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Make your big day green

Many couples find ways to lessen nuptials' impact on planet

White weddings are so 1982. • Today, green weddings are all the rage. More and more, engaged couples are looking for new and creative ways to make their weddings environmentally low-impact celebrations. • But doing right by Mother Nature without running afoul of your future mother-in-law can be tricky. • We found some local married couples to share their tips for organizing a successful and sustainable wedding. • We also found a few local businesses willing to help you avoid excess. • They know that, when it comes to weddings, it isn't easy being green.

Coley Ward

Both my fiancee Suz and I are green people. • I drive a scooter to work, and she rides a bicycle to her office in the bowels of Arizona Stadium, where she conducts climate change research. • We recycle everything: paper, plastic, glass and cardboard. • We drink tap water, use energy-efficient light bulbs, and we're both vegetarians. • So when we started planning our wedding, I assumed it would be a minimal affair, consistent with our low-impact lifestyle. • But despite our best intentions, we got off to a very ungreen start.

We decided to have the wedding in Tucson, where we share a one-bedroom apartment in a Midtown duplex.

Why get married in Tucson? For starters, it's our home. We've never lived together anywhere else, and it would have felt weird to have the wedding in New England, where Suz grew up.

Plus, getting married in the Old Pueblo made it easier for us to do things like schedule tastings and meet with bands.

Unfortunately, most of our 120 invited guests will have to fly to get here. And that's not so green. The International Ecotourism Society estimates that 10 percent of all greenhouse gases come from air traffic.

New York Times writer Mireya Navarro has a new book called "Green Wedding," and she says no wedding is less green than a destination wedding.

"You should choose a venue that's close to most guests," Navarro says. "That way you can avoid the transportation-related greenhouse gases that are related to travel."

The revelation that our wedding was helping to warm the planet made me determined to do what I could to make other aspects of the big day as environmentally responsible as possible.

Unfortunately, my green ambitions sometimes collided with the plans my future bride and her mother were making.

Take the conversation about our invitations, for example.

Me: "I want to send out electronic invitations instead of paper ones."

Suz: "Really?"

Me: "Yes. I've said that before."

Suz: "I guess I thought you telling me that was sort of like when you told me you wanted to get married in Las Vegas."

Me: "No, it's not like that. I really do want to send E-vites."

Suz: "Yeah, well, that seems really tacky to me. This is our wedding, not a frat party."

Me: "But don't you think it's one of those things that seems tacky now but will be par for the course in a few years?"

Suz: "Well, it seems tacky now, and we're getting married now. Plus, we want to have something to scrapbook."

Me: "But everything is moving online. I read an article the other day about how society is going to get rid of money soon because people will be paying with everything electronically. It's a matter of time before paper wedding invites seem incredibly old-fashioned — and maybe even really wasteful."

Suz: "Yeah. I mean, I see the wasteful thing. Like when we got (childhood friend) Rebecca's beautiful invite the other day, and I was like, 'Oooh, that's so beautiful!' and then put it right in the recycling after RSVP-ing. But I guess the whole invitations thing is a part of the whole traditional shebang that makes it feel like it's real and that a wedding is special and a big deal."

Me: "I thought me wearing a tux was special enough."

Suz: "Plus, there are too many older guests who don't know how to use a computer."

Me: "We could send paper invites only to the old people."

Suz: "But then it becomes more of a hassle to keep track of who's coming for my mom. Plus I'm pretty sure she's really excited about picking out paper invites the old-fashioned, traditional way."

Me: "But . . . but . . ."

We settled on invitations made from recycled paper (I couldn't disappoint my future mother-in-law).

Using recycled paper invitations wasn't the most green option, but it wasn't as bad as sending out invites made out of thick cardstock made from freshly cut old-growth trees.

There's no way to know how many of the 6,430 couples taking out marriage licenses in Pima County in 2008 took similar steps to keep their weddings environmentally friendly. But some did.

Torey Ligon, the outreach coordinator at Food Conspiracy Co-op, got married last fall at Agua Linda Farm in Amado, an organic, sustainable community farm about 35 miles south of Tucson. The wedding featured Mexican food catered by a local vendor and wine from a local vineyard.

