How to Have an Ethical Wedding

The ceremony, the flowers, the speeches, THE DRESS – when you’re in the midst of wedding-planning madness, it can feel like there’s approximately one million things you need to consider. But something that isn’t often discussed is the most important question of all: what impact is your celebration having on people and the planet?

As royal wedding fever grips the globe, we sat down with eco wedding expert Sandra Henri – a photographer and the founder of ethical wedding platform Less Stuff – More Meaning – to chat about reclaiming the joy of wedding planning, why she believes it’s a feminist issue, and how you can make sure your big day has the tiniest footprint (as well as the biggest heart) possible…

What inspired you to start Less Stuff More Meaning?

I like to call it a ‘mid-life opportunity’. I’d been working as a wedding photographer for over 10 years, and had become somewhat jaded with the wedding extravaganza. Then add in a little dash of cynicism thanks to a divorce, which in hindsight was the best decision I ever made!

It had always been my dream to work in Africa – somehow I could feel it in my bones. So with the freedom that divorce brings, I went to Malawi to volunteer as a photojournalist for a development organisation. Speaking heart-to-heart with those who shared their stories was where I found my soul space. It was the most healing experience of my life – way better than therapy! I sat on people’s front porches, listening to their immense appreciation for the things such as pots and pans, a mattress to sleep on, or a brick home that won’t need to be rebuilt every one-to-two years. And then I returned into peak wedding season – with all the luxury that entails – and it changed my lens forever.

Rather than seeing this cultural contrast as a negative, it got me thinking: what if on these happiest of days, instead of being centred around the couple, we extended the love to our greater community and global family? From this grew our motto: “Eco-ethical weddings: celebrating the love you share between each other and ALL humans”. Over time, I got to know many more changemakers in the wedding industry, who were offering more sustainable options or giving back in some way. Very organically, Less Stuff – More Meaning became a hub for eco-ethical wedding businesses to gather. It’s a place for us to support each other in finding our tribe, and share how you too can infuse your wedding with eco-ethical love.

We are now seeing and being part of the first round of weddings from couples we have worked with, and I have to say, eco-ethical weddings are on another level! These couples ooze heart, are totally grounded in why they are getting married, and have zero fear in ditching traditions that don’t mean anything to them. It’s a way for them to say no to any unnecessary fuss, save money where they can, and have the fulfilment that comes with knowing you have personally made a difference.

Why are eco-ethical weddings important?

For our couples, it’s a way of reclaiming the joy around wedding planning. Ask any wedding professional, and they will tell you the couples who enjoy their wedding the most are those that embrace simplicity. Somehow all the extra stuff leads to extra stress. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of what is one of the highlights of your life?

For me personally, planning a wedding that is kind to people and the planet is also very much a feminist issue. I feel like we have a long way to go to reach the land of equality, and we will only reach that place when we value the unique contributions we bring through our feminine power. By this I mean the things we women do so well, that are innately part of us, yet are sorely needed to heal this world of ours – such as our ability to make decisions based on the needs of others or the greater good; our authenticity, even if it shows our vulnerable side; our emotional intelligence; or how we work in a way that brings together a community.

Yet, when it comes to getting married, we tend to get sucked into the vortex of Pinterest and an industry that tells us it’s not enough to marry the love of our lives – our wedding also needs to meet the latest fashion trends and impress our friends. Don’t get me wrong, I adore a pretty gown. But I feel like by focusing on the pretty, we are devaluing ourselves. There is so much more to us! What if our weddings could not only reflect our personal aesthetic, but also make a statement about the values we hold most dear?

With 110,000 weddings every year in Australia, and with an average wedding budget of $35,000, never before (and maybe never again) will you hold so much consumer power. Use it! Let your wedding speak for a better world. I’ve been to some pretty amazing eco-ethical weddings as a photographer since founding Less Stuff – More Meaning. I’ve seen couples challenge anti-feminist wedding traditions, such as the giving away of the bride (we are not property, people!), and just casually turn up together. I’ve seen them give guests the option to do a bottle-top vote for which charities to give back to from their wishing well. And even couples who manage to pull off awesome weddings on small budgets because of community contributions.

What I’d really love for people to know is planning an eco-friendly wedding is easier than you think! We have a whole community of eco-ethical vendors willing to help you, all trailblazers in the industry, having gone to extra mile to source seasonally, naturally, cruelty-free, reduce waste or give back in some way. You can also grab our Mindfully Wed E-Guide which has everything you wanted to know about planning an eco-ethical wedding.

Environmentally speaking, what are some of the best things people can do on their wedding day?

The best things you can do for the planet with your wedding might surprise you and even save you money!

  1. Increase the plant-based options in your wedding menu. Switching one beef serving for a plant-based meal for 100 guests would result in a carbon saving of 1164 kg. That’s the equivalent of three one-way flights from Sydney to Bali. What an easy way to offset your honeymoon travel! Our Mindfully Wed E-Guide has menu inspiration that is both earth and guest friendly.
  2. Reduce your travel miles. This includes the obvious travel made by you or your guests, but also the hidden travel miles of your produce, flowers or your clothing. The Mindfully Wed E-Guide will help you understand which questions to ask your vendors, so you can make the most sustainable choices.
  3. Use something that already exists, rather than buying new. This may include recreating family jewellery into a new bespoke piece, upcycling fabric or a pre-loved gown into something perfectly you. Borrow, rent and reuse where you can. I love this ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’ image by Sarah Lazarovic. 

And what are some easy and affordable tips for making your wedding ethical?

Bearing in mind that it could potentially drive you a little batty trying to source everything ethically and sustainability, we recommend aiming for progress not perfection. Remember, each time a couple has an eco-ethical wedding, they potentially inspire 100 more people, who will in turn make their own contribution towards to ethical living. Every little bit helps!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Ask: Where was this made, and was it made fairly? Don’t be afraid to ask your dressmaker, jeweller or florist these questions. The reason for this is that wedding suppliers are generally small, service-based businesses who aim to please. More than likely you’ll be welcomed with an open mind and ‘let’s find out’ approach.
  2. Consider how you can reduce waste. Explore re-gifting the flowers following the wedding day, or use potted plants instead of florals. Ask your venue if they recycle or compost, use e-invites, bamboo disposables or give your bridal party the freedom to wear something they love and are likely to wear again.
  3. Consider how your wedding can benefit your local community. Try to source local and organic, and support the little guy. There are so many part-time wedding businesses that do a little happy dance every time they get a booking!
  4. Remember the only things you really need to get married are two people in love and an awesome celebrant who will create the atmosphere of your day and help you set the intentions for your marriage. The rest is optional.
  5. Set free one layer of wedding ‘must-haves’ and donate to a cause or invest in relationship coaching: the happiness you’ll get from these will far outlast your wedding day. (Images courtesy of Less Stuff – More Meaning.)