Planning an Ethical Wedding - Part Three: Vendors
In my experience, the biggest most time-consuming element of wedding planning is dealing with vendors, so it's important to choose wisely. You're going to be working very closely with these people, and it's wonderful when everything comes together to make your day special. Choose carefully and think ahead to make ethical choices and feel great about your day.
They say that the one thing everyone remembers about a wedding is the food, so I knew I needed to get this one right. I did some research and chose a caterer who I know would work with us to create a menu we and our guests would love. We were able to meet one-on-one with the chef to create our ideal menu using local ingredients, and avoiding anything we didn't want included in our day. It was important to me that the food be made using the most local ingredients possible. I don't know if eating local actually reduces fuel use all that much, but it does have a lesser impact on the manipulation of the food industry and food growing conditions. I also was insistent that we not serve beef. I believe that the beef industry is one of the most harmful to the environment. Not only does cattle emit huge amounts of methane (and every molecule of methane is equivalent to 23 molecules of CO2,) but the cattle industry is also the number one cause of tropical deforestation in the world. I didn't want to force my guests to eat vegetarian meals, so I worked with the chef to create dishes using chicken and pork from a small local farm. The guests seemed happy with the food, and I was happy to have my values represented in my wedding meal. The black bean cakes with red pepper coulis were DELICIOUS.
Thanks to technology, it's easy to choose a low-impact, ethical wedding photographer. I can't imagine there are many (if any) photographers who work in analog film anymore. That's great because digital is far less wasteful! Make sure that your photographer, like the rest of your vendors, is local to your wedding location so that they don't burn fuel to travel far. Make sure that they'll provide digital proofs rather than printed hard copies, though nowadays I think that's the norm. You may also want to consider more ethical options for file storage and wedding albums. Printing on recycled paper is an obvious choice. Storing your files on a disc or physical hard drive is a great way to eliminate cloud storage, which reduces carbon emissions.
Hair & Make Up
When I first started my search for a hair and makeup artist, my biggest concern was finding someone who used all cruelty-free and organic makeup and styling products. After my first makeup trial was a disaster, I decided to be lenient and open to working with a more reputable stylist, even one who didn't use exclusively organic and vegan products. Not until I had already booked my hair and makeup artist did I learn that many of the product lines she uses are in fact cruelty-free, and free of parabens and sulfates. There are other ways to make your wedding day beauty routine more ethical, too. The false eyelashes I wore were synthetic instead of mink, and I purchased my own cruelty-free, eco lipstick so that I could reapply throughout the day. If you're adamant about using only green, cruelty-free products on your wedding day, ask what products your hair and makeup artists use. You could even ask if they might be open to using products that you would provide for the big day.
If you want to avoid disposables or one-time-use products, rentals are the clear choice. Renting dishes, glasses, flatware, etc. will eliminate any need for disposable dishes and cutlery. You can rent just about anything imaginable for a wedding, from tents and seating, to decor items, and even bathrooms (we had a trailer!) The key with choosing a rental company is the same as choosing any wedding vendor - stay as local as possible. The farther away a vendor is based, the more fuel they have to burn to get their stuff to your wedding. Often times a caterer will able to provide things like dishes, cutlery, napkins, and linens, so you may not have to find a separate rental company if you don't need to rent anything else. Pro tip: ask about any dish cleaning fees so you don't get blindsided by the bill!
After meeting with not one but two traditional florists, I decided that neither of them were the right fit, and that made me feel like a bit of a bridezilla. Then I had a casual, honest conversation about wedding flowers with a woman I know from high school who does flowers on the side for friends. She made me feel less like a date on a calendar and more like a real human person with valid opinions and preferences. Find a florist who makes you feel like that. Hell, all of your wedding vendors should make you feel like that! I admit that I could have chosen more ethical options for my wedding flowers. I should have insisted that everything be grown organically, or harvested by workers who earn fair wages in healthy conditions. To be honest, I didn't ask those questions because I was just so relieved to find a florist I wanted to work with. Now I wish I had asked them, but I've decided to forgive myself. I hope that's a mini lesson I can share. Not everything is going to be perfect, but making conscious decisions to choose more ethical wedding elements still makes a huge difference. Forgive yourself. In addition to asking those kinds of questions, another thing you can do to is avoid flowers that won't be in bloom at the time of your wedding. Me, I love peonies. I know, very basic bride of me. But they're beautiful. Unfortunately, they bloom in May and June, and I got married in August. I didn't want to have flowers shipped across the globe for my wedding, so I went with something else, and they were still absolutely beautiful.
So that's it. That's my experience with wedding vendors, and my advice about how to make vendor decisions that will make your wedding a more ethical one. If you only take one word of advice away from this, let it be to do a little bit of research and know what's important to you. That will make it much easier to find vendors who can give you want you want. My next and final post in this series will be about some of the small details that make a wedding special, and how I tried to be as ethical about those as I could.
If you're in the Buffalo area and looking for great vendors who are willing to work with you to give you the ethical wedding of your dreams, I can't recommend this incredible roster of talent enough! They gave Trey and me the wedding of ours.
Nickel City Studios (photography, including all of the above images)
Rust Belt Love (wedding coordination and invitations/signage)
Anatomy (bride's dress)
Bureau (groom's attire)
McCarthy Tents & Events (tent and furniture rentals)
Salon Elizabeth (bridal party hair and makeup)
Buffalo Catering (catering)