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Saying I do in eco-friendly way

Displaying green values in one of lifes major events


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Terri Spaeth-Merrick of Embellish Design helps fit a wedding dress for soon-to-be bride Beth French. Speth-Merrick uses sustainable fabrics for her dresses. There is perhaps no U.S. city greener than Portland.

So it’s no surprise that more and more Rose City couples are seeking to demonstrate their eco-friendly ethic in one of the most important projects they’ll ever undertake: getting married.

Julia Preiss, a 23-year-old who will tie the knot in October, is up to the challenge.

“My florist is using flowers that are grown locally and not out of season, so we don’t have to fly them from Argentina,” Preiss says, “and I believe that the food my caterer is using is all local and in season as well.”

Like a marriage, though, planning a sustainable wedding takes commitment.

“I think sustainable, eco-friendly weddings and big special events take a whole team,” says wedding planner Misty Damico, “because it takes a village to protect the environment.”

Damico, owner and creative director of Luxe Event Productions in Northeast Portland’s Hollywood neighborhood, says the rising prominence of photo-sharing websites such as Pinterest has enabled couples to share ideas via inspiration boards, but a lot of those wedding ideas aren’t very sustainable.

A couple interested in planning a sustainable wedding, she says, must start with a different frame of mind.

“The most important part of the wedding is not the reception — it’s the ceremony,” Damico reminds couples. “A lot of people get wrapped up in the display and the cake and all that jazz, and we try really hard to set our clients out on the right perspective, and that is, you’re having this big day because of the ceremony.”

Location, location, location

One of the first steps in wedding planning is choosing a venue. A truly sustainable ceremony might take place, for example, in a venue powered by solar panels and illuminated by light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, and wiped down afterwards with eco-friendly cleaning products.

To scout out venues, couples might ask how a facility handles food and drink, table settings and trash, to see if it’s done in an eco-friendly way.

One example of a green local venue is the Natural Capital Center in Northwest Portland’s Pearl District, operated by conservation organization Ecotrust. The former warehouse, built in 1895, was renovated in 2001, becoming the nation’s first historic building to receive gold certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

“Often people are choosing our building for an event because it’s a way to demonstrate to their family and friends that this is the lifestyle they have chosen, and it becomes almost a demonstration project within their wedding,” says Sydney Mead, Ecotrust director of events. “People are like, ‘This is what Portland is; this is what I’m all about.’ ”

Food and drink help make a reception convivial, and, depending on how it’s served, sustainable.

Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability maintains a list of green caterers in the metro area that participate in the Portland Composts! program and recycle at their place of business. Most of the caterers on the list offer the following green practices:

  • Recycle paper, plastics, metal and glass if it can’t be done on-site.

  • Serve food on reusable dishware that’s collected, washed and reused after the event.

  • Provide packaging and utensils that biodegrade in an approved commercial composting facility.

  • Serve food family-style, as opposed to packaging servings individually.

  • Provide condiments, beverages, sides and other items without individual packaging.

  • Offer local and organic food choices.

  • Donate left-over food scraps to an agency or staff.

    The best caterers for sustainable weddings, Damico says, are “our hometown heroes” who minimize waste of resources and use locally sourced ingredients. When lining up beverage service for the reception of a sustainable wedding, Damico encourages couples to work with local distilleries and wineries and to contract with bartending companies that exclusively use mixers made in the Oregon area.

    Virtual invites

    Before any of this can happen, you have to alert your friends and family to your upcoming nuptials with an invitation. If you’re planning a sustainable wedding, that can mean breaking with tradition.

    For traditional weddings, “the invitation is really what sets the tone for the event,” Damico says, often employing the upcoming wedding’s colors and motif. But more and more green-minded couples are dispensing with printed save-the-date notices and formal printed wedding invitations. One eco-friendly alternative is the online invitation website Evite, which offers about 50 free wedding/engagement announcement designs that can be customized with the couple’s event information and sent out to their friends and family via email and Facebook. The guest list is updated in real time; you can opt to be notified when guests RSVP or comment, and can export your guest list to an Excel spreadsheet for easy access.

    If you crave a tangible product or simply don’t want to have to deal with emails bouncing back, there are many invitation designers in town that hand-letter their creations, avoiding carbon emissions caused by transporting invitations from a printer elsewhere.

    But calligraphy can be costly. “The price point goes up when you have something that special,” Damico says.

    Getting around

    When the big day arrives, guests can arrive at the wedding in a sustainable way as well.

    One idea is Ecoshuttle, a six-year-old green transportation company based in Northeast Portland’s Concordia neighborhood, which offers a two-person Nissan Leaf electric car service and bus service for groups ranging from 25 to 65 passengers.

    “A lot of venues don’t have a lot of parking, and specifically they want to book with us because green weddings are a huge trend right now,” says Jesse Yun, the company’s chief executive officer. “They just look for a green alternative to your standard limo company.”

    The company will transport out-of-town guests from the hotel to the venue, and then the venue to the reception, and the reception back to the hotel. It’s convenient and safer for guests who might drink alcohol.

    “Carbon dioxide levels are now at 400 parts per million, which is a pretty scary number, so we always felt that it was our duty to do something and get as many people out of their cars,” says his wife and coworker, Fiona Yun. Offering low-carbon transportation at a wedding can inspire guests to get out of their cars more and hop on a bus, long after the wedding ends,

    she says.

    The big day

    When friends and family first set foot at a wedding, they may be dazzled by the scintillating decorations a couple has so painstakingly selected. For decorations adorning sustainable weddings, it may not be their first time at the dance. Rather than depleting the earth’s resources by purchasing these one-time-use items new, many couples are choosing to rent them instead, from shops such as Something Borrowed Portland. And that trend isn’t limited to decor.

    Grooms and groomsmen are encouraged to rent rather than buy tuxedos. Bridesmaids may wear dresses they had already purchased for some other occasion or bought at vintage shops.

    Brides may present a bit more of a challenge. Terri Spaeth-Merrick, the owner of Embellish Design Studio, a custom wedding dress shop in Portland’s Rose City Park, says that although she’s a passionate advocate for eco-friendly fashion, “My hardest problem is that most of these dresses are worn once, and then they’re done with.” Instead, she encourages brides to bring in heirloom gowns, either purchased at a vintage shop or passed down from a family member, which can be repurposed and combined with the few sustainable fabrics available, to give new life to the dress and a longer one to Earth.

    By all accounts, planning and hosting a sustainable wedding is a huge undertaking. But after you’ve danced your last dance and departed the reception in a Portland Pedicab or Nissan Leaf, knowing that you have consecrated your love by protecting the planet, it’s well worth it.