaling were all trends that while often chosen out of necessity, were also better for the planet. And there’s evidence to suggest that this shift in wedding culture may be here to stay. The March issue of Brides Magazine reported that 81% of their readers say the pandemic has changed their expectations for their wedding.
Regardless of COVID times, there are always ways to make sustainable choices surrounding weddings, whether you’re planning your own or attending as a guest. Every single option can make a difference, and even focusing on a few is always better than focusing on none. You can absolutely research and consult for sustainable practices at every juncture (or even hire someone to do it for you) – green weddings are totally a thing, and the internet is at your service. But we wanted to share a few of our favorite ideas for creating memorable weddings and gifts that also happen to be better for the planet. Whether there’s a wedding in your immediate future or not, we hope to plant a little seed for the choices to come.
Family heirlooms are always special, but even if they’re not available, shopping vintage can lead to some really amazing finds. And remember – the diamond industry is legit propaganda and you’re free to choose the stone of your liking (or no stone at all) (or even no ring at all – many couples opt for tattoos or silicone options). If you do like the idea of having something new, you can look for jewelers who specialize in using ethically sourced materials and conflict-free stones or even work with an independent artist to design something totally unique that you can also feel good about.
THE DRESS + ATTIRE
Look, the “wedding tax” is already a thing and a racket. Not familiar? It’s the idea, and too often reality, that things cost more when the word “wedding” is involved, even for the same products or services used in other events or parties. No doubt, sometimes this is warranted due to the time and sensitivity involved with an occasion billed to be the “best day of your life.” But other times, especially if you don’t share that same expectation, it’s an unfortunate and sometimes opportunistic surcharge. If you haven’t heard of the wedding tax, perhaps you’re familiar with the idea of the “pink tax,” – the practice of women’s versions of products often costing more, even when it’s the same thing as the men’s or unisex version, just in a female branded package? Now combine those two ideas and you get the mother of them all – the “bride tax.” Corporate America has fully capitalized on the notion that they are selling women “the dream” and they are sure as hell going to charge you for it. Beyond the diamond scam mentioned above, it’s also at least partially to blame for why it’s perfectly acceptable for the groom to rent or re-use a tux or suit, but it’s part of the whole deal for the bride to say “yes to the dress,” – often spending thousands of dollars on a piece of clothing made to be worn exactly once. Again, you can combat this by choosing passed down or vintage options, renting your dress, or if you simply must buy new – donating or renting it in the future.
Going digital is a great way to eschew waste and caring about the environment is never tacky. If you simply must (perhaps due to family pressure) send a physical invite, consider a one-item option like a postcard (bonus: cheaper postage) which points to a wedding website for further details and to RSVP.
Speaking of paper… consider skipping programs, place cards/menus, and escort cards entirely. Or make items do double duty whenever possible – like place cards that are also a personalized favor. For her own wedding, the author of this journal entry DIY’d personalized coasters with photography as a favor, which doubled as the place setting after locating one’s table off a chalkboard seating chart. Many years later, she still finds those coasters in friends’ homes, well-worn and well-loved.
MAKEUP + HAIR
We’re all about clean beauty over here, and weddings are no exception. Look for salons that use environmentally and people-friendly products – these days there’s definitely no shortage of options and no compromise in the results. Also, if a whole bridal party is getting done up, consider hiring stylists (hair, makeup, nails, etc.) to do it on-site versus having everyone travel independently to a salon.
Outdoor weddings aren’t just for pandemics – they are a great way to let the natural surroundings be the backdrop with no need for added, often wasteful décor. When an indoor space is needed or desired, you can also look for spaces that are LEED certified or generally use sustainable practices. They’re increasingly out there!
FLOWERS + DÉCOR
While we’re on the subject, decorations don’t have to end up in the dumpster. For florals, aim to use local and seasonal species – you can very cost-effectively create amazing arrangements from bunches of greens and flowers from local farmers and a variety of recycled glass jars, bottles, and vases. If DIY isn’t your vibe, consider potted plants versus cut flowers and give them away to guests or take them home yourself to plant. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a rosebush from your wedding for generations to come? For other décor, many options now exist to rent collections from specialized companies or even other brides - things like vintage furniture, china collections, and a whole host of other fun stuff. You can even inquire with your venue about re-using items from other events they might be hosting – they likely just never thought about it and will be super stoked not to have to tear it down and put up a whole new set of decorations.
FOOD + DRINK
Same as your florist – think local and seasonal! Work with a local caterer and baker, preferably one who already uses sustainable practices like composting and recycling. (And if they don’t, provide options to do it yourself. Especially if it’s a big wedding – it can make a huge difference!) For drinks, consider signature cocktails to limit the amount of bottle waste and keg beer versus individual cans or bottles. Eliminate plastic waste by renting china, glass, and linens.
For vendors that aren’t providing something physical, like a DJ or band, photographer, videographer, etc., you can still keep an eye out for those that advertise sustainable business practices.
We’ll go ahead and say it: no one needs another monogrammed koozie. In fact, no one really needs anything at all, and you can go ahead and nix the favor all together and again, spend your money on what really matters to your guests – one heckuva party. That said, if you do want to send your people away with something, follow the rule of making it meaningful, useful, or something that either gives back or returns to the earth. Consumable items are great, or even consider making a donation to a charity in honor of your guests instead.
ALL THE GIFTS
Whether you’re the bride or groom bestowing gifts on your family members and wedding party, or a bridesmaid/groomsman or guest choosing gifts for the couple – gifts are always a thing, (and we’re not knocking them either – it’s a fun and exciting time where love abounds!)
For the couple, we’d suggest creating a registry filled with experiences over things and/or funds towards bigger items you’ll use for many years to come. There are numerous cool registry sites these days that allow you to do just that, or even donate to charities of choice.
The same rules apply to guests of the wedding and bachelorette/bachelor parties - experiences over things, consumables, and sustainable options. And think outside the box. One recent idea we personally loved was giving a Junes bag + Carry-All set for a bachelorette party gift – perfect for washing the more traditional gift (lingerie) without leaching microplastics and using on the honeymoon and future travel.
Remember, weddings already have a great thing going for them in that they are an experience versus a thing. It’s helpful to let that idea guide all decisions as a general principle, and always throw your budget towards everyone having a great time (a consumable entity) instead of physical items, like mailables, takeaways, and décor. For example, a great band that gets everyone on the dance floor will be something everyone talks about for years, while table decorations will be quickly forgotten – guaranteed. And here’s the great thing: sustainable choices don’t necessarily have to mean breaking your budget or cheapening the event. In reality, they may even save you money and will likely make your big day more enjoyable, personal, and memorable for all the people who love and have come to celebrate you.
So with that, we propose a toast: cheers to all the sustainable weddings this year. May you throw them, and may you attend them! Shop our June Carry-Alls.