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If you’re trying to plan a sustainable elopement, you’ve come to the right place! First, let me say, I commend your choices. You’ve decided to forego the waste that comes with a big wedding, and that’s already a great start! So I’ll preface this by saying: this list is not meant to bring about any feelings of shame or guilt. This is not an exhaustive list of things that you must do in order to be a good person that had an eco-friendly elopement; it’s just some ideas to consider if you’re trying to lessen your environmental impact as much as possible. Okay, let’s get to it!
Sustainable Elopement Planning
What does it mean to have a sustainable elopement? Since elopements are already a sustainable way to tie the knot, I think that the biggest characteristic of a sustainable elopement is intentionality. Throughout all of your decisions, stop and think if there’s another choice that could be better than what you’re about to commit to, and you can’t go wrong. Whether it’s choosing hemp paper over normal cardstock for your elopement announcements, or deciding to skip the one-time-use-only “BRIDE” personalization on the things you’re thinking of buying for your wedding day, the little choices you steer yourself toward are going to make the biggest difference in your elopement’s environmental impact without steeping the whole affair in climate anxiety.
Because local is pretty much always the way to go! Supporting small, local businesses keeps money in your local community & economy, which is better for people & planet. Big box stores & huge companies tend to care more about their bottom line than little things like the environment and their carbon footprint, so go ahead and look for a mom-and-pop shop instead.
Local Elopement Vendors
The less your vendors have to drive or fly, the better. And another bonus of hiring local folks? They may also be more knowledgeable about local ecosystems, and how to lessen your impact as much as possible!
Local Elopement Flowers
Choosing local flowers is a huge win for sustainability! Flowers that have to be imported make for a bouquet with a extremely high footprint. Opt for what’s native and in-season.
You’ll also have to keep in mind that some public lands have restrictions on what kind of flowers are allowed. They may regulate the type of seeds your plants have, if they’re fresh or dry, if they must be native species, or if they’re allowed at all.
Another option is to go faux and get flowers made of wood or silk. Bonus: they’ll last forever! Renting faux flowers is also an option, and may be more cost-effective. Make sure to avoid plastic flowers that shed, though– we don’t need more micro-plastics in the world!
Minimize The Impact of Your Travel to your Elopement
If you’re having a destination elopement, look for ways to minimize the impact of your travels! Can you drive, or take a train instead of flying? If not, look for direct flights, as those have the lowest carbon footprint! (As if you needed another reason to splurge on avoiding layovers.)
Limit Your Elopement Guest List
Or cut it completely! Many public lands where you may want to elope have sensitive flora that can be damaged by too much foot traffic; not to mention the emissions saved on less travel.
Thrift and borrow what you can
Decor & accessories
Reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose are all strategies that you can employ for your wedding decor & accessories! If you’re DIYing, lean on thrift stores, Facebook wedding resale pages, and your friends and family to see if there are already resources at your disposal. From vases & vintage drink ware to jackets and jewelry, you’d be surprised what’s chilling in your families’ homes!
If you’re going to have a table setup, seating for a few guests, or anything else in that realm, you’ll definitely want to find a rental company near your elopement destination. If your only options are to buy what you want, then make sure it’ll have a home once your elopement is over.
Single-use celebratory items
This is definitely more common with people who identify with the term “bride”– but if you’re anything like me, the second your social media algorithms picked up the fact that you were engaged, then you started receiving targeted ads to celebrate this time in your life when you get to be a bride.
Seriously, I haven’t seen the same level of targeted advertising for anything with GROOM plastered all over it, but I have seen BRIDE jackets, sunglasses, purses, bathing suits, pajamas, robes, slippers, hair clips, jewelry, banners, straws, mugs and glasses and champagne flutes, sashes, tote bags…. you get the idea.
All of this merchandise is created to create this sense of urgency– these companies are saying, “Isn’t this cute? Better buy it now, because you’ll never get to wear it again!” and it works on millions of people, because some of that stuff is actually cute, and you do deserve to revel in this special chapter of your life! But it’s extremely rare that these pieces will ever be worn or used after the event that you bought them for, and unfortunately, most of it will end up in a landfill. If you want to buy new things to celebrate with, consider foregoing any wedding-centric personalization.
There are tons of ways that your elopement attire can be sustainable! Let’s run through a few, shall we?
Buying secondhand elopement outfits
Buying secondhand is probably the easiest way to make your outfit sustainable since there are a multitude of different ways you can buy– from your local thrift shop to online marketplaces like on Facebook or Poshmark. There are also wedding-specific options both in-person and online! Here are a few of my favorites, which mostly cater to femme-presenting nearlyweds:
Still White is a site specifically designed for buying and selling wedding dresses from past brides, and they’re a pioneer in the circular fashion movement when it comes to weddings! You can browse options by style, price, and designer, and they have dresses for every budget. (Seriously, I’ve seen everything on there from a $10 minidress to a $60,000 custom Elie Saab gown!)