Ligon says she sent her invites by e-mail.

"We e-mailed the invitation as a PDF," she says. "I think that's a no-no in terms of traditional etiquette. But practically nothing about our wedding was traditional."

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords also got hitched at Agua Linda Farm. In November 2007, she married her astronaut fiance, Mark Kelly, in front of 350 guests. The celebration featured serving dishes and a kiddush cup borrowed from family, biodegradable plates and utensils used at the reception and homemade floral arrangements.

The couple gave away jars of local honey as gifts.

"It was important to me to tread lightly on this Earth, so we looked for ways to try to minimize the impact of the wedding," Giffords says.

There may not be such a thing as a totally green wedding, but you can try.

"Frankly, the wedding is a one-time event, hopefully," Navarro says. "And what's important is that they carry on a very green lifestyle after the wedding."

Giffords says she's continued to be green by biking to work and using reusable bags (she carries one crumpled up in her purse).

Moreover, she's encouraged her husband to be more environmentally conscious, something she said didn't come naturally to him.

"I've got him to use a Brita system and stop drinking bottled water," she says.

Ligon and her husband asked wedding guests to chip in to help them buy solar panels for their house.

"We put three kilowatts of solar on our house in April," she says. "Our house is now entirely solar powered."

Like Ligon and Giffords, you can kick off your low-impact life with a sustainable celebration. Several local businesses are here to help.


Gold mining is a dirty business. It displaces indigenous people and scars landscapes. The Web site No Dirty Gold ( says the production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of waste. That's why it's good to do what we can to eliminate the need for freshly mined gold and other metals.

Navarro says you can buy a gold ring without supporting the mining industry if you shop at a vintage store.

"Some people wear their grandmother's wedding ring," she says.

Patti Knight sells estate jewelry online at and at a booth at Copper Country Antiques, 5055 E. Speedway. She's got everything from amethysts to emeralds. I found Knight through an Internet search and bought Suz's engagement ring from her.

Maybe you don't like the idea of a used ring? Maybe you'd rather have a new, custom ring?

Local jeweler Matt Emery says most Tucson jewelers make their rings from recycled materials, because gold, platinum and silver are so valuable.

He cautions, however, that the large jewelry companies that you see in shopping malls are more likely to use freshly mined metals.

"If you're going to order a ring that's made custom from a large corporation like that, you never know where it's coming from," he says.

Emery says customers can bring in jewelry that they no longer want, and he'll melt them down and make them into a new ring or set of wedding bands.

He estimates his wedding bands cost "anywhere from $300 to $2,000, depending on whether or not they want stones."

You can see more of Emery's rings at


Albert Hall, who owns Acacia and recently took over management of the Tea Room at Tohono Chul Park, says using local ingredients is the best way to minimize your carbon footprint.

What kind of foods are grown locally?

"If you've ever been to the farmers market, that'll give you a pretty good indication," Hall says. "There's local beef, produce, cheese and honey."

Feast catering director Missy Paschke says her company will buy from local producers when possible.

"We'll go to local breweries and local wineries so the carbon footprint is smaller," she says.

Feast is also careful to make sure that all of its glass bottles and other recyclable materials are kept separate.

Other restaurateurs also take steps to be green.

Jaynie Rossi, who makes wedding cakes at her Ambrosia of Tucson, says she'll make a cake using all organic ingredients, if the bride and groom request it.


It goes without saying that buying a dress or a tuxedo that you'll wear only once isn't very green.

Giffords wore a Vera Wang dress that she borrowed from a friend.

"I had to wear flat shoes because she's a little shorter than I am, but I don't think anybody noticed," Giffords says.

Sherry Kammeyer's new shop, Some-Things Old, Some-Things New, 2924 E. Broadway, will carry both new and used wedding dresses.

Other local stores that sell vintage wedding dresses include How Sweet It Was Vintage, 419 N. Fourth Ave., and St. Vincent DePaul's Downtown thrift store, 820 S. Sixth Ave. Also, has a ton of used gowns.


