Photo by Leah McCormick
by Bob Hagopian
More than 2.2 million couples tie the knot each year in the United States, spending an average of $26,000. According to Sierra magazine, the average U.S. wedding and honeymoon generate 9 to 16 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
San Francisco residents Michael Heacock and Emily Hagopian wanted their April 2007 wedding to reflect their values. Michael is an architect who specializes in environmentally sustainable buildings. Emily is an architectural photographer whose various projects often emphasize green designs. Their wedding planner, Mary Lou Sanders, a UC Santa Cruz environmental studies graduate, helped guide Michael and Emily's sustainability theme.
To minimize paper use, their 150 guests received email invitations, and the couple provided family members and friends wedding information on the website they designed.
Their desire for a wedding site which would provide a natural backdrop combined with social and ecological advocacy led them to choose the Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club. This private non-profit's Mission Statement is "To preserve the natural scenery of Mill Valley and the surrounding country, to beautify the grounds around public buildings, to work against the wanton destruction of birds and game, to encourage the development of outdoor art and to engage in other civic, literary and charitable work." The setting provided spring flowers and towering redwoods.
Mill Valley also was centrally located for Emily and Michael's wedding guests, thereby minimizing travel and fuel consumption. Much lodging was within walking distance, and the couple arranged a biodiesel shuttle for guests staying in hotels beyond walking distance.
To offset the carbon emissions from their guests' travel, Michael and Emily purchased 12 "green tags" from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. In total, they offset approximately 16,800 pounds of carbon dioxide-the equivalent of planting roughly 2.3 acres of trees in a year or not driving a car for 17,192 miles.
The wedding reception used washable dishes and glasses and featured mostly organic and local foods including fair trade coffee and tea. All food waste was composted and left over food was donated to a local homeless shelter.
The flowers were organic and local, and all photography was digital. Additional information about treading lightly on the environment was provided at a table in the back of the reception along with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch consumer guides.
The wedding programs were printed with soy inks on biodegradable seed paper. The newlyweds gave each guest small cartons containing redwood saplings from Emily's late grandfather Lem Hagopian's backyard redwood grove, which he started from Humboldt County saplings 50 years ago.
Emily's remarks at the dinner summed up the couple's feelings: "We wanted to bring it to the front of your minds that we can make decisions that will lessen our impact on the environment. I think it's important for our future and for our children's future to know that we have options; it doesn't have to be the way it has been in the past. Every little bit counts, and we as individuals can do things that have a true effect on making positive changes in the way we live."