We are all seeking, in whatever way possible, to make our lives more sustainable - be it our fashion choices or the way we consume our food and energy. There's no reason your wedding day should be any different. When it comes to tackling the ecological impact of your big day, everything from the wine in your guests’ glass to the menu in their hand and the cake on their plate, counts - not to mention that all-important dress.
Below, we've spoken to the experts to get their advice on making your wedding as sustainable as possible. Here’s how to have all the meaning and less of the guilt.
There are four steps, according to Shane Connolly, the royal florist who memorably used trees to line the aisle of Westminster Abbey for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to making your flowers a more thoughtful choice.
"Firstly, think about which season your wedding date lands in and don’t fight it. It’s such a gift to give your guests an insight into what nature is doing on your wedding date. Then ask, where have the flowers come from? If you’re sticking to seasonality, you will have more choices closer to home. Having said that, even if the flowers come from Holland but they’re seasonal, they won’t have needed as much heat or water. Thirdly, there is a wonderful company called Floral Angels who distribute flowers after an event to care homes and shelters for abused wives – people who have never been sent flowers before. If you made an unsustainable choice having flowers flown in from Kenya, at least this gives them a second life."
But, one of the easiest changes everyone can make, says Shane, is avoiding the use of floral foam. "It’s non bio-degradable and contains microplastics – one of the biggest problems in our world today. It’s something you really don’t want if you’re trying to be sustainable."
If you're looking for a wedding florist with ethical and sustainable endeavours at its core, McQueens, the first florist in the world to achieve the Butterfly Mark in recognition of its commitment to the wellbeing of communities and the environment, is hard to rival. It hires very few freelancers "because everyone has the right to some certainty at the end of the month"; it had its first year of zero landfill to March 2021; it has reduced its cellophane usage by 80 per cent; it hasn’t purchased a single block of floral foam since it opened in New York in 2018; and the minimum it will pay anyone is the London Living Wage (£10.85) as opposed to the government’s National Living Wage (£8.72). "There are lots of ways in which we tread more lightly on this earth," concludes Richard Eagleton, McQueens CEO.
The Food and Drink
"Just because you’re having a sustainable event, does not mean your guests sit on hay bales with bare feet," says Charlie Grant Peterkin at Rocket Food which caters around 50 weddings a year. "Parties are a chance to indulge and spoil and there is a lot of excitement around what are seen as fashionable food trends like great British produce, seasonality, sourcing local, veganism and reducing plastic and waste."
Charlie encourages couples to try British charcuterie from Cobble Lane Cured, caviar from Exmoor Caviar and English sparkling wines from Kent’s Gusbourne. "Our mantra is think global, source local. If you make it seasonal too, you’re really not having to pay through the nose for it."
Check your venue’s sustainability credentials carefully: there is huge difference between what one and another can offer. At Tythe, a working farm and wedding venue in Oxfordshire run by the Deeley family, sustainability is at the core of every decision made. Some are straightforward – all cardboard, paper, plastic, corks and glass is recycled; the farm has its own water-filter system; all tree pruning waste is either shredded or cut and used on flowerbeds while larger logs fire the pizza oven; mint and apples are grown in the orchard for Pimm’s receptions; an upcycled sheep feeder is now the BBQ and a water trough is a sink in the ladies loo. Other changes have required serious investment, like solar panels to power the electricity for your wedding day.
At the Lord Rothchild-owned Waddesdon Manor, CEO Holly Saunders is overseeing a focus on the estate produce from field to plate. "We create bread flour using our own wheat, rapeseed oil using our estate crop and honey from our bees. We have our own ale, Shepherd’s Gold, and soon we’re making our own Kombucha. All these products are on our menus and used for our weddings. The same goes for our meat. The beef is from our Shorthorn cattle herd, while the chicken, eggs, lamb and woodland pork and game are all from the estate." In September it will host the Bloomberg Green Conference bringing together thought leaders to publicise the transformation needed in the next 10 years for positive climate change.
"Make your stationery work harder," says Emma Louise Castle, a bespoke wedding stationer from Devon. "One large menu on a table of 10 is enough or, if you’re having individual menus, print names on the top so they double as place cards. Design signage that displays the order of the day plus your welcome sign or directions. Save the dates can be digital and have the RSVP as a perforated postcard that can be detached from the main invite. Straight away you’ve negated the need for an envelope."
It’s also important to understand that not all recycled papers are equal. "Check the percentage of ‘made from consumer waste’ versus ‘new’ content," advises Louise. "Some companies use cotton and that is often 100 per cent reusable waste from the textile industry. Other papers are bio-degradable and embedded with flower seeds so guests can plant them afterwards."
Do your research on your stationer, too. "I don’t use any products that make the paper un-recyclable. My tissue paper is recyclable, and the stickers I use are vegan and chlorine-free. I buy twine local to Dartmoor and recycled silk from a North Devon company that uses plant-based dyes. My printer is local so I can walk to them and cut out transport impact."
International wedding planner Sarah Haywood’s last wedding at the Ritz in London (pictured) wholly supported local producers and suppliers. "We knew where every bloom came from and shopped with local flower growers. When guests left, the ladies were given a bouquet made from the flowers that had lined the aisle. Nothing was wasted." At another wedding on a Scottish island, the team used wood from a local sawmill to produce the seats and altar for an outdoor ceremony. After the wedding it was all sent back to be recycled as firewood.
"My job is to turn something that could feel merely opulent and prescriptive into something with heart, and that’s achieved through storytelling. Children are asking parents not to be wasteful with money. That’s a completely different agenda to a decade ago."
A childhood spent growing up in the Welsh countryside, immersed in nature, coupled with a love of vintage fabric and wallpaper, ceramics, lace and embroidery, has led to Amy Swann’s reputation as one of the UK’s most accomplished cake makers, whose work is always sympathetic to the natural environment. "I use locally sourced ingredients from my neighbouring farm shop and passionately support small businesses," she says. Before Amy makes a wedding cake, she will often visit a local flower grower’s gardens so that she can pick, sketch, photograph and paint the flowers that will influence the final bake. "Many of my clients are inspired by the countryside and want a natural wedding. My colour palettes are influenced by these elements. I visualise how different flowers work together as I would in a painting, pattern or sculpture."
For our guide to sustainable wedding dresses, click here.
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