Ligon grew the flowers for her wedding in her backyard.

"I grew zinnias, which are like slightly larger daisies," she says. "They grow really well in this part of the country because they can tolerate really high heat."

Many cut flowers are grown in nations with more lax environmental laws, using toxic substances like DDT, which finds its way into local water supplies, harming fish and bird populations, and methyl-bromide, which contributes to global warming. Once the flowers are grown, they are shipped to Tucson on trucks or jets that emit carbon dioxide.

"You don't want flowers that were grown using that much energy," Navarro says.

If you don't have a green thumb like Ligon's, there are other options.

Katie Treat, who owns Posh Petals, 3421 N. First Ave., says it's hard to buy locally grown flowers because there aren't any greenhouses that grow commercial flowers in Tucson. Your best bet, she says, is to buy flowers from California.

"There are limited varieties of organic flowers grown in California where they use natural pesticides," she says, "things like flowering basil, flowering branches, Gerbera daisies or kale and artichoke that are used in the flower industry fairly regularly."

You can also choose centerpieces that are reusable.

"One other thing I've seen is really simple organic plants," Treat says. "Things like rosemary, thyme, basil and tarragon make great centerpieces if you put them in a sophisticated container. And you can transfer them into your herb garden after the event."

One way to limit the number of flowers you'll need at your wedding is to get married in a place where the natural flora is abundant.

The organic farm where Ligon and Giffords both got hitched grows flowers that are available at certain times of the year, and in the fall, the farm offers decorative gourds and pumpkins that make lovely and reusable centerpieces.

In October, Suz Tolwinski and I will get married at Tohono Chul Park, which Travel and Leisure Magazine named one of the 10 best botanical gardens in the world, calling it "a 49-acre study in color and variety." At Tohono Chul you'll find a plethora of desert flowers, including salvia and honeysuckle.


After all the stress of planning a wedding, the bride and groom are entitled to a little sun and fun.

Unfortunately, the flight you take to that tropical island, the overly air-conditioned hotel room you sleep in and the fresh Maine lobsters you have for dinner aren't very green.

So how do you minimize the environmental footprint of your honeymoon?

Giffords took the greenest path possible — she and her husband never had a honeymoon. He was grounded waiting for his next shuttle launch, and she had to be back in Congress.

Skipping the honeymoon is green, but it isn't very fun.

Navarro says that while traveling to faraway places isn't good for the environment, she won't discourage it.

"There's a benefit to traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures," she says. "A lot of times tourism is what prevents a forest from being wiped out. If a government realizes that a rain forest is what is bringing in tourists, then they won't chop it down."

Even if your trip doesn't save a tree, you can still be mindful of where you go and what you buy.

Navarro suggests you buy from local businesses, instead of spending all your time and money at a resort.

"Some people go the extra mile and plan to volunteer in places," she says.

Go green, save green

Sometimes, the greener option is the more expensive option. For example, an organic wedding cake is more expensive than a cake made with the usual flour and sugar.

But most of the time, going green means saving some green, for the simple reason that shrinking your event's environmental footprint usually means consuming less.

Using electronic invitations instead of paper invites, eating stuffed peppers instead of steak, borrowing a dress from a friend — all of these options save money and add up to a more efficient but equally glamorous day.

"With green weddings, nobody has to know they're green," Navarro says. "If you plan it right, nobody has to know anything."

Tucson's green spots

Here are some local businesses we've encountered in planning our green(ish) wedding. Many businesses will no doubt help you. Just ask.

• Paper Paper Paper, 3130 E. Fort Lowell Road, will make invitations from paper made from 100 percent recycled materials., 326-3830.

• The Web site has invitations made from recycled materials, and some that are totally tree-free.

• Posh Petals, 3421 N. First Ave., will order organic flowers from California., 408-0101.

• Ambrosia, 3419 N. First Ave., will make you an organic cake., 390-9319.

• Local jeweler Matt Emery ( will melt your old jewelry and make it into new rings. So will, which also makes rings that contain rocks, wood or anything else. www.antique offers vintage rings.

Contact reporter Coley Ward at or 807-8429.

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