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How to turn a white wedding into a green one

A survey found that 78 percent of respondents said they were taking steps to green their weddings, while 35 percent planned to serve local food or decorate with local flowers.
/ Source: Reuters

Lindsey Gehl and Ryan Bell have a vision of their June wedding being white -- and green, too.

The 27-year-olds will pledge their troth in a traditional ceremony, followed by a reception amid the scenic trails and wildlife habitats of the Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet, Ill., to which they're donating $600.Indeed, their dedication to the environment is so true, they've forked out a little more to have invitations printed on recycled paper, and to have drinks served in glasses instead of plastic tumblers.

"It would have been cheaper to have our wedding at a church, but we both love nature and we believe it's important to do what we can for the environment," says Gehl, a teacher.

Gehl and Bell are in good company. In a November survey by chain store David's Bridal, 78 percent of respondents said they were taking steps to green their weddings, while 35 percent planned to serve local food or decorate with local flowers -- both steps that reduce a wedding's carbon footprint.

Those who have scoffed at "green" as being synonymous with "cheap" may have to eat their words.Wedding planners say there's an increased focus on environmental niceties that may not save money, and may even plump up a wedding bill.

Take food, for example. Locally sourced produce tends to cost more than those by large institutions based farther away, says Loren Michelle, proprietor of Naturally Delicious, a caterer and event planner based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I pay $14-$16 a pound for New York State aged cheddar. Regular cheddar would be $6 to $8," she says, while New York wine is more expensive than wine from California. In-season local vegetables may be less expensive, but not by much.

Organic food of any kind is pricey. About a quarter of Michelle's customers request free-range, grass-fed meat, which can cost 30 percent more.

As a genre of nuptial celebrations, eco-friendly weddings have held steady at about 11 percent of weddings since the economy tanked in 2008, reports TheKnot, a wedding planning website.

And hosts are keen on not being wasteful, says TheKnot editor Anja Winikka.

To be sure, it can be stylish to be "eco-chic", says blogger Anne Chertoff, who writes for WeddingWire, an online platform for vendors. A bride could give her gown to a charity, or favor a caterer that will donate unused food.

Some green choices can be gentler on the wallet.

"For my wedding we used locally grown organic dahlias and hydrangea and saved almost $1,500," says Kate Harrison, founder of the Green Bride Guide.

Couples can halve their flower budget, and keep a lid on their carbon footprint, if they avoid having exotic flora shipped in from tropical locations, says TheKnot's Winikka. Moving flowers from the ceremony to the reception area can trim some costs, while enjoyment of the blooms may be prolonged by having guests take them home afterwards.

Green to the extremeFor radical savings, couples can emulate Lane Bigsby, who in October, opened a low-cost rental service for vintage wedding props, Something Borrowed Portland. Instead of "something borrowed, something blue," Bigsby's maxim for her wedding last August was a green one; everything had to be borrowed, used or homemade, then reused or recycled after the event.

She spent $3,000 on 100 guests, in a year when the average wedding cost $27,021, according to TheKnot survey. A neighborhood seamstress created her dress with a frilly skirt of old curtains. Sheets were cut into napkins, and burlap bags from the local coffee roaster redeployed as table runners. Guests brought entrees and took home leftovers. The goal? Zero waste.

"We had one small grocery bag of garbage, and I took it home and sorted through to save things and compost the rest," says Bigsby, 36, who works as a project administrator at an energy efficiency consulting company.

Here are some tips for couples who'd like their big day to be eco and budget conscious:

Recycle dressesAlter a dress that's already in the family -- his or hers. Or buy a used gown for a third of its retail price, according to Harrison. Check out, which also offers items like shoes and rings.

Sell the dress after the wedding to recoup some costs or donate it to a thrift shop serving a favorite cause. The Bridal Garden in New York City gives all proceeds to benefit education for local children. The Glass Slipper Project and give bridesmaid gowns to high school students who can't afford prom dresses.

Car pool, and location poolSkip the parade of honking cars and hold the reception and ceremony in the same location. Arrange car pooling.

Web invitesInvitations made from recycled paper and soy ink are fine, but perhaps consider a web invite, or use free wedding websites to provide directions and hotel information. Guests can RSVP online.

Green giftsCreate a green registry. Ask only for essential gifts or have guests contribute to a charity.

The ringConsider a vintage ring. Or buy wedding rings made with post-consumer gold and man-made diamonds.

Green, in moderationNot every green wedding idea is smart. Bigsby -- certified in Portland as a "Master Recycler" to educate the public about environmental issues -- recommends against compostable dishes; these apparently don't compost in a landfill or in home composts, which don't get hot enough.