When planning for your future-including your wedding day-keep Mother Nature in mind, too.

A truly green matrimony could be achieved by simply eliminating, but where's the fun in that? Incorporated seamlessly into any wedding theme, sustainability is not only a trendy concept but a necessary one. According to Green Bride Guide, each of the 2.5 million U.S. weddings that take place annually produces, on average, 500 pounds of waste and 62 tons of carbon dioxide, all while supporting a billion-dollar industry. It is time to get our priorities straight-and look beyond the big day to the big picture. Ditch single-use and single-serve; there are plenty simple, cost-effective, earth-friendly choices you can make without sacrificing style or sentiment.

Local Legends

While an exotic destination wedding holds obvious appeal, investing in your community by staying local and employing area artisans for goods and services triggers a ripple effect while also retaining the city's one-of-a-kind character and reducing environmental impact.

For Betsy Pandora, who was married in November 2014, looking local for an urban-rustic wedding was a no-brainer. As the executive director of the Short North Alliance, an organization that works to cultivate an easily accessible, culturally rich arts community in Columbus, Pandora had the answer to almost every wedding inquiry right under her nose.

"We take our values very seriously," explains Pandora, citing as inspiration her and husband Ryan Pilewski's occupations (he works for Franklin Soil and Water Conservation). "We wanted to work with vendors that felt very personal and would support the community."

The 16 city blocks of the Short North Arts District allowed such variety that Pandora was able to source 90 percent of her wedding-from the wood invitations made by Synergy Media to the reception held at the historic Garden Theater-from within the neighborhood.

As for catering, Pandora choose Freedom a la Cart, a Columbus-based business working to empower survivors of human trafficking by providing dignified work, safety and support through developmental services. The program's inclusive, community-based treatment assists women every step of the way; after rescue and rehabilitation, economic self-sufficiency is the goal. Beyond the philanthropic business strategy, Freedom a la Cart's kitchen prepares what they have dubbed "cause cuisine," plating up creative hors d'oeuvres like roasted beet, pistachio and goat cheese crostinis and fried corn fritters topped with crème fraiche, all made with local ingredients. It's lighter fare that is anything but a "compassion buy."

Waste Not

Couples concerned with the environmental impact of their big day have options for reducing waste without encroaching on the special-occasion vibe. Setting recycling bins alongside trash cans at the cocktail hour or dinner is an easy way to combat waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans generate more than 250 million tons of waste each year and, while much of this can and is recycled or composted, waste still poses environmental problems. Items we use for mere moments-disposable grocery bags, single-use straws, product packaging-last for thousands of years.

Serving kegs of local brews instead of bottles or cans of beer that have traveled hundreds of miles eliminates waste, stimulates the local economy and shows that sophisticated palates can still party. Columbus' Wolf's Ridge Brewing sells their craft brews-like the hoppy, fruity, Howling Moon Imperial IPA or the "all-day drinker" Gold Standard Munich Helles Lager-kegged for this exact reason. Seventh Son Brewing Company also offers retail kegs of their staples like Stone Fort Oat Brown Ale, Humulus Nimbus Super Pale Ale and American Strong Ale, as well as the occasional seasonal brew in two sizes.


On average, Green Bride Guide estimates each American meal travels 1,500 miles from the farm to dinner table. No matter how it's sourced or produced, your meal's journey requires petroleum; the longer the distance, the more pollution. One of the easiest ways to lessen the carbon footprint of your wedding is to use locally sourced, organic food for the menu, from drinks and desserts to produce and protein.

Buying organic ensures food is of the highest quality and that no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers were used. Organic certification through the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires farmers to practice environmental stewardship, including crop rotation and creating buffer zones to properly handle runoff. Local fare will be far fresher than bulk items, and its purchase puts money into the pockets of your community's farmers. If organic food isn't in the budget, consider other steps; opt for plated dinners over massive buffets, or arrange for the extras to be donated to charity.

