30 Tips On Hosting a Sustainable Wedding

Four expert wedding planners, and one real-life couple, show you how to have an eco-friendly wedding.

Here’s a truth about big, fat weddings that often gets overlooked—most often, larger-than-life ceremonies put a big strain on the environment. You may not realise it, but from the décor to the food, flowers, and even venue, your choices could be polluting the precious resources of the earth. Luckily, with some careful planning, you can be the eco-friendly couple that still has a beautiful, mindful wedding. Four expert wedding planners, and one real-life couple, show you how.

1.CHOOSE A LOCAL VENUE: The first thing every couple decides on is the venue for the wedding. “It’s no secret that airplane and automobile emissions are among the top contributors to environmental damage, so it's a good idea to think about how you and your guests will be travelling to the functions,” says Tina Tharwani, Co-founder, Head of Business Development & Client Servicing. She adds, “We’re the first to say that you should get married wherever you want, but when making a conscientious decision, pick a destination that requires the fewest plane and car journeys.”

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 2. GET MARRIED IN NATURE: Instead of renting an indoor venue for your wedding—which will require lighting and ventilation—why not get married in the great outdoors? A day wedding with natural sunlight will save on electricity. “Do your pheras under a huge banyan tree with delicate gajras,” suggests Anika Dhawan, founder and creative director, Rani Pink & Rani Pink Gifts. You can follow this up with a big Indian picnic—she suggests hosting a flower holi with all your guests, putting together a cluster of food stalls, and even playing old-school board games. Remember to pick a season when the weather is pleasant.

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3.USE LOCAL FABRICS IN THE DECOR: “We are huge on block printing and working with natural dyes for wedding functions,” says Dhawan. She recommends combining geometric prints with floral patterns, and going “all out” with traditional fabric to make it all the more impactful. “Make the fabric your highlight, from the table covers to the runners, mats, and napkins.” She suggests playing with a palette of indigo, mango, or moss and rani pink or orange and powder blue. “Another fabulous craft to promote is bandhini, in cool or quirky colours. Add local flowers, like marigold, to the mix.”

4.USE NATURAL MATERIALS: “This year, we will be working with banana trees, coconuts, and cactus as part of the decor, along with soft muslin and mulmul drapes to create the perfect bonfire night on a desert in Jaisalmer,” says Dhawan. She suggests creating an outdoor setting with beautiful muslin tents, live folk music, layers of charpais, and fabric in ombré tones to make it special. “Create a big lounge with beautiful amber lamps and candles to create depth, and gorge on some fabulous Rajasthani food.”

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5. LET IT BLOOM: “Environmentally-minded folk often suggest you forgo cut flowers in favour of potted herbs and plants,” says Tharwani. If you still want fresh blooms, your florist may be able to source locally-grown flowers, potted plants, or seasonal alternatives. “It's also worth deciding on what happens to the arrangements after the wedding—they may be able to arrange for the flowers to be donated to a local hospital or hospice,” she suggests. You can also send your guests home with your wedding flowers—have an attendant turn them into individual bouquets for takeaways.

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6. CREATE A THEME WITH INDIAN CRAFTS: “There is going to be a large need to promote local, sustainable craft to help the economy and the people who work for us,” states Dhawan. And she has already started incorporating chikankari and mukaish-work from Lucknow in her designs. “Create a beautiful baithak in an ivory colour board by upholstering all your linen in exquisite chikankari work and adding layers of crushed chanderi and chikan drapes. Add to the mood by placing mithai and gajra on huge silver thaals.”

7. RECYCLE WASTE FABRIC: “A stunning, but often overlooked, element is patchwork,” says Dhawan. “We have so much resource and wastage of fabric that we’re planning to create patchwork tents and embellish with layers of gota to create a visual dream. Patchwork is so much fun if done right,” she adds. You can even use this unique material to create cushion or wedding favour bags, and create something stylish with simple embellishments.

8. KEEP A KIND MENU: “Look for a catering company with a sustainable ethos—who source organic, local, fair trade, and ethically-produced ingredients, wherever possible,” says Tharwani. A vegan or vegetarian menu would also reduce the environmental impact of the wedding meal. However, if that’s too much for you, she recommends a menu that's at least 50 percent vegetarian. You can also consider a farm-to-table menu. “When you're budgeting, keep in mind that organic foods may cost more, but asking your caterer to source in-season, locally-grown products will help keep the cost down,” she advises.

