Fiancés planning a wedding have incredible purchasing power. I’m not just talking about the ability to buy two nude ice sculptures in the likeness of the newlyweds for the reception; I’m talking about the kind of purchases and investments that help make the world a better place via your wedding.
Weddings are a big deal and they’re chock full of big impacts, not just for the newlyweds or guests but when it comes to things like social justice and the environment. Choosing vendors and supply stores that are professional and reliable is certainly an important quality but what about selecting ones that have your best interest at heart? It’s important to ask about their social responsibility and values. Though here are a bunch of areas and ideas where what you choose can make a positive difference in the world.
Décor and More: SCOTUS has decided that for profit business have religious rights. So now companies like Hobby Lobby can deny women healthcare packages that provide birth control and other reproductive related services (because offering them it somehow violates a non-living entity’s religious rights). Since so many fiancés rely on craft stores to decorate a wedding, create guest gifts and print invitations, it brings to light how important it is to work with supply stores that have brides’ best interest at heart. While SCOTUS had the power to make this decision, people and their wallets have the economic power to show they disagree with it by not shopping at companies like Hobby Lobby.
Solution: Go to another craft store like Michaels, JoAnn Fabrics or AC Moore. With the power of the Internet and overnight shipping, it’s easy to find alternatives. Sure maybe you’ll be paying a little extra than going to the store, but isn’t it worth not supporting a company that doesn’t support all women?
Invitations: As pretty as embossed, watermarked wedding invitations are, the reality of this small art form is that they all get thrown away. Americans create about 69 million tons of paper and paperboard a year, only 65% of that is recycled. Here’s how newlyweds can save more than just a few trees.
Solution: Go paperless. Technology and the Internet offer awesome paperless solutions for all your party invite needs. There’s evite.com, PaperLessPost.com (which offers paper versions too for your relatives that don’t have email) and GreenEnvelope.com. If paper is unavoidable limit yourself to only recycled paper and the amount of “paper extras” in the entire packet (who needs that useless tissue paper film anyway?). An even cooler idea is to use seed paper invitations, which can be planted and result in wonderful wild flowers.
Name Change: Believe it or not name change has a lot to do with women’s equality! About 90-92% of brides adopt their husband’s name, which indicates that free choice ain’t so free. This is called choice feminism, where limiting parameters, in this case the patriarchy, influences decisions. To show how unequal this tradition is, try to recall any man who taken his wife’s name. If a system is truly equal, men are partaking just as much as women.
Solution: There are plenty of solutions that are more egalitarian. Using Neutronymics, couples can hyphenate a name together, adopt each other’s last name as their new middle name, play the scrabble name game and create a completely new one using the roots of their original names. Or couples can simply keep their surname because a united family does not have to mean one surname. Lean in to your name ladies! Realize it’s value and power and take pride in it!
Diamonds: Mining is a dirty business. It’s not just the actually dirt, the environmental destruction, pollution and labor issues associated with mining means that diamonds are not as brilliant as one might think. Almost 50% of diamonds are mined from Africa and those from the Sierra Leon and Angola are considered blood diamonds. Blood diamonds support rebel government groups that use violence to gain power. Mix that with severe regional poverty and the outcome is a series of wars and bloody conflicts since around 1991. Bottom line is that it’s almost impossible to know 100% that a diamond is conflict-free.
Solution: There are easy ring solutions to avoid contributing to environmental and political issues associated with diamond engagement rings. The first is – skip the diamond engagement ring entirely (a wedding band, tattoo, a certificate, your scouts honor is all you need to prove your married). No one said someone couldn’t propose with diamond-less wedding bands. The second is to consider investing in estate jewelry. Getting hold of Grandma’s ring works too if you’re lucky enough.
Wedding Dresses: Full Disclosure: The likelihood of you wearing your bridesmaid or wedding dress again is dismally low. That costly, unused dress is also taking up valuable real estate in your closet and the chances of it getting thrown out eventually is pretty high. The website EarthEasy reveals that, “12 million tons of textile waste is generated each year in North America amounting to approximately 68 lbs of waste per household per year! An astounding 5% of all landfill production is textile waste.”
Solution: Imagine what type of impact brides could make if they allowed their bridesmaid to rent dresses like groomsmen do. LittleBorrowedDress.com and VowtoBeChic.com are online sites that offer bridesmaid dresses for rent or purchase. Another option is to let the bridesmaids wear dresses they already own. The bride can also wear mom’s old dress for a green and sentimental solution! These keep a lot of unnecessary waste out of landfills.
Officiant: Who marries the newlyweds sends a strong message to various parties about a couple’s political leanings. Once upon a time, Brangelina swore that they would not get married until same-sex marriage was allowed in the US. Now that DOMA has been overturned and more states are allowing it, they are finally engaged. Marriage is technically secular and the government permits various people to perform legal marriages (priests, ministers, justice of the peaces, one-day officiants, etc.).
