Thoughtful Ways to Plan a Sustainable Wedding With an Eco-Friendly Focus

Lessen your celebration's carbon footprint with these eco-friendly ideas.
Bride and groom posing in front of white wall surrounded by plants
Photo: Eve Rox Photography
shelby wax headshot
Shelby Wax
shelby wax headshot
Shelby Wax
The Knot Contributor
  • Shelby is a contributing writer for The Knot covering all things weddings.
  • Shelby is a freelance writer for publications including Vogue, Over the Moon and Allure. She previously served as Senior Editor at Brides and Editor at Lonny Magazine.
  • Shelby graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Scripps College.
Updated Jan 05, 2024

While a wedding is an absolutely wonderful event to celebrate a couple's love and commitment to one another, there's no denying that it comes with a carbon footprint. If you are concerned about how your nuptials might impact the environment, know that hosting a sustainable wedding is possible with a thoughtful and strategic approach to your planning. Couples can find vendors who engage in more eco-friendly practices, utilize biodegradable and vintage decor to reduce waste, or serve locally sourced meals.

"Sustainability is not about perfection," advises Dana Watts of the eco-conscious wedding planning company Thyme and Details. "We all are just trying to do our best and sustain our economy, society, and natural resources for ourselves and our future generations. Focus on the positive efforts you have made. Reading this and picking which sustainable initiatives you're going to incorporate into your wedding is already a step in the right direction."

If you want to lessen the footprint of your celebration and have the eco-friendly event of your dreams, read ahead to learn how to plan a sustainable wedding and get some ideas to make your party even greener.

In this article: What Is a Sustainable Wedding? | How to Plan a Sustainable Wedding | Sustainable Wedding Ideas

What Is a Sustainable Wedding?

A sustainable wedding is a celebration that strategically reduces the overall impact of the event on the planet and supports the local community. As a sustainable wedding planner, Watts says she focuses on reducing the amount of waste a wedding creates and the carbon footprint of a celebration. This can include reducing food and floral waste, the environmental impact of guest travel, and utilization of single-use products for decor. "Our goal is to keep people, profit, and the planet at the top of mind throughout the process," she explains.

How to Plan a Sustainable Wedding

If you want to plan a sustainable wedding, there are a few essential steps to help ensure your event has less of an impact. In the months leading up to your celebration, make an effort to follow these guidelines.

Hire the Right Vendors

Working with vendors that put eco-friendly practices first is a surefire way to reduce the carbon footprint of your event. When looking to hire vendors (which you can find on The Knot Vendor Marketplace), see if they emphasize in their materials that they emphasize sustainability and ask the right questions before signing a contract. Watts shares, "Ask them if they make any efforts to be more sustainable and what those efforts are. You will be able to tell pretty quickly if your vendor prioritizes sustainability."

Choose a Sustainable Venue

Choosing a wedding venue that emphasizes sustainability can also make your celebration even greener. Watts recommends asking these questions of your venue: "Is their building LEED certified or have they implemented any sustainable features to the building? What is the building used for when there are no weddings happening? Do they give back to their community somehow—whether financially or via in-kind donation of their facility?"

Find your kind of venue

From barns to ballrooms, discover reception venues that feel like you.

Think Locally

Supporting local businesses is an excellent way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the surrounding community impacted by your event. "Think local food, local and in-season flowers, local stationery designers, local musicians or artists, local jewelers, local favors, and local beer, wine, and spirit brands," recommends Watts.

Not only should you consider working with local vendors or sourcing food from nearby farms and producers, but you should also think about where your guests are traveling from. While destination weddings are a blast, asking hundreds of people to fly to a far-off location for your wedding definitely puts an impact on the environment. Consider where the majority of your guests are based and find a venue that is easy for them to travel to.

Give Back

If you want to reduce the waste of your wedding food, florals, and decor, find ways to donate them to be used again by non-profits and those in need. Watts recommends to "divert safe, leftover food to the hungry in partnership with Food Rescue US, divert leftover floral to the seniors in our community in partnership with Stems for Seniors, and compost food and florals that cannot be donated in partnership with GoZERO."

You can also consider balancing out the carbon footprint of your wedding with donations that can improve the environment. "We donate to Eden Reforestation Projects to have one mangrove tree planted for each guest at the events we plan, as a gift to our clients," says Watts. "As of 2024, we are partnering with Green Columbus, where our team will plant one native tree per couple in our local community so we can increase the tree canopy in our shade desert and our clients can watch their tree grow over time!"

Reusable food wraps sustainable wedding ideas
Photo: The Coconut Creative

Sustainable Wedding Ideas

Want some specific ideas to plan an eco-friendly wedding? See some amazing sustainable wedding ideas ahead.

Use Sustainable Floral Practices

If you plan to have flowers at your wedding, there are a few key ways to cut back on waste. "When you talk with your florist, ask them to design foam-free," advises Watts. "Floral foam is a block of microplastic that is hazardous for many reasons. You can also ask them to design with only locally available, seasonal florals to support local growers and reduce the flowers' carbon footprint substantially. Lastly, if your florist is providing your candles, ask them if they use pearled wax candles like Foton."

Try Not to Buy

While certain new items will need to be purchased for your event, you can make an effort to incorporate more reusable items in your decor selections. "I recommend buying fewer 'products' and focusing more on renting, borrowing, or skipping products altogether and getting creative with the space," says Watts. "Connect with your local decor rental company before buying decorations that will just sit in your garage for 5 to 10 years after the wedding."

Use Sustainable Dishware

Don't let your cups end up in a landfill. "Specifically with your caterer, ask them about renting china or using compostable (not just biodegradable) cups and single-use disposables if you are using single-use products," she says. "It's important that they follow through if you're going to buy compostable products by confirming how and where your compostable materials will be composted!"

Wear Eco-Friendly Attire

When choosing your wedding wardrobe, lean into the tradition of wearing something old or borrowed. "Off-the-rack or sample sale shops, resale, and vintage are more eco-friendly and budget-friendly," says Watts. You can also look into shopping from dress designers who have sustainable practices or use recycled fabrics in their designs.

Skip the Buffet

While a buffet might offer guests a wide variety of food options, it lends to a lot more food waste. "Plated meals are planned out precisely. They can be just slightly more costly due to labor, but food costs are less. Plus, the service is a nice touch and significantly reduces waste while improving the ability to donate any leftovers," shares Watts. "If you go with a buffet, arrange for food donation with your local Food Rescue US branch so they can donate safe leftovers to the hungry. Let's be real – no one eats their wedding leftovers!"

Buy Lab-Grown or Vintage Diamonds

Want to reduce the environmental impact of your engagement ring? Look into purchasing a lab-grown diamond, which significantly cuts down on the waste of diamond mining. You also can look into using an alternative stone or re-doing a vintage or heirloom piece.

Use Beeswax Candles

A small way to improve your eco-impact is being intentional with your choice of candles. "Consider candles made from beeswax instead of paraffin," says Watts. "They help support bee-based business, smell delicious, and are healthier in the air we breathe."

Have an Eco-Friendly Wedding-Exit Toss

After you say your "I dos," it's a fun tradition to toss rice on the newlyweds. Unfortunately, it isn't the best for the environment. Wondering what is eco-friendly to throw at a wedding? Consider using dried flower petals, fresh leaves, or biodegradable confetti.

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