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Green is the new white: More couples want eco-friendly weddings

Tuesday - 11/12/2013, 4:18pm  ET

Venue.JPG
Couples can incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly elements into all aspects of a wedding. And the conscious planning is a growing trend. (Courtesy Kelsey Thompson Photography)
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WASHINGTON - When Jan Tievsky found out her daughter was engaged, she wasted no time planning a wedding that cut down on waste.

"Being as green as possible is important to us. It's pretty much how we've always lived," says Tievsky, a teacher and Northwest D.C. resident.

Tievsky and her daughter sat down and thought through all of the individual pieces of a wedding -- from the invitations, to the dress to the food.

"We took every aspect and said, ‘Could we make this green?'"

For Tievsky, pulling-off an eco-friendly wedding began with the venue. Her daughter wanted an outdoor wedding, but after touring outdoor Virginia venues in Leesburg and Middleburg, Tievsky was not sold.

She wanted to find something closer to reduce the amount of time local and out-of- town guests would have to drive to-and-from the celebration.

Tievsky and her daughter discovered Woodend, a nature sanctuary in nearby Chevy Chase, Md. They especially fell in love with the location when they learned the venue's rental fee supported the work of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

"That's about as green as you can get," says Tievsky, who also arranged for shuttles to take guests to the Oct. 12 wedding to cut down on driving.

Next came the wedding dress. Tievsky's daughter considered buying something used, but decided to take a completely different route with her dress selection.

She purchased a new dress that had a promising future for being repurposed. It's currently being cut down to a cocktail dress that the bride can wear to future events.

While Tievsky wanted to do the majority of the planning herself, she decided to hire a wedding coordinator for some extra planning assistance and day-of organization. Some Internet research led her to Katie Martin -- a Silver Spring, Md., resident who, quite literally, wrote the book on green weddings.

The demand for eco-friendly weddings

Martin established her Bethesda, Md.-based event planning business, Elegance & Simplicity, Inc., 15 years ago. Five years into her business, she decided to turn her focus to planning sustainable weddings, after witnessing the tremendous amount of waste in the wedding industry.

Dressing for a sustainable wedding

Even a new wedding dress can be sustainable if you find a way to repurpose the gown. (Courtesy Kelsey Thompson Photography)

"We really kind of caught on and created a niche for ourselves. There are so many ways to reduce waste before the wedding even starts," says Martin, 41.

Martin is not the only one who caught on to the green wedding trend. In the past five years, she's seen a growing interest in the number of engaged couples who want sustainable weddings.

"Brides and grooms all over the country started to say, ‘Well if I am going to spend an enormous amount of money on eight hours of my life, I want to make sure it's going to the right vendors and that money's going to the right place,'" says Martin, who is also the founder of the online magazine "Eco-Beautiful Weddings" and author of "The Everything Wedding Book" and "Everything Mother of the Bride Book."

Martin says there are a number of ways a couple can plan a colorful, fun and sustainable wedding, even if only one aspect focuses on sustainability.

"I think there is this big misconception that if I'm going to have a green wedding, it's literally going to be the color green and brown and earthy, and that's just not the case. Even if you just do one thing with your wedding that's eco-friendly, you're doing better than the majority of others," Martin says.

Start with the venue

When it comes to making a wedding sustainable, Martin says the key is in community.

"It's not just about the waste, it's about coming together as a community and keeping the money in your community," says Martin, who has planned more than 4,000 events in her career.

"A lot of venues, especially in the D.C. area, are fantastic in the ways they give back to the community."

Eco-wedding food is not about organic

Another major wedding expense is catering, which often covers food, beverages and cake. Providing sustainable food at a wedding does not have to come with a big price tag.

Martin's advice: Spend time with your caterer to find out from where the food is coming. Does the caterer source locally? Or does the business fly in avocados from California and pineapples from Costa Rica? If the latter if the case, consider refining your menu to foods that are local and in season.

"One of the biggest problems with our environment today is carbon emissions," Martin says. "An organic fig flown in from Japan is not sustainable."

A handful of local catering companies are certified green, meaning they make a huge effort to source locally, recycle materials used and even find ways to not waste leftovers.

Food waste is one area Tievsky thought through when planning her daughter's wedding. She asked the caterer not to go around refilling people's wine glasses, without prompt, throughout the reception.

She left the bar open and made sure guests knew she wanted them to enjoy themselves, but she didn't want to see filled glasses of wasted wine at the end of the night.

Her daughter also decided not to have a wedding cake. Instead, she had a dessert bar, which she thought would tempt guests more than a traditional cake.

"Don't assume that anything is written in stone. Your wedding is your wedding. If you don't like wedding cake, don't have wedding cake," Tievsky says.

Small details add up

Anyone who has planned a wedding knows the planning doesn't stop once the venue, the food and the dress are selected.

There are flowers to choose, invitations to send and all of the details that make up the day. But both Martin and Tievsky say even these details can be green.

  • Flowers: Martin says to ask your florist to reduce the amount of oasis, or the type of foam used to hold the stems of flowers in a floral arrangement, since the material in the foam spends years in a landfill.

    She also says to avoid choosing flowers that need to be flown in from Central or South America. Instead, choose flowers that grow in the region where you are planning your wedding.

    Also, think about how you can reuse flowers. When planning her daughter's wedding, Tievsky decorated the tent with large, potted hydrangea bushes. Those hydrangeas are now planted in her backyard garden.

    And other decorative flowers from the event did not wind up in the trash. She dried the bouquets and boutonnieres, and these dried flowers now decorate her home.

  • Paper: "Think of printed material. It can be super wasteful," Tievsky says.

    While she and her daughter considered doing everything online, they ended up going with printed save-the-dates and invitations on recycled paper.

    They used save-the-date cards impregnated with seeds, so when the cards are planted in soil, they grow wildflowers.

    The invitations came on one printed sheet of paper, rather than with several cards and envelopes. Tievsky calligraphied the place cards herself, and the bride opted out of menu cards to save paper.

    The bride also nixed trendy welcome bags.

    "This was a hard one for my daughter," says Tievsky, who says her daughter worried the lack of goodies for out-of-town guests would appear uninviting. "But it's so hard to know somebody's taste in candy or potato chips. What if it winds up in the trash?"

  • The photographer and music: Yes, even wedding photographers and musicians can be eco-friendly. Martin says many vendors in the industry make a point to drive hybrid cars to-and-from events. Some also have paperless offices.

    "I think the big thing that everyone really needs to focus on is the relationships you're having with your vendors and how they give back to the community," Martin says.

A high-cost for a low-waste wedding?

To many, the buzz words "eco," "green" and "sustainable" equate to large dollar amounts. But Martin says that is not the case when it comes to planning an eco-friendly wedding.

She says a wedding with a $15,000 budget can be just as sustainable as a wedding with a $100,000 budget.

Tievsky says just the mindful approach of an environmentally-conscious wedding ended up saving her big bucks.

"There are places where we definitely saved money," she says. "Doing things in a simpler way, there is definitely a savings there."

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