Making a commitment to the planet: My big, fat green wedding

The dress came from Oxfam, the food was organic, and the guests had to offset their air-miles. Ian Herbert reports on the couple who tied the knot without harming the environment

For the prospective bride and groom who dream of flying their entire family to Barbados for a £100,000 knees-up, the idea of a green wedding must sound about as welcome as a bad speech from the best man followed by a punch-up over the wedding breakfast.

But a young groom's decision to buy his bride an engagement ring with a conflict-free diamond culminated in their ethical wedding this weekend - the latest in a growing number - with flowers grown in the bride's mother's garden and recycled toilet paper at the reception venue.

It was after Joe Carrick, a 26-year-old youth worker, sought out the ethical white gold ring that his fiancée, Jessica Randall, 24, of Keighley, west Yorkshire, became determined to place sustainability at the heart of their big day. She dug out a £70 wedding dress from one of Oxfam's seven UK bridal stores, in Bradford, asked relatives flying in from Australia and Switzerland to offset the carbon emissions of their flights, and a green, 1948 Bentley which had been converted to gas was found to replace the usual gas-guzzling wedding limo. Out went the reams of paper which weddings entail, and in their place was a dedicated "Jessicaandjoe" website from which guests could order presents and get directions.

More couples are opting for a green, rather than white, wedding because of an awareness of the colossal carbon footprint attached to their big day. The Climate Care group estimates that the average wedding emits 14.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide - a hefty environmental toll; the entire annual carbon footprint of the average Briton stands at 10.92 tonnes of CO2, the Carbon Trust revealed last month.

"The image often conveyed about green events is that they're going to be a bit hippy," said Ruth Culver, whose Green Weddings organisation is the first dedicated to focusing the happy couple on their carbon footprint. "We like to say it's eco-chic - and just as fabulous as any wedding."

Ms Randall had some pre-wedding jitters about her decision to buy a second-hand silk dress from Oxfam. "I wasn't sure how people might respond to it, though the reaction was amazing when I told people where it was from," she said. Her full-length veil, also from Oxfam, was £4.99 though there was one indulgence - a new, £70 tiara. The couple pulled the event off on a £3,000 budget - a snip, compared to the £20,000 of consumption attached to the average big day, in Britain.

True to their eco-principles, the couple are honeymooning in Dorset, cutting out the biggest environmental cost attached to most weddings - the overseas holiday which follows. Their presents, which have all gone straight to the developing world, via Oxfam unwrapped, include a donkey, an alpaca, three health care workers, 125 planted trees and 25 condom kits.

The Dress

Jessica wanted silk from a reputable source and found a £450 dress selling for £70 in an Oxfam shop in Bradford. She complemented it with a floor-length lace coat which, with no sleeves and just three buttons at the front, showed off the best of the dress.

Alternatives: Over-consumption is at the root of environmental damage so any self-respecting green bride needs to think about wearing something which is not new. "It's only since the Victorian era that the frothy white dress has been de rigeur," said Ruth Culver, Britain's first dedicated green wedding planner (greenweddings.org.uk). "There's no reason not to be unconventional and go for something different." The Wholly Jo's company uses organic fabrics and "peace silk", made from silkworms that live out their life cycle. Hemp is a sustainable material, with no chemical inputs. And when the bride has those thoughts arranged in her head, she should not forget how far that peace silk has been flown.

The Ring

True to the message of Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, Joe sought out a ring through the Kimberley Process, designed to certify the origin of diamonds from sources which are free of conflict. A laser-inscripted number establishes the provenance of its seven diamonds

Alternatives: Since establishing that a gem is conflict-free can be notoriously difficult and gold mining has a large carbon footprint, a vintage ring is an alternative - either an heirloom or through a jeweller's, where you'll get more gem for your money if it's not brand new. If the style of the ring looks old, getting a local craftsman to refashion it can deliver the same kind of end product on which you might have blown much of the budget.

The Guests

Jessica's father is Australian and her mother is Swiss, so there was some hard thinking to do here. All those travelling were asked to offset their air miles. Joe and Jessica provided public transport links on the website and considered hiring a red London bus to transport guests from the church to the reception. In the end, they just had the reception in the church.

Alternatives: Carbon offsetting is the least you can do when it comes to flying in guests. If you're a guest, consider making the wedding trip that year's holiday - or else don't go at all. "I decided not to go to my oldest friend's wedding in Canada because I couldn't justify it environmentally," said Ms Culver.

The Bouquet

Jessica wanted flowers which were not transported too far, so crocuses from her mother's greenhouse in Bradford were ideal. The greenery all came from the same place and her mother (a florist) went to Covent Garden flower market to seek out those with the fewest air miles.

Alternatives: Air freighting is the major problem and many flowers used at weddings are flown in, making this a major CO2 factor. There are also human rights issues in some overseas areas of production. "Seasonal and local flowers can be found, even at this time of the year and you don't have to go for the ubiquitous roses," said Ms Culver. You can also decorate with living plants rather than flowers - so you can take them home afterwards.

The Car

Jessica and Joe opted for an elegant Bentley, converted to gas.

Alternatives: Wedding cars can tend to be petrol guzzlers so it's worth thinking about those converted to LPG (liquified petroleum gas). Beyond that, the options are endless - from tandems and rickshaws to an old-fashioned horse and carriage.

Organic, locally sourced food wherever possible - with only the recipes imported: the Morrocan chicken went down a storm. The organic ethos stretched as far as the beer: St Peter's organic being the order of the day.

The Feast

Alternatives: Food miles are the obvious problem, so keep it local and seasonal. "It will taste much better than if it's out of season and transported a long way," said Ms Culver. "Creative chefs can do amazing things with vegetarian menus," she said. Organically produced food also uses 15 per cent less energy. Fairtrade goods are an essential and it's also worth thinking about the "drink miles" - go for French rather than New Zealand wine and even British wine need not be totally out of the question. Try asking the hotel about its recycling policy, too.

The Invitations

The couple chose paper from recycledpaper.com and they also dispensed with envelopes by addressing the back of the invitations. Artistically sticking pieces of paper onto the invites prevented them from looking dowdy.

Alternatives: Who needs invitations at all when you can set up your own website (as Joe and Jessica did). Your guests click on the site and find all they need - the means of replying, guest list, directions, public transport details, etc.

The Gifts

Joe and Jessica asked guests to contribute to Oxfam Unwrapped, with a connection to it through their website. It means guests will have paid for three teacher trainers, three health workers, 2,000 days' school education, as well as textbooks and HIV/Aids education.

Alternatives: As people are getting married later in life, they are more likely to have the household gifts they need, said Ms Culver, so setting up an online account where guests can make a donation to a chosen charity is increasingly popular. "You need to make your plans clear," added Ms Culver. "Some older relatives can find it a bit baffling and not to their tastes and they'll certainly need to know what their money is going towards.."

And there's even more to think about...

You can cause more damage than you realise on your hen or stag do. The CO2 problems apply as much to it as to the honeymoon so it might be worth thinking about keeping it a bit closer to home.

Onto the wedding, more people are considering the environmental effects of confetti, which contains dyes and bleach. Throwing linseed is one alternative, Ms Culver recommends. Sounds improbable but it has the desired effect. After it's all over, give each guest some seeds to plant at home. And if you really have to travel abroad to mark this moment, you could book an eco-holiday.

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