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Eco-friendly weddings

Event Production, Features | August 1, 2008 | By:

Going green helps event companies gain both conscience and capital.

What does a green tented wedding look like? Just ask Alison Hotchkiss of Alison Events LLC in San Francisco, Calif. In 2007, she planned two weddings that included some of the same eco-friendly elements. Yet they couldn’t have been more different.

The wedding of Ashley and Elvin was a genteel, country-chic affair at a private estate in Napa, shaded by a 46-by-100-foot Sperry tent from Zephyr Tents in Berkeley.

For Jackie and Joby, who described their desired theme as “The Beatles Go to India,” Alison Events and San Francisco-based event design lab Sillapere conjured a madcap fantasy at the Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero, Calif. Three frame tents bedecked in honey-beige and saffron-orange liners from Raj Tents sheltered the ceremony and reception, a sun made of marigolds adorned a central walkway, and a trio of Beatles impersonators on stilts mingled with the 200 guests.

What made these events similar besides “I do”?

“They both came to us expressing that being environmentally mindful and utilizing as many sustainable practices as possible in the event was important to them,” explains Hotchkiss. She planned the two tented weddings using local and almost 100 percent organic cuisine, some local and sustainably grown flowers and vintage touches like the antique tablecloth at Ashley and Elvin’s reception.

Go green or bust

With the prices of gas and other commodities sky-high and rising, it makes financial sense for event planners and tent rental companies to source locally, rent items rather than have things custom-made and minimize waste. Also, client concern about environmental impact is spreading fast.

“Using local and organic is something people are now asking for,” Hotchkiss says. “Our clients are asking about how to be more environmentally mindful. We often suggest using recycled paper printed with soy-based ink for their invites; trying organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine; and using natural materials. For example, you can rent a natural sisal carpet rather than synthetic carpet for your tents—it just costs a little more.”

Organic and natural materials tend to be pricier than their conventional counterparts, but for many clients, the extra expense is worth it. Some budget-friendly recommendations from Hotchkiss include using rental fabrics and incorporating vintage whenever possible.

Tent rental companies are part of that reuse trend. By default, rental is eco-friendlier than anything designed for one-time use. Many companies are taking steps to further reduce their environmental impact.

Dominic Mitchell, CEO of high-end tent and décor rental company Raj Tents in Los Angeles, Calif., suggests rethinking disposable items in favor of items that look and feel better and will last longer.

“Quality counts,” he says. “For example, a lot of ceiling treatments for frame tents are put in only once. Then the components get thrown away. They call it ‘teardown’ for a reason. We have expensive, well-designed and very well-made items that are carefully installed and reused.”

Rental companies can wow eco-conscious customers with practical and earth-friendly features. Tod Owsley, owner of Zephyr Tents, offers his clients natural sisal and seagrass as a flooring option. “We do not use tent liners; our tents [Sperry Tents] are designed to be beautiful on their own. The support poles are solid wood so there is no need to wrap them in velon. All the tent storage bags are made from recycled material. Our dance floor is solid wood, not vinyl.”

Meeting green needs

Event planner Stephanie Courtney, of CCI Creations, Edgewater, Md., points out that there is a lot of generic “green” advice available to brides. “As event planners,” she says, “our true value to our clients exists in our ability to provide actual, local resources for each facet of the wedding planning process.”

To that end, Courtney compiled a resource guide listing local organic and “all-natural” caterers, florists and bakers, along with venues that follow responsible waste management guidelines. She posted the guide on her Web site, and also makes it available to her clients.

“Many clients do not think to request a green event,” she says, “but are open to greening some aspects of the event. My theory is: baby steps are better than no steps.”

Making your business more eco-friendly is ethical and smart. Start with some of these easy tips. Then when your clients ask, “Do you do green?” you can proudly say “I do.”

Shelby Gonzalez is a freelance writer specializing in environment and sustainability. She lives in Bolinas, Calif.

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