The amount of money that is spent on weddings can make for some headline-grabbing articles. Wedding magazine surveys suggest that the average cost of a wedding in Scotland nowadays exceeds £30,000, although that figure can include rings, stag and hen parties and a “mini-moon” holiday before the wedding, as well as the honeymoon afterwards.
But what doesn’t usually make the news is the environmental cost of getting hitched. Jetting 30 guests to the other side of the world for a romantic beach wedding is obviously not environmentally friendly, but neither – in most cases – are more modestly traditional UK-based special days.
For those who prefer to be green, guests’ travel, new clothes for all, the considerable paper trail plus food waste and energy use can add up to a huge carbon footprint, which it would be difficult to offset even if you reach your golden anniversary.
But while celebrities and oligarchs may prefer to use their wedding day as an ostentatious display of conspicuous consumerism and wealth, most of the rest of us would prefer to keep our nuptials as eco-friendly as possible.
Nowadays, fortunately, there is a huge movement within the multi-million-pound wedding industry to cater for the greener bride and groom, with planet-friendly options at every stage to help reduce the carbon footprint – and, happily, reduce the strain on the budget.
It starts with the invitations. “Save the date” notifications can be sent electronically, but many guests will want to keep a hard copy as a memento. However, many stationery designers now offer recycled or sustainable materials. Hemp paper, cotton or bamboo invitations printed with soy ink are kinder on the environment, reducing emissions and the use of bleaching agents. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark certifies that paper used is sourced from renewable forests.
One of the biggest expenses for the bride is her dress – surveys show that the price tag averages about £1,300. Whatever a female’s budget, a wedding gown is likely to be one of the most expensive – and one-off – items of clothing that she will ever buy.
Designers who specialise in beautiful organic and eco fabrics offer off-the-peg options or will work with you to create a dream dress. Vintage dresses can be a real bargain – try specialist shops, such as Those Were The Days in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, which stocks era-defining styles ranging from antique lace gowns to 1970s bohemia.
Charity shops shouldn’t be sniffed at either. Oxfam has an online wedding dress emporium with spectacular one-off dresses in all sizes, ranging in price from £95.
A friend spotted her dream dress in the window of a charity shop. She popped in to try it on, bought it for £60 and returned it to the shop for resale the Monday after getting hitched, which takes some beating in terms of recycling.
Hiring a dress is another eco-friendly option. Male members of the wedding party are quite likely to rent their kilts or suits, so if you aren’t set on keeping your wedding dress it makes sense to hire it, and the same goes for the bridesmaids’.
Perhaps the ultimate way to save costs, be eco-friendly and make an emotional statement all at the same time is by restyling your mother’s or even grandmother’s wedding dress.
This is also true of jewellery – an heirloom piece from either side of the family, reset and/or resized is a beautifully green way to carry on a family tradition.
For those who don’t have that option, choose fairtrade gold and silver, recycled precious metals, and sustainably sourced gems for your wedding jewellery. Diamonds in particular can have some seriously unethical origins, with links to unsafe working practices and often times conflict.
Choosing the suppliers for your wedding gives another opportunity to make your beliefs clear. Such is the spending power of the eco-movement that many companies use green as part of their marketing, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a firm that claim eco-credentials.
Edinburgh-based Next Scene Films, for example, donates some profits to the World Land Trust charity, and plant a tree for every marriage they film.
The Humanist Society Scotland is a registered charity, which means that enlisting their services to officiate is helping to fund the work they do with community food projects and in providing chaplains in universities, hospitals and hospices.
Charities can also be remembered in the selection of wedding favours. Pin badges, wooden rings or seed packets can be given as a gift to guests, with a message that a donation on their behalf has gone to help one of a diverse range of causes from cancer research to the Dogs Trust. This way you can choose to give away something that reflects your values much more than a bag of sugared almonds – and which will last a lot longer, too.
You could also ask guests to donate money to your favourite charity in lieu of a present. Wedding list holders such as The Wedding Shop provide a charity contribution option, giving you the option of picking the cause concerned.
A wedding gift list also lets you choose ethical and sustainable living brands, so even your non-charity gift list can still be thoughtful.
Wedding flowers tend to be a big cost, and with many exotic blooms grown in hothouses or flown across the world, choosing simple, in-season flowers is a good option.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex donated their flowers to a local hospice and while you may want to dry your bouquet as a keepsake, blooms from the venue will always be welcomed, say, at a nearby care home – if they are given notice beforehand.
Equally, for the greenest of wedding days, food should be locally sourced where possible and in season, so no serving asparagus and strawberries in December.
Food is a massive source of waste after the wedding is over, so eco-conscious couples should investigate donating the leftovers from their celebratory feast to a local charity – the best venues should be able to help with this.
Depending on where you get married, travel for guests could add a huge carbon footprint, but minimise this where you can by booking a bus, arriving in a pony and trap instead of a limousine, or even walking from the ceremony to the reception venue.
While you may need to provide help for some guests, a procession led by the bride and groom is a tradition in Scotland and if the weather is kind, can make for beautiful photos. (The bride should perhaps source a white umbrella and wellies just in case…)
Jetting off to sunnier climes for a honeymoon is tempting after all the stress of a wedding, and there are many luxurious and romantic resorts from rain-forest eco lodges to active volunteering with conservation charities.
But for a truly eco-friendly honeymoon, a UK break is best. You could always spend the money you’ve saved on airfares on a luxury hotel and indulging in some extravagant room service.
This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Weddings 2020 supplement. A digital version can be found here.