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9. SHOP AT LOCAL BRANDS:  “For an eco-friendly wedding, look for plantable favours from local stores, like potted saplings, herbs or succulents. If a lot of your guests are traveling, keep in mind that they probably won't want to pack a pot of soil into their suitcase, so consider biodegradable seed packets,” says Tharwani. Special food items from local businesses also make for great presents. “Select from your favourite coffee brand for their signature beans, candy shops for chocolate bars, or jams in reusable glass jars,” she suggests.

10. WEAR HEIRLOOM JEWELLERY: Diamonds, emeralds, and pearls are essentials for the wedding trousseau, but they often contribute to large scale destruction in the mining process. In fact, diamond mines are said to have a carbon footprint equal to more than 600 million car miles. Consider wearing heirloom pieces that have been in your family for generations—it’s a great way to carry the family legacy forward, too. Or, you can opt for lab-grown diamonds, which are more ethical in their production.

11. WEAR HANDLOOM: Along with being breathtakingly beautiful, Indian textiles are also often eco-friendly—right from the making of the yarn to the weaving process. Shop from designers who support village clusters with their work, and select threadworm embroidery over plastic sequins and beads.

12. USE ETHICAL BEAUTY PRODUCTS: “If you haven't already, try adding some cruelty-free, zero-waste, or locally-produced products to your pre-wedding skincare routine,” says Tharwani. Continue the practise into your wedding makeup, by asking your hairstylist and makeup artist for cruelty-free substitutes.

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13. GO PLASTIC-FREE WITH DRINKS: “Avoiding the use of plastic water bottles is a big way of helping the environment,” says Aashna Singh, Founder and Creative Head of Aash Studio. Consider serving drinks in pretty steel, brass, or stoneware glasses and jugs, which can be washed and reused. Either do away with straws completely, or use only paper straws that are without an inner plastic lining. And dispose  them off separately in a compost so that they get recycled.

14. DONATE THE LEFTOVERS: “Many food banks across the country will happily pick up chilled, leftovers of unserved food from your wedding celebrations,” shares Tharwani. Speak with your caterers in advance so they can make the necessary arrangements—you could consider The Robin Hood Army or Roti Bank by Dabbawalas, among the many. “If they have done this before, they may know just who to call. Most hotel chains have a leftover disposal plan in place but it’s always good to check,” she adds.

15. BRING OUT THE DINNERWARE: All families have dinner sets that are hidden away in cupboards, and now is a great time to get them out. Give your dinnerware a mix-and-match spin, which works equally well for incomplete cutlery and crockery sets.

16. CREATE A DAAWAT EXPERIENCE: “We would love to work on a huge daawat-themed concept where the only decor elements are layers and layers of mitti diyas, ghungroos, and beautiful woven fabrics from Banaras,” says Dhawan. Create an old-school dawat for 100 people, where everyone eats at the same time on beautiful handwoven linen, surrounded by lots of oil diyas.

17. USE REUSABLE DECOR: When it comes to wedding decor, some trends can be very polluting. “As much as we love them, crackers, balloons, and sky lanterns can be quite harmful to the environment, as well as to local wildlife if you don’t dispose of them properly,” says Tharwani. “Try to use recyclable or reusable items for decor like vintage candlesticks, glassware, bunting, and ribbons—many of which you can hire.”

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18. DECORATE WITH ART: Instead of printing out a backdrop for the photobooth or decorating the venue with plastic-based materials, employ a local artist to paint something for you. “We are going to work with a group of artists who can paint the entire event for us in lovely pastel tones,” says Dhawan of her plans for the coming season. “Get beautiful illustrations made of the couple that are fun and quirky,” she adds. Not only will these make for a great photo op with your friends, but you can also frame the paintings later for your new home.

19. REUSE YOUR VENDOR’S EXISTING DECOR: Most vendors have a garage filled with props they’ve used for previous weddings, and Singh recommends you ask them to take you through what they already have. With a bit of imagination, you can reuse these decor elements without contributing to the waste or spending extra money

20. CREATE DRAMA WITH A MOVING DECOR: “Instead of adding more props for drama, create a spectacle with choreography that keeps changing the mood of the space,” suggests Dhawan. How, you ask? “You can get a troupe of dancers to come in every few hours and add props to the existing decor. For example, ask them to place small pots of flower in designated spots, followed by a small stint. Two hours later, they'll all come in again with bunches of kites and tie them in specific spaces. It'll become like a 3D setup that keeps changing every three hours.” The idea is to use easy to source local, everyday objects.