Chef Thomas Smith has been with the Worthington Inn for 13 years and, after moving his family to a six-acre farm outside the city last year, he now grows most of the produce used in the kitchen, epitomizing the definition of hyper-local and creating stunning banquet food for wedding receptions. Fresh Lake Erie walleye is encrusted in crisp cornmeal, served with sharp horseradish butter and featured as a plated dinner option; beef from grass-fed, Ohio cows is filleted and paired with lobster tail for a surf-and-turf alternative; antibiotic- and GMO-free pork is featured in the Pecan-Crusted Pork Loin. Catering to any preference, assorted wedding packages are available as are different menu styles, including plated dinners, an elegant banquet service or a family-style Italian dinner. Tradition is king in Chef Thomas' kitchen, and everything is made from scratch, from cured pickles to baked-fresh breads.

The historic Worthington Inn, which dates to 1831, offers the Van Loon Ballroom for wedding celebrations. The room can accommodate up to 100 people and is a beautiful space for a smaller reception.

Trash Talk

From prep to clean up, engaging the kitchen is crucial. Kimberly Frank, senior event planner with Creative Cuisine Catering, claims when equipped with a proper plan addressing each aspect of the kitchen's process, eliminating waste is easy. "We've almost got it down to a science," Frank says.

With more than 40 years of experience, Creative Cuisine Catering is committed to the environment, incorporating green initiatives into all aspects of their business strategy. Following the basic principals of reduce, reuse, recycle, the sustainability plan is comprehensive, with the opportunity to have far-reaching effects. Cooking oil is recycled into biofuel and all disposable flatware is made from renewable sources and is biodegradable. Plus, eco-friendly options are encouraged when available.

Menus are individually created by Executive Chef David Tidd with the help of owner Shauna Chrisman and star organic, farm-to-fork food. The company is happy to accommodate any dietary need or restriction. Food is never wasted in the kitchen; quantities are precisely calculated before orders are made, and all remaining fare is boxed up and given to the bride after the event. When it comes to the end of night, "there is a magnitude of trash," Frank says. Proper disposal is the key and, if necessary, Creative Cuisine will bring the trash with them when they leave, all in the name of recycling.

"Some facilities don't do it the right way or only do one part and, for us, it's very important that we take the steps to do it the correct way," Frank concludes. "All of the staff is educated on the subject."

Flower Power

Buying organic and locally grown doesn't apply only to food; flowers can also be sourced this way. During consultations with potential florists, ask how often they buy from local growers and from whom they order most. Large, out-of-country flower farms aren't regulated by the U.S. and, therefore, worker rights may be marginal at best. Additionally, buying seasonal, sustainably grown flowers removes shipping costs as well as harmful chemicals often used by large-scale farms.

Sunny Meadows Flower Farm sits just outside Downtown Columbus. Owned and operated by Gretel and Steve Adams, the farm grows fresh-cut flowers to sell to local florists and farmers markets, as well as for the weddings Gretel handles. From irises to dahlias and succulents to greenery, all the flowers on the farm are grown organically, without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

"It's forced us to learn a lot about the land," Gretel says. "You really have to be proactive about pests and disease."

The Adams use compost to feed the soil and lay it between each planting in the fields and in the greenhouses used to extend the growing season. Fish emulsion packed with nitrogen is also used as a natural fertilizer and, to fight pests, Gretel makes her own organic concoctions.

Locally grown flowers have many advantages over those shipped in from the Equator; delicate blooms that are easily bruised (like lisianthus) or those that don't rehydrate well (like hydrangeas) won't be packaged or out of water for long. When approached by a bride with a wedding date, Gretel will consult her harvest log to see what will be blooming in what colors; from there they get down to the nitty-gritty. Sunny Meadows offers full-service wedding flower design, set-up and delivery, as well as a la carte design work. As a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Gretel is able to order out-of-season flowers, grown with the same standards, from farmers nationwide.

If your favorite florist doesn't advertise earth-friendly flowers, just ask. Meghan Greek, wedding and events manager at Petals and Leaves in Grandview, says local blooms are easily accessed through area growers by request.

"I'll do anything for my brides," Greek explains. "If sustainability is important to them, we can do that."

Greek says choosing native, seasonal flowers is a viable eco-friendly option, with hybrids and breeds for any fashion, in a wide variety of hues and styles.

