8 tips to planning a greener destination wedding

Eco-friendly destination wedding beach sunsetWhen my fiance and I began planning our nuptials, I must admit that the idea of a destination wedding was tempting. Destination weddings are typically less expensive (for the couple getting married, at least) and their all-inclusive packages mean a lot less planning and nitpicking over the details.

Perhaps that’s why more and more couples are choosing weddings away from home over traditional church-and-banquet-hall affairs. Earlier this month, NY1 reported that 25% of engaged couples are now taking the destination wedding route. (Geographically widespread guest lists, made up of friends who have met or stayed in touch via online social networks, might have something to do with the trend, according to Destination Weddings and Honeymoons magazine.)

But, of course, there’s the environmental costs: all of your guests flying to a remote location, the extra hotel stays involved, and the eco-considerations of whatever your destination may be — the beach (g00d) versus a cruise ship (bad), for example. Is it really possible to make a destination wedding green?

You can certainly make it greener, that’s for sure. And in a lot of little ways, an intimate gathering in a beautiful neutral location may even be more eco-friendly than a 200-person blow-out in your hometown. If you’re bitten by the destination wedding bug, here are a few ways to reduce your environmental impact.

1. Keep it small. The average guest list for a destination wedding is about 40 people, according to NY1′s report. That means less food that needs to be prepared, fewer favors and programs you’ll be handing out, and fewer invitations to mail.

2. Compare flight numbers. Think about what your guest list would be like if you were to have a traditional wedding where you live now or where you grew up. How many people would have to fly to get there? If you’re really committed to keeping your wedding as eco-friendly as possible, keep that number in mind when you make your trimmed-down destination-wedding guest list.

3. Offset carbon emissions. This is the most obvious thing a couple can do to reduce their eco-guilt — and while the practice is still somewhat controversial, it’s fair to say that making the effort is better than not. You can use sites like Terrapass to calculate the total carbon cost of your event and make a one-time donation yourselves, or (if you don’t need any more stuff) you can ask guests to offset their own emissions in lieu of gifts.

4. Consider your destination. Look for hotels that participate in environmentally-friendly practices, and ask your wedding planner what options they have for greening your ceremony and reception. Can they limit the amount of paper — or used recycled — for programs and welcome materials? Can you request local and organic food options, or go meatless? (Check out this delicious-sounding “Epicurean 808″ catering menu offered by Hawaii’s Mauna Lani Bay hotel and bungalows, featuring only products obtained within 100 miles of the resort.)

5. Extend your vacation. If you’re planning to honeymoon in a distant or exotic locale, you’ll be flying anyway after the wedding — so instead of flying twice, make your destination an all-in-one trip. Give guests a send-off back to the airport the day after the wedding, and then enjoy some quality time alone exploring the area. Some hotels will even host your honeymoon for free when you book a wedding package! (If you really must get away, find a bus or train trip that will take you to other nearby destinations.)

6. Use nature to your advantage. If your destination wedding includes a tropical beach or outdoor setting, let the natural beauty of that setting stand in for the flowers, candles, and decorations you’d need for a typical indoor event. These situations often call for more casual outfits, as well, which means maybe your wedding party can wear their outfits again (like these adorable Hawaiian flower-girl dresses). Maybe you’ll even go shoeless!

7. Indulge in eco-tourism. If your guests are with you at your destination for a few days before or after the wedding, set up some type of activity that (responsibly) explores the natural beauty around you. Use is as an opportunity to educate — but not preach to — friends and family about local environmental and sustainability initiatives.

8. Hire local vendors. This may sound obvious, but I’ve known friends and family who’ve gotten married across the country or across the world — and then flown out photographers, musicians, and even makeup artists to join them. Aside from the financial considerations (do you really want more travel expenses on your bill?), think about the additional environmental impact of putting even more people — and all of their equipment — on a plane.

Have you been a part of any destination weddings that got it right? What other eco-friendly touches can be incorporated?

[Photo: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows]

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About Amanda MacMillan

Amanda MacMillan is a health and environmental writer whose work has appeared in Prevention, Health, Whole Living, and National Geographic's The Green Guide. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently chronicling the process of planning her wedding while making sustainable, healthy, and budget-friendly choices on her blog, Lean Green Bride.