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As individual climate action becomes increasingly normalized, individuals around the world are taking steps to change their lifestyles and lower their impacts. From making the switch to clean energy to changing our diets, taking inspired action to become more environmentally and socially conscious is becoming easier and more accessible than ever. And although all of these individual changes are great, there is still a need to look at major waste culprits like weddings, as opportunities for expansive action to reduce negative impacts on the environment and our communities.

It is estimated that the average American wedding produces 400-600 lbs of garbage and 63 tons of CO2.

This means that a single wedding can produce as many CO2 emissions as five people would produce in an entire year, contributing to a staggering 1 billion lbs of wedding-day trash annually.

Now knowing that weddings are already overwhelming affairs, the last thing we want to do is to pile on more stress by leaving happy couples with these insane figures alone. We realize that similar to making more sustainable lifestyle choices, the idea of planning a sustainable wedding can also be paralyzing. But it doesn’t have to be.

While one sustainable wedding won’t reverse climate change on its own, there are still endless possibilities to have a meaningful impact and inspire others to do the same when we come together to celebrate love. Here are seven ideas for planning a beautiful, budget-friendly, and environmentally conscious wedding.

1. Pick a sustainable location

The easiest way to have an eco-friendly wedding is to choose a venue that prioritizes sustainability. One way to do that is to consider an outdoor venue. Many city, state, and national parks allow weddings for a small fee. Choosing a space in nature not only gives you a beautiful backdrop for your vows but also the money spent towards booking the space goes right back to conservation efforts. As an added bonus, you save a bunch on energy usage by using natural light that will also make for even more beautiful wedding photos!

Now, if outdoors is a no-go for you. You can also hunt for indoor venues through the Green Building Information Gateway to search for event spaces with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications.

2. Seek vendors that give back to the planet or the community

This is a broad tip that can be used all the way from buying an engagement ring to picking out a wedding dress and choosing a caterer. Planning a sustainable wedding is not just about finding sustainable alternatives but also honoring your community footprint and remembering that sustainability needs dynamic and intersectional efforts.

Look for socially-conscious vendors that use a percentage of their profits to donate to charity or look to support local businesses to reduce emissions caused by transportation. You can also take this tip even further by choosing in-season goods that support local farmers and businesses owned by people of color in your community. On the whole, don’t be afraid to ask potential vendors about how they give back to the community or strive to be environmentally conscious. These seemingly small decisions have the potential to make a big impact.

3. Limit your paper waste

We’ll leave this one short and easy: go for recycled-paper for your wedding stationery or better… forego paper altogether. Send electronic invites, use chalkboards or vintage mirrors to write menus and signs that are Pinterest worthy. If none of this floats your boat and you have a bigger budget to work with, consider companies like Paper Culture, that plants a tree for every order they receive.

4. Flowers — go local and stay seasonal!

The surest way to a more sustainable wedding is to choose flowers that are local and seasonal. Also, ask your florist about their supply chain to ensure that your blooms come from local farms and not wholesale vendors that typically treat flower farm workers poorly. If your heart is set on flowers that aren’t local or in-season, look for flowers that are VeriFlora-certified; this means that flowers are grown sustainably and humanely.

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Also, avoid the use of floral foam (which is toxic and won’t break down in a landfill) and consider using potted plants instead of cut flowers as centerpieces where you can.

5. Use favors and gifts to give back

This one is easy too! Look for plantable wedding favors like herbs, succulents, saplings or seeded paper. It will give your guests a fun activity that brings them into the magic of your day long after it is over. Also, you can consider donating to a charity of your choice in the name of guests. Display a sign letting them know you’ve made a donation in their honor and watch how inspired the crowd will become.

6. Make a plan for wedding waste and clean-up

First, be sure to make a plan with your caterer about what happens with leftover food. You have a few options to let guests take leftovers home or ensure that the food goes to a local homeless shelter. Second, make sure you encourage your guests to recycle by creating signs that separate waste and recycling. Lastly, consider donating leftover flowers to organizations like Random Acts of Flowers or Repeat Roses that will deliver flowers to hospitals and nursing homes or compost them if they’ve gone bad!

7. Be authentic!

While we’ve thrown all these tips your way, do take the time to consider what causes are closest to your heart too. It is easy to join any of these tips with other issues you and your future spouse are excited about. The point is to let your wedding reflect what you care most about and take the opportunity to shine some light and have an impact. We promise it will make your day that much sweeter.

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Kristina Delgado

Kristina Delgado is a New York-based activist, writer and international social inclusion strategist working to advance sustainable and intersectional solutions.

New York, NY