How to Plan a Wedding That’s Ethical, Environmentally Friendly, and Gives Back

It’s all about love.

But it takes planning, and with planning comes opinions and emotions, especially with an event as momentous as a wedding.

Thankfully you don’t have to do any one thing in your wedding. It’s your day, and if some traditions don’t feel good for you then you don’t have to participate. At the end of the day, a wedding is a celebration of love, and there’s no one right way to celebrate.

Many couples are choosing to opt out of certain traditions that can feel outdated or even downright wrong.

Here are some ways to make sure your wedding is perfectly you, while also being ethical, environmentally friendly, and serving a greater purpose:


Put a (Conflict-Free) Ring on It

An engagement ring purchase makes both environmental and human rights impacts.

A Brilliant Earth wedding ring / photo courtesy of George Coletrain

The diamond industry has been notoriously controversial since the rising popularity of diamond rings in the last century — diamond harvesting has fueled conflict, the mining of metals has damaged the environment, and miners are often underpaid and overworked in unsafe conditions.

Socially conscious brides-to-be are understandably searching for an option that she and her partner can both show off and feel good about. Thankfully there are stunning and affordable alternatives to traditionally produced diamond rings.

Search for conflict-free or lab-created diamonds.

Companies like Brilliant Earth, HOLDEN, and Do Amore offer ethical options for whatever your budget.

Do Amore even donates funds from each ring purchase to building clean wells in communities without clean water by partnering with charity: water.

If you're open to a lab-grown diamond, you can check out brands like With Clarity.

Prioritize recycled and fair trade metals.

A single wedding ring can produce up to 20 tons of waste. Mining for precious metals can produce toxic by-product that often contaminates groundwater — killing fish and making land unusable for irrigation. The dirty water often ends up in our oceans.

Ditch the diamond altogether.

Consider using another stone — moissanite looks shockingly similar to a diamond and is manufactured instead of mined. Or go stone-free and opt for a simple band made of recycled metal.

Get a recycled or vintage ring.

Buying secondhand will always be your best bet for reducing your carbon footprint and extending the lifespan of your jewelry. Etsy, pawn shops, and even eBay are great places to start searching.

Let your finger go naked!

You don’t have to wear an engagement ring. It might be a deeply held tradition but not one that makes or breaks a marriage. Some couples decide to get matching tattoos or invest in something else that signifies their love.

Wear Your Convictions

Finding a sustainably and ethically made wedding dress might sound stressful, but you actually have numerous stylish and jaw-dropping options to browse.

See if you can buy secondhand.

Buying secondhand, renting, or borrowing your bridal gown and bridesmaid dresses is always going to be the best option to reduce your environmental impact.

Several websites including Once Wed offer clean, like-new dresses.

Shop sustainable brands.

Your next best bet is to search for clothing companies that treat their supply chain well and take their environmental impact seriously.

TOMS (which has evolved to a healthier approach since their 1-for-1 campaign) offers a wedding collection — the company gives one third of profits for grassroots good, making your wedding day shoes that much more special, impactful even.

Reformation makes stunning gowns with sustainable methods and materials.

London-based Minna embraces zero waste pattern cutting techniques.

You can also check out brands like Christy Dawn, Wear Your Love, and PureMagnolia.

Your dress doesn't have to be single-use.

Rent the Runway has a bridal collection that allows you to rent instead of buy.

If you decide to sell your dress after your wedding, consider selling your gown to an organization making a difference.

Brides Do Good gives one-third of the price of your dress to charities helping protect the millions of young girls at risk for child marriage.


Make Your Wedding the Greenest Event of the Year

One wedding lasting just six hours with about 100 guests can produce more than 500 pounds of waste, according to The Green Bride Guide.

Thankfully there are both little and big choices you can make to cut waste (and maybe even cost) on your wedding day. Your guests won’t even notice they’re at an eco-friendly event.

Stay close to home if you can.

Air travel is one of the most significant aspects of many humans' carbon footprint. For those of us who love to travel, it's sad to think about the impact our vacations can have on the environment. But it's also an opportunity to easily make a difference for your wedding.

