Wedding planning and the circular economy: how to have a more sustainable destination wedding.

March 18, 2024

Having a sustainable destination wedding might sound like an oxymoron. Travel and weddings are often labelled as wasteful and damaging to the environment. But if you’re reading this you are most likely a travel obsessed couple wanting to have a destination wedding; and you probably want to do this ethically and without feeling guilty about it! 

The good news is that when planning a destination wedding you will be mostly dealing with small independent businesses that have the ability, where willing, to adapt to the needs of their couples. Thorough knowledge, timely planning and prioritising the desire to reuse and recycle as much as possible, will allow for a more sustainable destination wedding.

If you’re worried that this will mean compromising on style or the quality of suppliers, then I want to reassure you that this couldn’t be further from the truth. When I talk about sustainable destination weddings I’m not talking about hay bales instead of chairs and jam jars instead of vases! Some of the most sought after high end venues, florists and caterers are those leading the way in the sustainable approach to weddings, applying the principles of circular economy to their businesses.

To explain in more detail how you can have a more sustainable destination wedding it’s important to consider and apply the principles of the circular economy:

  • Eliminate waste and pollution
  • Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  • Regenerate nature

You can read in more detail about the circular economy and its principles on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

Italian destination wedding ceremony in woodland area with foam free floral decor.

Foam free ceremony installation. Photo credit: Alberto & Alessandra

How are the principles of the circular economy relevant to your destination wedding planning?

I know that planning a wedding can quickly turn from joy to overwhelm so to help you in your quest for a more sustainable destination wedding, I have listed below some of the aspects I aim to take into consideration when sourcing and booking suppliers for my couples. 

The below is by no means an exhaustive list. There is so much more we can all do, but it would be both overwhelming and somewhat unrealistic to assume that we can always fully address all of these. I would encourage anyone reading this, to treat the below as a starting point for addressing sustainability with some of the key suppliers when planning a destination wedding.  

Asking about sustainability policies.

  • If you take one thing away from this article is this: the starting point in terms of questions to ask each supplier is to share with you their sustainability efforts or policy, whether they support any environmental causes and offset their carbon emissions (e.g. travel). At Dandelion Celebrations all wedding related travel is offset for the planning and coordination team, as well as the couple’s travel to the wedding destination. A yearly donation is made to support the World Land Trust environmental initiatives. I also invite my couples to share this with their guests via their wedding website, should they wish to do the same.

  • Single use plastics should really have had their day and not be in sight: is your *insert supplier* i.e. catering, venue, florist, stationery designer, etc. using single use plastic such as cups, cable ties (reusable/recycled do exist), straws, bags, plastic bottles etc? Ask them, don’t assume! This is something I’m particularly mindful of especially with caterers and venues and always ask that eco conscious alternatives are used as much as possible. I have to admit that we have a long way to go, as despite my best efforts straws and plastic bottles occasionally creep in!

Venue, catering and reducing food waste.

  • The venue will affect nearly every decision you make so it’s important to consider the wider picture before confirming the location for your destination wedding. From its geographical location to their overall approach to sustainability at an operational level. What sources of energy are they using? What’s their recycling policy when it comes to waste and water? How do they support and invest in the local economy? 

  • When it comes to catering, opt for seasonal, locally grown ingredients – they usually taste better too! Look at what the offer includes – are you over catering? In Italy we’re very proud of our cuisine so produce is generally sourced at a relatively local level, unless specific requests are made. It’s however very common during the drinks reception to have a buffet instead of canapes, which will then be followed by a three course dinner. This approach almost always results in food waste, because there’s only so much your guests can eat in the space of 3-4hrs. For Italian weddings I often advise on two courses following the traditional aperitivo, especially if also having a wedding cake or dessert; again there is no need for both! Something to note is that whilst some changes in the offer may result in a reduced fee (win-win), this may not always be the case; but isn’t less waste the biggest win anyway?! 

Foam free floral decor repurposed from the ceremony for an intimate London wedding. Photo credit: Caught The Light Photography.

Mindful design meets sustainable decor.

