Planning a wedding can seem overwhelming enough without factoring the environment into every decision. We get it. But, oftentimes eco-consciousness goes hand in hand with a more relaxed (read: less stressful) occasion — not to mention fresher food, lower costs and more room to get creative with the details. After all, an afternoon affair for 50 in your local park requires no lighting or artificial heating or cooling (provided you plan with the seasons in mind), and lets you inject your personality — and budget constraints — into every aspect of the event. But even if your dream is a designer dress, 700-strong guest list, exotic flowers and dancing ‘til dawn, there are ways to tread lightly without sacrificing the traditional wedding experience.

That’s where we come in. Inspired by fall’s ascent as the new wedding season (August-October is the new April-June, according to the National Association of Wedding Ministers), we’ve pooled all our green wedding resources so you don’t have to. Whether you’re just getting started planning a low-key gathering or rounding out the final checklist for an over-the-top party, our guide to eco-friendly weddings is here to help. 

Invitations

• Good on Paper Designs: Boutique design studios like Good on Paper are great places to find high-quality recycled-paper or cotton (tree-free!) invitations.

• Wedding Paper Divas: If you’re not looking to spend on a custom invitation, Wedding Paper Diva—where Good on Paper and other high-end designers also contribute collections, Target-style—is a can’t-miss alternative for less expensive, ready-to-purchase options.

• Cranes: For more formal or traditional invitations, this old standby has cotton paper, a more ethical, tree-friendly choice, which is easier to take to a local printer.

• Smock Paper: For those willing to do a bit of research, there are some great letterpresses and off-set and digital printers who have carbon-neutral or otherwise green business models. Smock Paper, for instance, sustainably letterpresses its own custom-created, pesticide-free bamboo paper and uses wind energy to power the process. Additionally, the upstate New York studio gives one percent of its sales to environmental causes and offers wedding albums covered in the most indestructible, handmade flax paper.

(Of course, if you can bear to send an Evite to your guests, you can avoid printing invitations altogether!)

Attire

• Barneys New York carries eco-collections by designers like Phillip Lim for those looking for a nontraditional, less formal dress.

• eBay: If you have your heart set on a certain dress, look for it here before investing in something new. You’ll save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars and get the dress you really want.

• Preowned Wedding Dresses: This online depository has hundreds of preowned dresses from every major label—from Amsale to Vera Wang. Reuse is, after all, one of the main tenants of green living.

Brides Against Breast Cancer: This humanitarian-minded e-tailer will recycle your dress after you wear it for young victims of breast cancer.

• Glass Slipper Project: Donate gently used wedding and formal bridesmaid dresses to be remade into prom dresses for teens that wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.

• Boll Organics makes high-quality, organic cotton dress shirts for men.

• Loup Charmant has the most beautiful array of delicate lingerie and underthings for the Big Night and honeymoon.

• Te Casan has a line of vegan shoes by Natalie Portman, but they are not 100 percent eco-friendly so be sure to ask about the production process.

• Cri de Coeur is a lovely newish line of vegan and environmentally responsible shoes that would be perfect for a slightly edgy bride. Or, if the season is right, just go barefoot!

(And don’t forget: Opt for organic, mineral, or all-natural make-up without synthetic colors, chemicals, additives, or fragrance.)

Flowers

Choosing seasonal, local flowers will save you time and money and will showcase the natural beauty of your wedding location. Fruit and greenery make excellent centerpieces and can add a festive air to a seasonal wedding (think pumpkins and apples in autumn, strawberries or tomatoes in summer). If you’re set on a specific flower that might not grow in your area or isn’t in season, seek out Fair Trade or Veriflora-certified varieties. (If you’re having a rehearsal dinner or party, think about choosing coordinating flowers that will work at the wedding, as well.)

• Flowerbud.com and California Organic Flowers offer bulk shipments of fairly traded, pesticide-free blooms, like tulips, roses, and irises, along with a wildcard box of whatever is in season, for much less than you’d pay at a traditional florist. They even have tips for when to order and how to arrange the flowers.

Food

Beyond serving organic and sustainably raised/harvested food and choosing wines from conscious vineyards, think about choosing local vendors. That way, you cut down on transportation costs and carbon emissions, and support the community in which you are celebrating one of the biggest days of your life. LocalHarvest can provide a list of farmers, farmers’ markets, and producers in your area.

Location

Consider getting married in a place convenient to the most guests thereby cutting down their need to travel. Carpooling or arranging transportation between events is also a good option. If you can arrange to have your ceremony and reception in the same place, well, then, that’s all the better to avoid extra driving—especially if you’re serving alcohol.

Rings/Jewelry

If there’s no family heirloom or affordable vintage or estate ring you want to use, Toby Pomeroy makes beautiful pieces from cast-off gold and conflict-free diamonds that are elegant and edgy all at the same time. Tiffany & Co has been at the forefront of the jewelry industry’s efforts to support the Kimberley Process and end the circulation of blood diamonds from war-torn African nations, and has given a grant to Trans Fair to study the feasibility of certifying diamonds Fair Trade. In addition to selling conflict-free, ecologically mined diamonds, the Canadian-based company, Brilliant Earth, also has great diamond alternatives like sapphires and emeralds.

Registry (i.e. Stuff)

Scanner guns are fun, addictive and way too easy to use, but you probably don’t actually need all that stuff. Instead, keep the registry to a minimum. Register for nice pieces you’ll want to use forever, like sustainably produced or handmade china services and silverware (estate or used if you’re going for the real stuff—that way it's reclaimed). And go ahead, use them everyday; otherwise, what's the point. Alternately, you could eschew things altogether and create an earth friendly registry. Web sites like Eco Wise, Earth Friendly Goods, and Ten Thousand Villages are great places to start.

More ways to get inspired:

Wedding blogs are great sources of ideas and inspiration and are often DIY-oriented, which lets you pick and choose according to the specifications of your wedding and how green you want each aspect of the event to be. Some consistently good sites to visit are: Brooklyn Bride, Something Old Something New, $10,000 wedding, Frolic, Wedding Bee.

Story by Jessica Tzerman. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008