Green weddings and how to offset

When a couple plans their wedding, it’s easy to be a little self-centered. Her dress. My tux. Our cake. Our guests. But when a young couple from California began preparing for their big day, they wanted it to be as socially responsible and environmentally friendly as possible.

“Community and the environment are important considerations in the our everyday lives. We might as well make it as important as we can on that special day,” said the groom.

To start, the couple chose an outdoor wedding in their native Pennsylvania to eliminate the need for artificial light and held the ceremony and reception at the same location to reduce car travel.

“They knew that a large number of their guests would be flying great distances, so shuttles were arranged to transport guests,” Mark Kingsdorf, the couple’s wedding planner, wrote in his blog. “Carpools and shuttles [create] far less CO2 and use less fuel than each couple driving.”

Kingsdorf is the owner of Philadelphia-based The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants. He said that more couples in the area have been requesting green weddings. A green wedding could include holding all wedding events in one location, using local and organically grown food and buying locally grown flowers.

The easiest way to make a wedding green is to use eco-friendly wedding vendors.

Kingsdorf realized the many wedding vendors already have environmentally-friendly offices, while some carry their green thinking over into their products. They use locally grown flowers, for example, or use sustainably grown ingredients in their food.

An important component of the wedding was creating a carbon-neutral celebration. The couple also chose to offset all the carbon emitted by wedding guests.

“It was a mutual idea to do something charitable as opposed to giving a [wedding] favor,” said the groom.

The couple calculated and then offset the carbon emitted from each guest’s flight and vehicular travel.

CO2 emissions – the byproduct from activities such as photosynthesis and fossil fuel usage – have been on the rise since the Industrial Revolution. Scientists now agree that the dramatic rise in CO2 emissions is a leading cause of global warming. Each person is said to have a “carbon footprint,” which is the amount of carbon dioxide a person emits over a given period.

“Carbon offsetting represents the reduction of CO2 emissions in one location, such as a wind farm in Kansas, to neutralize the CO2 emissions produced in another location, such as driving a car or heating a home,” said Lindsey Robinett, a Climate Change Specialist at Carbonfund.org Foundation, in an e-mail message.

Although Robinett reduces as much of her carbon emissions as she can by carpooling, buying energy efficient appliances and making other energy-conscious choices, she still produces carbon commuting to work, showering and cooking. No matter how environmentally conscious someone is, it is still extremely difficult to have zero carbon emissions, she said.

“That’s where I offset what I can’t reduce by contributing to Carbonfund.org and becoming carbon neutral,” Robinett said. “Global warming will change the way everyone on Earth lives. Offsetting gives people the ability to join the fight against climate change and make a difference.”

The groom researched and spoke with four or five organizations before deciding to go with Carbonfund.org.

“The people at Carbonfund.org were the most open and transparent,” he says. They explained where the couple's donation would be spent and estimated that 92 cents of every dollar went into projects such as carbon credits, reforestation projects, energy efficiency and renewable energy. “In this scenario, more of my dollar was actually going to these carbon offset projects,” said the groom.

“Carbonfund.org is a great resource to reduce your carbon footprint, as well as green events like weddings,” said Erika Leung, a Climate Change Specialist at Carbonfund.org Foundation. “Not only can you find tips to save energy, but the calculators are quick and easy to use.”

Carbonfund.org’s wedding calculator determines CO2 emissions based on data, such as the number of guests and hotel rooms. Based on the average flight and vehicular mileages, it is easy to estimate a wedding’s carbon footprint. Once a couple calculates and offsets the CO2 emissions generated by their special day, they can receive certificates and a Carbonfund.org wedding website for guests.

Thinking green often means reducing, but a green wedding doesn’t have to call for sparing indulgences. The guests enjoyed a mini-dessert of cupcakes for the first course, a favorite of the bride. The cupcakes were made using local and organic ingredients, as was most of the dinner.

The groom’s treat was a bourbon and cigar bar. “It was offset though,” he said. “It was included in our calculation.” Many of the guests appreciated the couple’s efforts, though the groom said some may not have noticed. “Everything we did was pretty subtle,” he joked.

Other easy ways couples can green their weddings include:
◾Buying vintage or secondhand wedding clothes or recycled wedding bands
◾Using seed-lined wedding invitations that guests can plant afterwards
◾Choosing a central location so guests don’t have to travel far
◾Serving vegetarian meals, since raising cattle uses much more energy than growing vegetables
◾Recycling Styrofoam packaging peanuts from gifts at the shipping centers, such as the UPS Store

With a little planning, a green wedding is a simple way to make that special day even better. “We still had a very big country club extravaganza wedding,” the groom said. “That was really the take-away. It was easy to do this.”