Petals and Leaves serves the greater Columbus area and beyond (they've been known to deliver altar arrangements to the caves of Hocking Hills State Park) and specializes in one-of-a-kind designs. From DIY options to full-service planning and decor, the shop works to creatively customize each wedding and offers different rental options to brides looking to lessen waste-including vases, serving dishes and flatware. They also implement composting and recycling practices.

Time and Place

When it comes to venue space, there are options for those prioritizing sustainability; consider holding both the ceremony and reception at the same place to eliminate the need to drive. Enquire at facilities built with LEED-certification or those holding other environmental accreditation. Encourage carpooling or hire a trolley or bus service for guests to get to and from each event. Establishments that honor environmental and social responsibility, like museums and historical sites, should be first on the list.

At the Columbus Museum of Art, reception space options vary based on size and style; the Derby Court, an interior garden space, features a stunning Dale Chihuly sculpture and dramatic sky-lit ceiling; the classically renovated Cardinal Health Auditorium showcases a 1929 Steinway grand piano and can accommodate hundreds of seated guests.

At Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, each wedding is elegantly distinct. Favorites include the Grand Atrium, which includes the rooftop Zen Terrace and serves as the largest space, and the double grand staircase of the Victorian-era, glass-roofed Palm House.

City parks and public gardens are another sustainable-and inexpensive-alternative, offering natural ornamentation. The 13-acre Whetstone Park of Roses boasts kaleidoscopic varieties of hybrid tea, grandiflora and shrub roses and has three rentable wedding sites, as does the Topiary Park. Revenue generated by hosting your ceremony or reception at institutions such as these benefits annual operating budgets and funds, allowing organizations to provide jobs and continue educating the public. Often primarily philanthropic in nature and performing on private or government grants, these places provide a priceless service to the community.

Earned Eco-Stripes

Located on the Rocky Fork Creek, Jorgensen Farms-continuously USDA certified organic since 2002-knows the importance of environmental stewardship. "Being located on a waterway, environmental protection is crucial," owner Val Jorgensen says.

The 65-acre farm, located between New Albany and Westerville, seeps sustainability; they've won awards at both the state and the national level for their conservation efforts; and they grow produce and herbs and raise free-range chickens, grass-fed cattle and cultivate bees for fresh honey. While Jorgensen has sold her harvest at farmers markets and supplied local restaurants with wholesale product for years, the farm now hosts weddings, too. The team at Jorgensen Farms can throw nearly the entire event for you, supplying flowers to decor and favors.

Rental obligations are flexible, with full and half-day packages that include indoor and outdoor space for both the ceremony and the reception. An elegantly repurposed equestrian arena was refurbished with reclaimed wood and can now hold up to 250 people. The main barn-more than 100 years old-was recently renovated. Jorgensen salvaged the stall doors inside and turned them into tables, adding quintessential charm to an already unique space. Now, the main barn-still with its authentic post and beam structure-boasts reclaimed wood and metal finishing in the east wing.

Expansive flower fields, added to the property two years ago, are also grown under organic guidelines and are multipurpose; the cutting garden provides flowers for bridal party bouquets, and the ceremony field offers three different locations for nuptials.

"Very few of our brides even have to purchase ceremony flowers since they'll be standing in midst of a flower field," Jorgensen says.

An outside catering company is required, as the facility does not have a commercial kitchen, but the farm cultivates an array of available ingredients and will work with the chef of choice.

Jorgensen books only one wedding per day, allowing the entire staff and space to focus on parties one at a time. This also allows brides the full range of rental items, which include decor articles like antique vases and Mason jars, straw barrel setting and three-pane windows, plus extras like a s'mores bar.

Down-to-Earth Gifts

At the end of it all, a parting present for your wedding guests is a must-these take-home favors can be a sweet gesture of thanks as well as a small gift to the earth. Consider gifting packets of wildflower seeds to encourage bees, butterflies and other pollinators whose populations are in danger. Native wildflower mixtures often contain grass seed, which helps prevent erosion.

Tree saplings are another sustainable gift for guests. Unobtrusive, native Ohio trees, such as redbud or flowering dogwood, are small enough to be enjoyed in most yards.

Chances are you're already thinking about the future. Your wedding day is simply a single day and, while the occasion is certainly cause for celebration, doing so in an eco-chic way makes the party that much better.