December 7, 2015

4 Easy Ways to Plan a Wedding That Gives Back.


Did you know that almost half of engagements take place between November and January?

That means the beginning of “Engagement Season” coincides with Thanksgiving–a perfect reminder that a wedding is a time to celebrate love, family, and all we are thankful for.

Do you know someone thoughtful and kind getting engaged this holiday season? Wedding planning can be intimidating—from navigating family dynamics to budget to logistics–so we’ve put together four easy ways newly engaged couples can have fun planning a more thoughtful, joyful and meaningful wedding that they’ll love.

Why bother having an eco, ethical, or “giveback” wedding?

First, because it makes a difference. We spend over $50 billion dollars each year on weddings in the US, with the average total cost of a wedding at about $30,000. Just imagine how much good we could do if we leveraged some of those dollars to make the world a better place.

If just 1% of wedding spending were eco, ethical, Fair Trade, or going to nonprofits that would be a whopping $50 million benefiting people and planet around the world each year.

Second, there is a hidden cost to people and planet behind the glitter and glitz of weddings. For example, the average wedding creates 62 tons of carbon dioxide and 400-600 lbs of garbage. In addition, food and clothing are the second most polluting industries in the world—and two key elements of a wedding. Most wedding dresses, suits, and other clothing is made overseas in questionable conditions. The clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 that killed over 1,000 people is a stark reminder of just how bad factory conditions can be. Most people have heard of blood diamonds, another significant, costly, and key symbol of a wedding.

On top of it all, the “Wedding Industrial Complex” puts incredible pressure on couples to do and buy what they “should” —a long list of “musts” that in reality are far from essential.

Planning a wedding is a lot of work. But putting just a little more thought into some of the things you do and buy for your celebration can make a big different for the planet and people who are at risk in developing countries.

Love the idea but wondering where to start? Right here with these 4 easy ways to have a more meaningful giveback wedding.

1. Start with your heart

I got engaged while backpacking in rural Washington state. It was a total surprise and in retrospect I am so glad my finance and I had three days alone together after he proposed. It gave us time to really think and talk about what kind of marriage, and wedding, we wanted before the pressures of the wedding machine hit us.

Of course the minute we got back to the car and called our parents we shifted from celebrating and reflecting to go! go! go! planning! mode. I think the first thing my mother said to me was: “congratulations-Marcie-that-is-so-wonderful-we-don’t-have-much-time-what-is-the-wedding-date?!”

Most people don’t have quiet time after they get engaged and miss the opportunity to reflect before the logistics of wedding planning take over. So I highly recommend that couples carve out some time to think about what they want from their wedding as early as possible.

Start Here:

  • How do we want to feel at our wedding?
  • How do we want our guests to feel?
  • What is the most important part of the wedding to us? How can we keep this in mind and not get bogged down in other details and “shoulds”?
  • Who are the key people surrounding our wedding and how can we include them in a way that makes us and them happy?

Note that this starts with the experience and people at your wedding, not the things and to-dos. Those are very important, but should follow what you want, not the other way around.

If you like this concept I highly recommend checking out the book and website A Practical Wedding. It is full of resources and inspiration for having a fun, meaningful, and sane wedding.

Black Sheep Bride is a great resource for wedding products and vendors that give back.

2. Alternative Gift Registries

Couples are getting married later and are more likely to have lived together before trying the knot. That means a lot of couples already have many of the things they used to ask for through their registry. I learned firsthand how useless it is to say “please don’t get us anything”—we got a lifetime supply of beautiful vases and bowls.

People want to celebrate your engagement and/or marriage with a gift so help them get you something they’ll love giving and you’ll love receiving with a more meaningful gift registry.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a charity registry with an organization like I Do Foundation
  • Choose to register at a local store (ask the manager) or with a eco or ethical company like Ten Thousand Villages
  • Create a custom registry—with a mix of things, experiences, and donations—through So Kind Registry. Since you aren’t restricted by what a store sells get creative, the sky is the limit for what you can ask for. Here are some ideas:
  • Household goods from local stores or artisans.
  • Household goods that are eco friendly, Fair Trade, or ethically-made
  • Things your guests make—art, music, a meal, etc.
  • Help at or before the wedding (addressing envelopes, making DIY favors, arranging flowers, etc.)
  • Help after the wedding—help moving, redesigning your garden
  • Experiences—restaurant gift cards, museum or movie passes, a rafting trip, time at a guest’s second home, etc.
  • Donations—list your favorite nonprofits

3. Fair Trade Your Wedding

On the day that celebrates love and community consider expanding the circle of people you care about by including Fair Trade elements in your wedding. This can be as simple as offering Fair Trade coffee and tea instead of conventional hot drinks. Fair Trade chocolate minis are a delicious way to thank your guests for coming and help families around the world.

Or you can choose Fair Trade or giveback attire for your wedding party (like bridesmaid dresses from Mata Traders, jewelry from Raven & Lily, or a Fair Trade wedding dress from Celia Grace).

4. Eco & Conflict-free jewelry

Mining and processing precious metals and stones is harmful to the environment and people. Gold mining pollutes rives and groundwater and poisons the people living nearby. Diamond mining has fueled and extended extremely violent conflicts in Africa.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of options for eco, ethical, and conflict-free engagement rings, wedding bands, and wedding jewelry. Whether you are looking for a traditional ring or something different and unique there are eco and ethical options for you now. Recycled gold, Fair Trade gold and ethically-sourced gemstones are a great place to start.

Fair Trade Jewelry Company is a great place to start with this.

This holiday season, if you or someone you love gets engaged, congratulate them with all your heart. Then do you best to help them remember what really matters about a wedding—love, family, commitment and community.




Looking for ethical gift ideas? Check out elephant journal’s marketplace!  



Author: Marcelia Muehlke

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Equal Exchange and Celia Grace Fair Trade Wedding Collection

Read 7 Comments and Reply

Read 7 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Marcelia Muehlke