Tiffany Eng, a girl in her early 20s, is getting married in June. Her guest list includes 650 people, and she expects around 500 of them to attend. Save the date reminders were sent via email, but the formal invitations were paper.

Along with the actual invitation, Tiffany sent a reception invitation, an R.S.V.P. card, and a card with directions to the church and reception. These items, plus the folder and paper bands to hold them together, and the envelope, add up to seven pieces of paper per guest.

Seven multiplied by 650 equals 4,550 pieces of cream, brown, and blue thick cardstock paper that will be used as invitations for one wedding—one of the approximately 2.4 million that take place every year in the U.S., according to the Association of Bridal Consultants, a nationwide trade organization for wedding planners.

The environmental group Conserveatree calculates that roughly 24 trees are needed to produce one ton of virgin printer quality paper. Also, bleaching the paper uses the gas form of chlorine, producing unwanted toxic dioxins. Even a small part of a big event can amount to tons of wasted paper and more pollution every year.

This is just one of the reasons that a new trend of environmentally friendly event planning has begun to crop up all over the U.S. Event planners across the country are becoming more conscious about what kind of waste is produced at weddings, and are starting to implement greener practices as they put together weddings, cocktail parties, and product launches. The owner of Lyndsey Hamilton Events, who has started suggesting her clients use recycled paper invitations, says, “If everyone did one simple thing, like use recycled paper, or recycle the bottles, all of those things really add up."

But even as these planners push recycling and organics, it is difficult to really define what a green event is. There is no industry standard for sustainability, the way LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifies buildings at different levels of green. And according to Jean Picard, the California state coordinator at the Association of Bridal Consultants, there is currently no way to figure out how many of the estimated 10,000 wedding planners in the U.S. engage in green practices. “They’re doing what their clients want to do,” she explains. “Some want some green. There’s no way to put numbers on that."

Nevertheless, looking more closely at what some of these event planners believe and put into practice gives a window into what is possible.

Danielle Venokur, who owns a sustainable event design and production company, says, “When you say you’re ‘throwing something away,’ there’s really no ‘away.’” Venokur, who opened dvGreen in January 2007, works this philosophy into her lifestyle and her business. Most of Venokur’s new clients come to her because she is green. “They want a chic, sustainable event,” she says.

Venokur prefers local or organic food and flowers, and recycling in terms of the waste, at a bare minimum. She works with the caterers and the venues to set up recycling and food compost systems. “Now that it’s trendy, I think New Yorkers are really getting on board. They’re psyched by the idea that they can have something that looks good,” says Venokur. “I think the climate is right for more of this."

In other parts of the country, too, people are looking for green alternatives.

Angelica Weihs, the owner of Green Weddings in Los Angeles, has been planning environmentally-friendly weddings since 2005. One of the challenges lies in finding vendors who will cooperate. Weihs likes to challenge the people she works with to be green by asking her vendors, “‘Are you doing anything eco-friendly? What are you doing with your trash?’” It reminds people that it might be necessary to make change."

One wedding she planned called for a chocolate fountain and Weihs convinced Classic Party Staffing to make the chocolate fountain organic. Also, her inquiries may have prompted changes in other companies, like Classic Party Rentals. “I cannot say that it was just me, but the demands of my company and other planners have influenced the rental company market.” It had been difficult to find green rental companies in the past, but now Classic Party Rentals is implementing measures like eco-friendly cleaning processes. 

Most people, even the ones who are interested in eco-friendly practices, aren’t willing to give up everything that they consider traditional, according to Mark Kingsdorf, owner of The Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in Philadelphia. “There are very few clients who are willing to go all the way tree-hugger,” he says.

Other planners champion reuse as the best form of being green, over buying new things and adding more products, and thus, more waste, to the grand scheme of things. The owner of 5Senses Event Designs determines what clients have in their homes and what she has in her own inventory before buying or renting supplies. “We’re repurposing,” says Simone Hudson. “I’m not going to tell you to go buy organic plates for your next party. Pull the plates off your own shelves,” she says.

Until standards are established, for now, being “green” means doing the best you can, and that usually means going organic with food and flowers, choosing recycled paper for invites, and some form of reuse.

As much as it breaks Hudson’s heart to see things go to waste, she doesn’t preach to her clients, even when they want to throw everything away. “I’m not going to push it. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do at all. And you have to accept it. So you move on to the next event. Not every event is going to be eco-friendly."

She doesn’t get discouraged, because ultimately, “It’s a process,” says Hudson. “It’s a habit, and a mindset, more than an individual occurrence.”

Story by Evangel Fung. This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

The wedding planner goes green
From invitations to caterers, how to make your big day eco-friendly.