green wedding tipsWhen Geoff Gorski and Shelby Lambert began planning their June 2009 nuptials, they figured an environmentally conscious wedding would, well, require more green than they had in their budget. Then the two public school teachers who live in Hoboken, N.J., stumbled across Irvine Nature Center’s new facility in Owings Mills, which was completed in 2008 and boasts environmentally conscious features that include a planted roof, a pervious paving parking lot, a geothermal heat pump system and low-flow water fixtures and rain barrels. The couple learned that for about $4,000, which is similar to the cost of most high-end event venues, they could have their wedding at a center whose mission is environmental education, and in a structure designed based on guidelines from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Suddenly, Gorski and Lambert realized that a green wedding was within their means, and that they could push beyond the three Rs in daily living [reduce, reuse, recycle] and apply an eco-friendly approach to major life events.”

The really cool thing about Irvine is they have a gazebo in the forest on the edge of an overlook,” says Gorski. Our guests will do a five-minute trail hike to get to the gazebo, where we’ll have our ceremony.”

Afterward, there will be cocktails on Irvine’s deck and dinner and dancing in a permanent tent on the property. The Dogwood, one of five caterers approved by Irvine for their sustainable food service,” will serve locally grown organic food. The couple won’t need much in the way of decoration because the nature center’s 116-acre site in the Caves Valley is naturally beautiful. At the end of the evening, guests will take home either compact fluorescent bulbs or reusable grocery bags printed with the couple’s name and wedding date. The pair’s four attendants will each get a home composting kit for their service in the wedding, and guests will receive plantable thank-you cards in return for their gifts.

Even the money the couple spends on the wedding will be spent in an environmentally conscious way, says Gorski. It feels so good that money from us is going to an environmental education center,” he says. It’s kind of getting recycled, not going into someone’s pocket.”

Though Irvine Nature Center is uniquely green among the region’s wedding venues, more and more couples are opting to incorporate environmental awareness into their celebrations, regardless of where they’re held. About two years ago, wedding planner Cate Buscher, owner of Plan It Perfect Events in Baltimore, started a new planning service called Plan It Green. I started thinking about my events. The caterers weren’t making an effort to reduce waste— they were throwing out cocktail napkins, for example. And brides were throwing away leftover favors and centerpieces,” she says. So many things were being used just for this one-day event. I decided I wanted to make a difference and help brides make less of a carbon footprint on their big day.”

Buscher’s brother-in-law, David Buscher, owns Bluehouse in Harbor East and The Shops at Kenilworth, and visiting his store assured Buscher that there were Earth-friendly things that weren’t hemp or burlap-colored,” she says. I realized I could offer brides an alternative. They could have a wedding that was chic and stylish but would keep the earth in mind.”

Since starting Plan It Green, Buscher has planned several weddings that have incorporated a range of eco-friendly features, including a 2007 wedding at The Cloisters that featured soy candles, organic soaps made by a friend of the bride’s for favors and seasonal flowers grown without pesticides. In March 2008, she planned a wedding in Virginia, in which the couple’s wedding rings were refashioned from already-existing jewelry. In lieu of a guest book, people wrote on river rocks with Earth-friendly markers, and the couple later put the rocks in their garden. The favors were paper hearts embedded with seeds that could be put in the ground. All the flowers were potted plants that the bride planted in her garden after the big day. And the invitations, created by The Write Style in Timonium, were printed on paper recycled via wind power.

We even found an a cappella group to perform during the reception. They didn’t need microphones at all, thus cutting down on energy use,” says Buscher. For just about every aspect of an event, you can find a green alternative— or at least something that is a little more eco-friendly. One of the things I love about incorporating eco-friendly elements is that it almost forces you to be creative and come up with things that will stand out in your guests’ minds.”

Lisa Brown Malveaux was a veritable model of eco-chic creativity when planning her October 2008 wedding on the three-acre property of her future inlaws’ home in Ellicott City. We had the wedding on the feast day of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of the animals and the environment,” she says. We wanted to be outdoors to focus on the environment.”

For the ceremony, which began at 3:30 p.m., natural light filled the grove of trees where the couple took their vows. Then, as it grew darker, a profusion of organic palm oil candles (with a 10-hour burn life) illuminated the reception— precious little electricity was required. The candles were placed in candleholders Malveaux had purchased at Goodwill, as well as in a pair of romantic candelabra she’d bought at an antique store in Ellicott City. I bought my own things that looked really cool but were mostly inexpensive,” she says. And I kept them and am using them in my home.” Even the unity candle the couple used during the ceremony was recycled— Malveaux found it at Second Chance.

All summer, Malveaux grew flowers in pots outside her Riverside Park home, and when it came time for the wedding, she delivered them to her inlaws’ home, where they were placed around the pool. On the backs of the ceremony chairs hung sprays of coxcomb and hydrangea, which Malveaux had picked fresh at Larriland Farm in Howard County then dried. What few fresh flowers she purchased were placed in vases she provided. The caterer she selected, Dionysus Catering, served local organic fare with vegetables harvested from the owner’s garden. The meal was served family-style,” says Malveaux. So people took only what they wanted, which cut down on waste.”

Malveaux did most of her research and shopping online, thereby saving gas. When she did need to go “offline” to make a purchase, she tried to buy in Michigan, her home state, where she felt good about giving to an economy in need. She bought her wedding dress from a local seamstress there, and she bought the saplings given to guests as wedding favors from a tree farm in Michigan. After months of planning and hard work, the wedding took place on a glorious sunny afternoon, as though Mother Nature were rewarding Malveaux for her efforts.

A Green Wedding Guide

Here are some ways to reduce the environmental impact of your big day:

  • Have the wedding and reception in the same location.
  • Send electronic invitations— or at least ask guests to RSVP via e-mail, instead of paper reply cards.
  • Use potted plants or dried flowers, or local, seasonal flowers grown on organic farms.
  • Ask your caterer to donate any extra food to a homeless shelter.
  • Ask your guests to donate to charity in lieu of gifts, thus saving on all the Styrofoam packing peanuts and cardboard boxes.
  • Calculate the carbon footprint of your wedding at terrapass.com/wedding and purchase carbon credits to offset the damage.

Green Wedding Resources

  • Venue: Irvine Nature Center, explorenature.org, 443-738-9213
  • Cake and Desserts: Brunie’s (Vegan) Bakery, bruniesbakery.com, 443-570-1487
  • Flowers: A Garden of Earthly Delights, agardenofearthlydelights.net, 410-744-3810 Flowers by Rebecca, flowersbyrebecca @gmail.com, 410-308-4808
  • Spa Services: Renew Organic Day Spa, reneworganicdayspa.com, 410-400-2745 Sprout Organic Hair Salon, sproutsalon.com, 410-235-2269
  • Stationary and Invitations: Gilah Press, gilahpress.com, 410-746-9059 Write Style Inc., writestyleinvites.com, 410-296-7722
  • Favors and Gifts The Nature Store at Irvine Nature Center, explorenature.org, 443-738-9217
  • Wedding Planning: Plan It Perfect Events, planitperfectevents.com, 410-685-4765
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