21. FOCUS ON THE DETAILS: “We did a Jaipur polo tent theme function in Dubai recently, where I got everything block-printed in blue—the runners, mats, and linen. There were handprinted umbrellas and ceramic, vintage cane furniture, and a sundowner jaimala ceremony,” says Dhawan. Along with this, she stuck to a single colour of flowers. “We only worked with potted flowers because there was a shortage of blooms—we used marigold and bougainvillea to create levels, and make centrepieces. It was visually so strong because the indigo and yellow colour palette was very striking.”

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22. USE A LOCAL FLOWER AS THE THEME: “Do an entire bougainvillea look,” suggest Dhawan. “We are obsessed with the flower, and have been using it forever. Work with ombré tones of ivory, lemon, coral, and pink. Hand-paint the walls with the motif, print on organza, and use potted bougainvillea like creepers going up to the ceiling with greens and bamboo.”

23. USE ECO-FRIENDLY INVITES: “Millions of trees are chopped every year to make paper products, and the production process pollutes the environment,” says Tharwani. While you may send paper invites to older family members, consider customisable e-invites and save-the-dates for friends. Set up a wedding website where you can add all additional details, like route to the venue. Tharwani also recommends getting invites made with recycled paper products and vegetable-based inks, or even paper embedded with seeds—once planted, the paper turns into flowers or herbs instead of ending up in a landfill.

24. HIRE MINI VANS: Decide on a meeting point that is convenient for your guests, and get them to travel together instead of in separate cars to your wedding. “You can use mini vans to accommodate more people and reduce pollution,” says Singh. The best part is that it will help your guests to bond at your wedding, and you’ll get some great photos as well.

25. GIVE BACK TO SOCIETY: Often, the gifts couples get on their wedding are either recycled from presents lying at home, or things that may not be to their taste. Instead, select a cause that your husband and you believe in, and request your guests to contribute to that. “There are lots of environmental and animal charities who could use your support. You could also encourage your guests to plant a tree with seed wedding favours,” says Tharwani.

A sustainable wedding was also the natural choice for Devyani Kapoor—founder of slow fashion platform Shuffling Suitcases, and Varun Soni—a senior marketing manager, who tied the knot in Jaipur on February 8, this year.

“I’ve been into slow fashion for nearly five years, and this was the only type of wedding I wanted to have,” she says. And while her family members completely supported the idea, it took only a little bit of convincing on her husband’s part to get his family to agree, too.

“We wanted to make sustainability look and feel fun, so that people would get inspired by it. We had 120 guests attending it—only close family and friends—and everyone was involved in making it happen,” says Devyani.

Here are the newly-wed’s tips on how to make yours eco-friendly and unforgettable:

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 1.KEEP THE WEDDING SHORT: “We hosted all out functions in a day and a half—the haldi and mehendi were in the afternoon, the cocktails was in the night, and the wedding the next morning. We also combined our functions together,” she explains. Since it was a day wedding, no generators were used. We did not need any extra light, making minimum use of man-made resources.

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2. REUSE THE DECOR: Right from the flower decorations to the signboards, the same sets were used for each function by simply rearranging their placement. “The signboard was made from an extra plank of wood that we got from a carpenter, and my father painted our names in calligraphy on it,” she shares. And all the leaves stuck on it were from what they found fallen on the ground.

3. REUSE YOUR OUTFITS AND SHOES: For two of the ceremonies, Devyani either rewore her outfit, or created a new one from fabric lying at home. “For the haldi ceremony, I borrowed a Mekhla Chador from my sister and turned it into a suit,” she shares. And through the events, she wore the comfiest pairs of shoes—from her existing collection.

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4. RECYCLE MATERIALS FOR WEDDING FAVOURS: Devyani collaborated with Mumbai-based brand, Refash, to get multi-purpose accessories made for her bridesmaids. “They upcycle materials to make fresh products. With fabric sourced from Payal Singhal, they created a piece that can be used as a bracelet, hair-tie, and a necklace!”

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5. USE SOY CANDLES: Twinkling candles are perfect to set a romantic mood at the wedding. Instead of using paraffin wax candles—that are made with petroleum products and cause pollution—they used candles handmade with soy wax. “These have much lesser carbon emission count, and I used them as part of the centrepiece on each table. Our guests took them home once the function was over,” she explains.

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