Low-carbon wedding

Last updated Friday 24 October 2008

Old wives may say green dresses are unlucky - but scientists reckon 'greening' your wedding can bring good fortune to you and the climate

Weddings are becoming more and more carbon-intensive, although they appear to be falling out of British favour.

The flights, the cars, the bride's insistence on passion fruit in January… Weddings can be as costly for the climate as they are for whoever picks up the bill.

Carbon boffins have calculated that it would take an Indian couple 123 years to emit as much CO2 as Liz Hurley's week-long international wedding celebrations. But it's not just celebs whose walk up the aisle leaves a hefty carbon footprint. The average British wedding emits more CO2 than ten return flights to Thailand.

Defining what makes a wedding 'green' is fairly tricky. But flying less, eating local, seasonal food and dressing smarter are all good places to start.

Read more below
Photo: Low-carbon wedding

Saves up to 10,000 kg of CO2 a year

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How will it make a difference?

One low-carbon wedding that made the news in 2007 was estimated to have saved 32 tonnes of carbon - equivalent to about eight years' worth of a single person's direct emissions. (Read the BBC article.) So what makes a low-carbon wedding?

  • Getting married where you live rather than flying your guests to the Maldives can save as much CO2 as 15 Hummers produce in a year
  • If you have a lot of friends and relatives overseas and can't face their not being part of your celebration, then a roving wedding (in which the couple visit their international guests instead of the other way round) could cut the climate impact of your nuptials by 70-95%
  • The average 'medium-sized' wedding puts out about 21 tonnes of CO2. That's a lot of CO2 - in fact, that's about half as much CO2 as Honda's Earth Car emits in a whole Formula One season

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What's stopping me?

Pub Fact

  • Marriage could bump up your longevity by as much as seven years for men and two years for women
  • Climate Care calculates that the average society wedding emits 85 tonnes of CO2 - about 17 times more than your annual direct emissions
  • Even a 'low-key' wedding of up to 100 guests still produces more CO2 than the average Brit directly emits in a year
  • The average wedding emits more CO2 than most Rwandans would emit in over two centuries
  • According to new research by Alliance and Leicester, most people end up spending about 3,500 more than they expected on their wedding day
  • The Telegraph estimates that about a tenth of British couples marry abroad
  • The Sunday Times' Top 20 Hot Wedding Trends for 2008 includes having an eco-wedding and flying in your favourite DJ from America
  • Given that the average woman spends about 800 on the wedding dress, getting a vintage gown can cut down on money and emissions
  • "My wife bought me a patio heater for our wedding anniversary" - Jeremy Clarkson
  • Just halving the climate impact of a year's worth of UK weddings could save as much CO2 as grounding about 1 million flights to Thailand
  • Wayne Rooney's wife blew 85,000 flying to New York to visit her wedding tailor
  • Since the 1980s the average age at which we get married has risen by 7%
  • Old wives tales have it that the first person in a couple to buy something after the wedding 'wears the trousers' in the relationship
  • About a fifth of weddings in 2005 were remarriages
  • The average number of invites to weddings is 178
  • Liz Hurley's wedding emitted about 200 tonnes of CO2
  • A typical wedding can contribute about 15 tonnes of CO2 to the planet
  • Fewer than 5% of all the people on earth have travelled by plane in their lives
  • An American Wedding Survey in 2005 found that the average U.S. wedding has 165 guests, 54 of which require lodging and/or air travel
  • The Irish are most likely to marry abroad according to one survey
  • The divorce rate today hasn't been this low since 1984
  • Marriages for couples divorcing in 2000 had lasted for a median of 11 years
  • The wedding market is now valued at 4.4 bn
  • Honeymoons account for about 15% of the average wedding budget

"I can't afford a big British wedding, so I'm going abroad"

British weddings can be expensive compared to foreign weddings, mainly because more people will come so you'll need to lay on a bigger spread. The average wedding - of about 150 guests - now costs over 20,000, which is more than twice what it was 20 years ago. And even a cheaper-than-average British wedding still costs about six times as much as a foreign wedding, at least according to one survey.

But British weddings don't have to be any more lavish than you want to make them. And be warned - there's no correlation between the cost of the wedding and the success of the marriage. (Read more about money matters in this report by Alliance Trust Research Centre.)

"I want a foreign wedding to escape my in-laws"

Getting married abroad can make a lot of sense, especially if it means escaping your in-laws' banter. In fact, one survey carried out by Direct Line Home Insurance found that a quarter of people polled who had got married in the previous two years tied the knot abroad - and a quarter of them did so simply to escape family feuds. Read the Guardian article.

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How will I do it?

  • Keep it intimate - in other words, only invite the Facebook friends you actually recognise
  • If there's a geographical 'hub' to your group of friends and family, consider holding the wedding there to keep transport emissions down
  • Failing that, consider a 'wedding tour' to visit guests rather than them all travelling to see you
  • Keep the honeymoon local too - or take the train to Europe
  • Provide nosh and booze that is both local and seasonal. Try visiting the local farmers' market for ideas on the menu. (Tip: people eat more at buffets than they would at a plated dinner)
  • Skip the limo for something more individual and less polluting. How about an electric car, rickshaw or even a white horse, North Indian style?
  • Splurge on one or two things you care about - flowers and champagne, maybe - and keep everything else as basic as you can bear
  • Use local flowers - you could even plant a special crop when you get engaged to use at the wedding
  • Email your invites to save on paper - or use your social networking site of choice
  • Ask any mates who pipped you to the post if you can borrow their wedding paraphernalia. Buying less new stuff saves emissions
  • Swap freshly-mined gold bands for second-hand rings. Vintage bling is zero-carbon and prevents all sorts of nasty chemicals (like cyanide and mercury) from leaching out of mines
  • Have the wedding outdoors and in summer to minimise the need for heating or air conditioning. (June is particularly auspicious, according to the Romans)
  • Consider wearing a second-hand, inherited or hired dress. Read our article on dressing smarter

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Sami, Leicestershire 2009-05-12

I'm currently planning my wedding

Alan, Norfolk 2009-02-19

I am surprised you have not mentioned giving trees as wedding favours. This was briefly featured on episode 7 of Its not easy being green. The idea of giving trees appeals on several fronts; trees store a massive amount of carbon dioxide; they live a very long time so giving them as favours is a small present that will last a long time and grow as hopefully the mariage grows; British native trees also provide homes or habitats for vast numbers of other species so increasing diversity which is much under threat theses days.

Have a look at www.wedding-tree-favours.com

Lydia McNeeney, Manchester 2009-02-07

Our ethical choices started with my engagement rings made using stones from a ring inherited from my grandmother!
The florist made me a fabric bouquet and sourced British flowers for the church. My bridesmaids made their own bouquets and my chief bridesmaid also made my veil. My dress and necklace were made in Somerset (where my parents live), which may not make them any more eco-friendly but I know that there was no sweatshop labour involved. I chose shoes that I would wear again rather than white satin ones and I intend to get my dress re-made to wear again.
Our reception was in the city centre to allow easier access to public transport and we provided a bus from the church. We chose locally sourced food and organic chocolate favours for the reception.
The thankyou gifts we gave were Lush cosmetics for the bridesmaids and Somerset cider for the groomsmen.
We chose to take your honeymoon in the Lake District to keep down our environmental impact and avoid the stress of flying.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Hummer is the brand name of a 4x4/off-road vehicle manufactured by General Motors and styled after the US military's high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV, or Humvee). The Hummer is widely criticised for its very poor fuel economy.

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