Solution: If you’re a proponent of marriage equality, selecting a secular officiant tells the government that marriage is for everyone and should not be controlled exclusively by non-secular beliefs. It also sends a message to non-secular outfits that it’s time they joined the modern masses and abandon obsolete and biased belief systems.
Destination Weddings: Choosing a destination wedding can mean a lot of extra carbon footprinting, but it can also mean supporting an economy that supports same-sex marriage (and not supporting one that doesn’t). I once met a bride and groom who got married in Boston, despite no personal attachment to the city, only because Massachusetts allowed same-sex marriage. They wanted to support a state that supported others.
Solution: Selecting a location for the wedding can be tricky, but a map and knowing the political leanings of each place will help. Finding that right balance between limiting carbon footprints and supporting marriage equality is up to the couple. And if the couple decides to marry in a state that embraces all types of marriage, doing so is simply not enough. Making this decision public is important and sends a strong message. And this message is not necessarily politically invasive; it can merely be shared tactfully as a point of wedding planning pride. This can be done casually among guests or formally in the wedding packet information. It can also be done by sending legislative representatives letters explaining the choice and also to state reps as to why, despite, say, being from that state, a couple couldn’t bring themselves to marry in it because it denies others the same right.
Flowers: It’s a sad truth but cut flowers die. There I said it. They’re brilliant for one moment; (hopefully) compost the next. If couples don’t buy in season, local flowers, they are usually shipped from far away meaning their carbon footprint is beyond any potential oxygen they could emit for their short life.
Solution: If flowers are a must, order ones that are in season and local. Potted plants for centerpieces, especially perennials, can be replanted and enjoyed for many seasons. Etsy.com also offers a wealth of awesome flower alternative ideas (just look for a vendor near you). One idea I saw at a wedding included origami flower bouquets. This way the paper can be saved, repurposed or recycled. (Ask the vendor to use recycled paper too!) Non-flower centerpieces work too, which can be used for other events or the home. As an idea too, a friend once harvested saplings from a tree in her yard and used those are gifts, another handpicked Maine blueberries and personally made jam for guests.
Food: With a large guest list, what you serve them can make a big impact on the environment. Meats in particular have a huge impact in terms of greenhouse gases, water use and pollution, transportation and the chemicals used to raise the animals (pesticides to growth hormones). According to TreeHugger and the Environmental Working Group, “Lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon in particular generate the most greenhouse gases—sometimes four times more than other animal products and 13 times more than plant-based proteins.”
Solution: Organic foods are great but might be out of the price range for some wedding; there are always other ways to not add environmental insult to injury. Select caterers and vendors that work with local farms to source their food (same for booze). Think about dish alternatives, lamb and beef have the worst footprints so chicken might be your best option. Cheese also has a large footprint because it comes from cows, so perhaps focus on a veggie platter at cocktail hour. And also try to stick to fruits and vegetables that are local and in season. If you have a winter wedding, root vegetables are most appropriate, if you live inland far from the sea focus on serving freshwater fish instead. Hiring the right vendor that is willing to work with you to create a fabulous menu both in taste and environmentalism is key. If you manage to pull off a green menu, that’s one more bragging item as to why your wedding is fabulous.
Gift Registry: Yes, it’s true the gift registry can be socially responsible. A lot of couples live together before marriage or independently, which means they already have a toaster. If you’ve ever watched The Story of Stuff, you know – people have too much stuff (it’s an awesome video, I highly recommend it). Bridal showers are unfairly gendered too. Despite being liberated from the kitchen, women still give kitchenware to the brides and not the grooms! Not to mention, gifts are usually shipped around the world adding to their environmental impact. There’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the gift registry both environmentally and socially.
Solution: First, a couple should sit down and really decide between needs and wants. Are some gifts redundant or merely self-serving upgrades? Admitting you don’t need that new toaster means your old but reliable one doesn’t end up in a landfill and the new one won’t be shipped from faraway. Or what if you do need that toaster? Hosting a Jack and Jill shower, instead of a bridal one, means the whole women-in-the-kitchen stereotype is removed. Not having a gift registry won’t result in no-gifts either, most people will just write out a check or contribute to a honeymoon or cash fund. The best socially responsible gift registry I ever saw was a KIVA account. The newlyweds suggested that all gifts be monetary donations, which would result in micro-finance loans to people in underdeveloped countries. With a loan, those people could become entrepreneurs and hopefully lift themselves out of poverty. The genius to this type of wedding registry was that the couple would continue to reinvest the money until they absolutely needed it for themselves. It’s an extremely selfless gift registry idea that put other people before the needs or wants of the newlyweds.