Brides for a Cause is a secondhand bridal store that also raises money for charity! They receive donated wedding dresses (as well as veils, headpieces, etc.) and sell them for 35-75% off retail value– meaning they have wedding dresses available for as low as $150. The proceeds go towards a wide range of women’s causes, which you can read more about here. They’ve recycled over 23,000 wedding dresses since their formation in 2012, which they estimate has saved almost 300 tons of carbon emissions.
Invest in re-wearable pieces
If you’re looking to buy new, go for something that you can rewear in the future! You can choose a suit that will serve you for years to come, or find beautiful white outfits that don’t scream “wedding”. I’ve linked some of my favorite options below where you can find formal attire suitable for more than just your big day.
Wear what you’ve got
You can also choose to wear what you already have in your closet (or borrow from a friend!), expand your horizons to suits, jumpsuits, pantsuits, colorful dresses, two piece sets, or anything else beyond the classic white gown. You don’t have to buy new, or buy anything at all. Renting is also a great option!
Sustainable Elopement Menus
Your meal choices are an easy way to lessen your environmental impact on your elopement day. Go for chicken instead of steak, or if you can go a day without eating carnivorously, skip the meat altogether! Most seafood also has a high carbon footprint, so in a perfect world, your meals would be mostly plant-based in order to have the smallest footprint possible. But if your sushi or filet mignon is non-negotiable for you, remember, I’m not here to shame you for your choices. Opt for local foods that are traceable back to the farm whenever possible. And if you’re not willing to give up your favorite meal on your elopement day? Try to source the ingredients from small businesses so that if nothing else, your money is supporting the local economy.
Oh, one more thing? Don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and silverware that isn’t plastic 😉
Look for eco-friendly vendors
I always recommend shopping with your values, and for your wedding team, there are some easy ways you can keep an eye out for this. Hint: if they don’t say anything on their website about their values, then that itself says something.
Florists– do they talk about minimizing or eliminating their use of foam? (The single-use base for most floral arrangements and installations)
Makeup artists– do they share their stance on cruelty-free or environmentally-conscious products?
Photographers– do they talk about following Leave No Trace principles when they’re outdoors?
For any vendor– do they mention charities that they donate to, or if they offset their carbon emissions?
There are a ton of signs to look out for when you’re looking for someone’s values. This goes farther than just the environment– I learned that there are five facets of sustainability: food, water, energy, economy, and at the center of it all is human dignity. The idea that if anybody feels unsafe, financially insecure, or otherwise disadvantaged, then they could not be expected to be environmental stewards. Who has time to drop your compost off at the gardens when you’re working two jobs to put food on the table?
So I wholeheartedly believe that an important and underrated aspect of sustainability is equity and social justice. Look for vendors that have a statement of inclusivity on their site– do they proudly serve LGBTQ+ clients? Do they believe that Black Lives Matter? Those conscientious business-owners are who you want on your team.
Sustainable elopement vendor feature:
Whole Weddings is a custom stationary company that prints their designs on eco-friendly seed paper that you can plant after your elopement day! This is an amazing option for elopement announcements, invitations for any guests you may be inviting, and even vow books. The designs themselves are beautiful, there are no minimum orders so that nothing goes to waste, and the printed materials are plantable and compostable! The 100% recycled paper is made in a solar-powered facility, and can contain seeds for wildflowers or herbs depending on your preference.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace principles totally deserve their own blog post, (and I have one for you right here!)so I’ll keep this short! You know that phrase, “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs”? Leave No Trace (LNT) is basically that, but totally fleshed out with specific guidelines that are easy to follow!
Here are the seven LNT principles:
- Plan ahead & prepare
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
As a certified Leave No Trace elopement photographer, these principles are super important to me! I will never ask you to do anything that puts our lands at risk, so I take care to keep these guidelines in mind and use them to guide the decisions I make on your elopement day. I also have a guide that I send to all of my eloping couples on How To Leave No Trace at Your Elopement, so that you can be empowered going into your big day knowing that your elopement won’t harm the beautiful lands on which it takes place!
Eco-Friendly Elopement Planning
As a values-based business, I sincerely hope that this guide helps you feel better going into your journey of planning a sustainable elopement! Environmental stewardship is extremely important to me, and my wish is for everybody to feel empowered knowing that there are sustainable options out there that don’t take anything away from the experience of your dream elopement day.
So if you’re looking for a carbon-neutral photographer that’s passionate about social justice and taking care of the beautiful lands on which you want to elope… you’ve found your girl. I’d love nothing more than to help you along this planning process and make your best day ever a reality! Reach out if you’re ready to start planning or if you have questions I can answer for you!