  • More and more floral designers are embracing techniques that don’t involve the use of traditional foam (the green spongy stuff). However since these can affect the process and possibly the design too, it is important to discuss your desire for foam-free florals at the enquiry stage. The florist can then confirm whether this is something they can accommodate and take this into account from the start. As your planner I will always ensure this is addressed when enquiring and presenting the design brief to the florist; we can then agree on any tweaks and adjustments where needed. I’m always prepared to revise the design with the floral designer if this means getting rid of the foam. There is a biodegradable foam alternative however for it to be kind to the environment, it should be composted and not simply thrown in the bin (just like the compostable carrier bags), which isn’t always possible.

  • As with food, using seasonal locally grown flowers as much as possible will contribute to the reduction of associated pollution and greenhouse gasses. Check how the florist will dispose of the flowers and other waste after the event; will they compost the flowers or can they donate any to local charities/hospices? Some florists may offer a ‘flower bar’ for a fee and will make bouquets for your guests to take with them as they leave. With travel involved this doesn’t always work for destination weddings but imagine how cute it would be to return to your room and find a bunch of flowers or to wake up the next day to beautifully rearranged flowers at breakfast!

  • Hire don’t buy! I know there’s instances where it isn’t possible, so if you do buy, think about and plan how it will be reused after the wedding – will you actually use 70 napkins again?! Also check how decor and floral elements can be repurposed on your wedding day. For example, can you use elements of the beautiful ceremony installation as decor for the cake cutting or champagne tower? Please remember that repurposing takes time and manpower so this needs to be factored in the timeline, flow, logistics and quotes too. When I design for my couples I consider what’s available at the venue, in the area and how we can achieve the overall look and feel without shipping things halfway across the world. I take a great deal of time in ensuring that we make the most of what we create and bring in so you get to enjoy it for longer too!

  • Print any stationery or signage on recycled/recyclable/sustainably sourced materials. When designing, try and think of ways for these to also work as keepsakes for yourselves and your guests. I have found that fabric works best for large destination wedding signage, as it allows you to easily take it home and store it.

Foam free floral design and rented table decor for this destination wedding in Umbria, Italy.

Foam free floral design partly repurposed from the ceremony. Chairs, linen and tableware rented locally. Photo credit: Alberto & Alessandra

Slow fashion: dress code and wedding attire.

  • One of my favourite dress codes was that of activist Venetia and Max La Manna’s wedding. ‘Something Old, Nothing New, Something Borrowed, Something Renewed’. Encouraging your guests to wear what they already have, pre-loved or at the very least sustainably made clothing is far sexier than cheap unethically made fast fashion that only looks good until the first wash!

  • As for the couple’s attire I understand that emotionally there is a lot that goes with the experience of purchasing a wedding dress or suit for the big occasion. If a remake of a vintage or pre-loved isn’t for you, ensure you’re buying from an ethical and eco conscious brand. Some designers like Andrea Hawkes offer a service to give your wedding dress a new life so you can wear it again – how cool is that?! 

A flexible and collaborative approach is essential.

There are many factors at play when planning a destination wedding and choosing your suppliers, so it’s important to approach these in the context of your individual situation and priorities as a couple. Different destinations will have different approaches to sustainability and you may experience some resistance to certain questions or specific requests. If you’re struggling to have your expectations met, remember that it’s often the compounding effect of small changes that will make the biggest impact so don’t feel disheartened. I thoroughly believe that the biggest differentiator is going to be a willingness to collaborate and adapt, so try and work closely with your team to find a viable solution that’s kind too.

If this feels like a lot, ask for help by working with a destination wedding planner that values sustainability as much as you do. Often when we try to DIY things in an attempt to be more sustainable or more frugal we end up with more waste and not having achieved the desired outcome. Expert knowledge of the destination and the industry, timely planning and tailored advice will remove the anxiety that comes when you feel your eco conscious efforts are out of your hands.

If you’d like to discuss how you can plan a more sustainable destination wedding, head over to my contact page; I would love to hear from you and help you on this exciting journey!