By choosing to host your wedding near where most of your wedding guests live, you can significantly reduce the amount of emissions they release by traveling via airplane. Even if some friends and family have to fly it, you'll be significantly cutting back on the number of flights being taken.

This may mean hosting a hometown wedding, near your or your partner's families, instead of where you may be living now — but it's also an opportunity to explore what kinds of new venues and vendors have come to town in recent years. You may be pleasantly surprised by your options.

If you're dreaming of a beautiful destination wedding, consider eloping or making it a micro-wedding. If you need to, you can livestream guests in with tools like Joy. By reducing the number of people at your wedding, you're saving everyone else a flight and you can feel good about reducing your carbon footprint.

Cut single-use out wherever you can.

Planning a wedding is challenging — and using single-use products can feel like an easy shortcut to make the wedding easier to pull off.

Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of the planet.

While it may take a little bit more intentionality, choosing to rent instead of buy, choose reusable over single-use, and minimizing plastic wherever possible will make a huge difference in creating a more sustainable wedding.

Rent plates, glasses, linens, and utensils that can be washed and reused instead of thrown away. Anywhere you can cut plastic and paper goods will make that much of a difference on the environmental impact your wedding makes.

Make it easy for your guests to do good.

Ask your guests to not wrap your gifts. Instead, ask guests to ship gifts directly to you. It will make packing up after your wedding that much easier when you don’t have to load up a stack of gifts. And you won’t have to throw away bags and bags of wrapping paper.

Best yet, ask your guests for digital gift cards or even to donate to a charity of your choice so there are no shipping materials involved at all.

Where you can, borrow or rent instead of buy. Buying new products puts demand in the market for new manufacturing, whereas borrowing or renting extends use on products already created.

Be extra thoughtful about your venue and vendors.

The easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to choose a green venue and vendors. They'll do most of the work to ensure your big day is sustainable. By choosing trusted vendors with expertise, you can rely on their expertise instead of having to learn everything yourself. (Just watch out for greenwashing.)

Ask your venue how they reduce their carbon footprint. If they don't immediately have an answer for you, it may be a sign they don't keep the environment top-of-mind.

Send invites and print other paper goods on sustainable, recycled, post-consumer paper. Or go fully digital and send invites and details through email or a website.

When it comes to flowers, organizations like Repeat Roses will take your floral arrangements and repurpose them for hospital rooms and other community centers.

Your wedding's food should taste good and do good.

Ask questions! Ask what your vendors do to prioritize the environment and reduce waste. Ask your caterer if their food is local and seasonal.

Don’t throw away food. Insist that the caterer donate any uneaten food to a food bank or put it in compost. You can always freeze it and take it home for leftovers!

And most importantly, the single most impactful thing you can do for your wedding is to cut meat from the menu. Too many weddings rely on the traditional "chicken, steak, or salmon" menu choices — but by minimizing animal products, you can significantly reduce the overall carbon footprint of your wedding.

This is a unique moment in your life where you can single-handedly make a choice that reduces a large amount of emissions. Plus, the world is filled with countless incredible vegetarian meals — and the right vendor will know exactly how to woo your guests.

Consider a carbon offset.

Your wedding will have an impact on the environment, but you can offset that impact by buying carbon offsets. Simply put, you can pay money to take an action like planting trees or contributing to a carbon reduction program — and it'll ensure that your wedding remains carbon neutral (or even carbon positive).

Offset your wedding with a company like Terrapass or ask your vendors to get certified through Climate Neutral.

And lastly, know that there's no such thing as a perfectly green wedding. Don't overly stress on making sure every single thing is 100% environmentally friendly.

Just do your best where you can.

Make thoughtful choices where you have the option, and commit with your partner to doing the same for the rest of your life together. Choosing to be a sustainable couple is one of the best wedding presents you can give each other.

All of the recommendations in this story are independently selected by the Good Good Good team. Some of the links may be affiliate links — which means that when you click them, we may earn a commission — which supports our ability to continue sharing good news. Thank you!


A version of this story originally ran in Issue 04 of the Goodnewspaper in May 2018. The Goodnewspaper is our monthly print newspaper filled with good news.

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August 24, 2021

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