5 Tips for Planning a Sustainable Wedding or Event

By: Rachel Van Vlaenderen

February 18, 2019

Category: Sustainability

This past fall I celebrated one of the biggest days of my life so far: my wedding day! Having planned my wedding with a sustainable lens, I thought it would be fun to share a few tips and tricks with brides to be or anyone else hoping to host a sustainable event. Read on for a few things I learned along the way, and advice I wish I had heard early in my planning process. 

1. Less Can Be More

When planning a wedding or event it’s easy to get caught up in decorations and themes. I’m guilty of getting lost in the online world of inspirations, or “pinspirations” for those of you who enjoy Pinterest for idea hunting. However, I found the most success in developing our wedding theme when I let go of other people’s ideas and focused on what represented me and my husband.

One way we achieved this was using our own household decorations and antiques. Buying secondhand or using what you already have is a great way to reduce single-use decorations.

I’ve seen this done at other weddings through use of childhood memorabilia, displaying collectibles, and a favorite of mine, incorporating in-season produce and pieces from nature. All of these options are great ways to reduce waste and impress guests.

a table covered in white table cloth set with flowers and metal lanterns.
Photo courtesy of RKH Images.

a table is set with an old book, a silver box, and some metal vases.

two bottles of wine in the center of a table set for dinner. Pears and candles are used to decorate over a white table cloth.
By George Street Photos.

2. Location, location, location

One of the most sustainable things you can do for your event is host it in a central location or where the majority of your guests live. 

Destination events can take a considerable toll on the environment due to emissions associated with car and air travel. If you’re curious about the carbon emissions associated with your flight plans check out this carbon emissions calculator.

If you have guests travelling from out of town, consider hosting your event near the airport or somewhere that is easily accessed with public transportation, like a bus or light rail stop. If your venue is not near public transportation, consider providing a shuttle for your guests or encouraging them to carpool. A great venue option near the airport is Hyland Hills in Bloomington!

Another option is to consider a venue that can brag about its energy efficiency. Perhaps it uses alternative energy sources, like the Great Hall at Silverwood Park, which has a geothermal heating and cooling system to offset its carbon footprint!

Make sure your venue will recycle any waste products from your event and, if possible, reuse items left behind like candle votives and tablecloths. If they won’t, consider gifting your reusable decorations to a friend or save them for a future party.

3. What everyone comes for: The food

When choosing your menu or catering options, consider a few things:

  • Is the food locally sourced? Ask your caterer where their ingredients come from, and if you're making your own food, use as many local ingredients as you can. The fewer miles the ingredients had to travel to get to your event, the better.
  • Can you use reusable or certified-compostable products? If you can't use your own dishes, choose compostable over paper or plastic. Most caterers offer reusable options, but it's smart to double check. 
  • Are products like coffee and chocolate Fair Trade-certified?
  • Is it possible to buy fresh instead of frozen? Frozen products often mean more processing and more energy used to get them from farm to your event. Ask your caterer how they purchase their ingredients.

4. Pass on Paper

While paper invitations are traditional, they also create unnecessary waste. Fortunately, greener alternatives abound. Digital invitations can be both beautiful and affordable, and they make tracking RSVPs easy! There are many options available, like Paperless Post, Punch Bowl or Minted.

If you love the idea of sending something in the mail, consider using seed paper that can have a second life after inviting family and friends to join the fun! Take a look at Botanical Paperworks, Custom Paper and Bloomin to get started. If you plan to mail thank you cards, consider sending them along with other seasonal correspondences like holiday cards.

5. Favors and More

Favors have become an expected element of weddings and events. If you choose to offer a small gift to your guests, take a moment to think about its environmental impact. Consider reusable items like brass bottle openers, homemade treats, or give a second life to a plant you used as decoration.

A small jar filled with mustard with a tag tied to it that says "it mustard be love."
By George Street Photos.

Wherever your event planning takes you, I hope some of these simple tips will help you plan the perfect sustainable event. If you’re currently planning a wedding, don’t miss the Three Rivers Wedding Fair at Silverwood Park on Sunday, February 24!


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About the Author

Rachel Van Vlaenderen is the Division Coordinator for the Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Natural Resources Management Division at Three Rivers. She’s been with the Park District in various roles since 2014. She’s a proud University of Minnesota Gopher with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park, and Leisure Studies and minor in Outdoor Recreation and Education. Outside of Three Rivers, Rachel spends time tending to her garden and six chickens who are known as “The Bettys”. She enjoys hiking and exploring nature by the Minnesota River with her dog, cuddling with her cats, and dancing in the kitchen while making (delicious) meals with her husband. 


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