Any aspect of the conventional wedding can be done in an organic style.
Traditionally, weddings are white. But increasingly the sentiments are tending toward green.
For example, when philosophy professor David Jackson and photographer Kirsten Hepburn were married last summer, their 80 guests were served only locally grown, organic food. The couple checked to be sure the seafood selected for the main dish, a paella, did not include any species threatened by overfishing or high in contaminants.
Invitations to the ceremony held in an olive grove in Northern California were made at home on recycled paper, and guests were encouraged to donate to environmental causes rather than give traditional wedding gifts.
"We only gained by doing it this way," said Jackson, 34. "If you minimize the extravagance, what you actually do is maximize the emotional dimension of the occasion."
Jackson and Hepburn, who live in Salt Lake City, are part of a small but growing share of the 2.4 million people who marry each year in the United States who are choosing green weddings. From tea bags to table decorations, the weddings emphasize organic, sustainable food and fiber. Wedding bands made from recycled gold and eco-friendly honeymoons are part of the trend.
The reason why
Some couples want to make a statement about living a sustainable lifestyle. Others are rebelling against the increasing excess of fashionable weddings. Author Carol Reed-Jones said she wrote her book, "Green Weddings That Don't Cost the Earth" (Paper Crane Press), partly from concern that people spend so much money on their weddings that they start married life in debt. The typical wedding for 125 people costs nearly $20,000.
"We spend more time planning our weddings than we spend planning our marriages," Reed-Jones said.
But green weddings can be every bit as stylish -- and expensive -- as conventional weddings.
"Any aspect of the conventional wedding can be done in an organic or green style," said Delia Montgomery, an environmental design consultant and personal shopper in Lexington, Ky.
"Green weddings, just like organic fashions, are getting away from the Birkenstocks and burlap dresses, although that image is still there," Montgomery said. "We're getting closer to haute couture, especially in women's clothing."
Designer Crystal Miller, owner of Conscious Clothing in Santa Fe, N.M., makes soft, graceful bridal gowns and bridesmaids' dresses using fabric that is 60 percent hemp and 40 percent silk. They range in prices from $575 to $2,200 or more for custom creations.
"I have moms coming into the studio with their daughters who say, 'I had no idea that hemp could look like this,' " Miller said.
Fabric made from hemp is favored by the eco-conscious because the plant is naturally pest-resistant and requires no pesticides. It's often blended with organically grown cotton and silk.
"I think there is more of tendency to be sympathetic to or conscious of using sustainable goods and services," said Sasha Souza, a wedding planner with offices in Beverly Hills and Napa, Calif.
The most common aspect of green weddings is organic and locally grown food and flowers, Souza said. Some organic farms in Northern California have started hosting weddings, Souza said.
New World Catering near Woodstock, N.Y., offers clients the option of a "100 percent organic wedding," from tablecloths made from organically grown cotton to wines made from organically grown grapes.
"We're seeing more and more clients looking for a solid vegetarian option, not just a plate of vegetables, but a vegetarian creation as a dish," said New World owner and chef Ric Orlando. His firm charges about $150 a person for a fully organic wedding, compared with about $85 a person for a typical non-organic wedding.
Toronto lawyer Paula Boutis, 34, and her husband, systems engineer David Elstrom, 33, nearly gave up on finding wedding bands because they didn't want to support the environmentally destructive gold-mining industry. But then they found GreenKarat, an online company in Magnolia, Texas, that specializes in wedding bands made from recycled gold.
"People were aware of the mining issues related to gold, but they didn't know what to do about that," said GreenKarat owner Matt White, who founded the company two years ago after searching for wedding bands for himself and his wife. "They didn't have any alternative."
GreenKarat customers can offset the greenhouse-gas emissions created by the energy used making their weddings bands by paying an extra $1.75, which is donated to a wind energy company.
Boutis said she tried to keep every aspect of her nuptials as green as possible, from her menu of Greek-vegetarian dishes to the packets of organic tea guests received as wedding favors. The couple chose a restaurant on a car-free island in Lake Ontario for both the ceremony and reception, and Boutis' whole family took mass transit to the ferry station for the island.
"It's one day to make a statement," Boutis said. "You have a lot of people there and you want to send a message that this is the way we live our lives, and we want people to know it. With any luck, maybe they will learn from that and think about their own choices."