Photo courtesy of Le Creuset.
I’m getting married in May, and as an eager eco-bride, I (along with my fiance, Tim) wanted to do everything as green-ly as possible. However, the moment you even bat your eyelashes at a traditional wedding dress, the dream of a sustainable wedding gets tricky to preserve. In many situations, unfortunately, it comes down to some very Sophie’s Choice-esque decisions that inevitably lead to the sacrifice of your vision for the event, your budget, or your planet-friendly preferences.
I’ll be honest: I’ve erred on the sides of vision and budget. I won’t go into the harrowing details of time spent pouring over a miserably meager selection of made-in-the-USA bridesmaid gowns, or my moment-of-truth agony when I realized that our most affordable choice of photographer would need to be flown in from Ohio (hello, carbon footprint!) Not to deny some of the triumphs – our guest favors, for example, will be announcements of charitable donations, printed on plantable paper – but overall, it’s been much harder to stick to my ethics than I had anticipated.
Even our registry, which I was determined to build as a haven of sustainable home goods and gifts, has been tough to navigate. It’s difficult, for example, to explain to caring friends and family with tight budgets in a tough economy, that, “Yes, I know these hemp sheets are $400 a set, but hemp uses less water to grow than cotton, these are made in the USA, and they’ll last us a lifetime!” Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t buy $400 sheets for myself, let alone ask Aunt Sally to buy them for me!
So, after some green wins and some black losses, I’ve assembled a few key considerations for anyone who wants to build a “green” gift guide. Whether it’s for a wedding registry, a bridal shower, a baby, or just a birthday, these are some critical points that may, in the long run, help save you some ethical heartbreak. These tips can apply to both the giver and the receiver.
- The most sustainable gift is cash. This may seem crass, but it’s the cold, hard truth. If my top and only concern were sustainability, I would have registered solely for a cash donation fund. There are a few reasons that this is the most eco-friendly gift to give and receive: there is minimal, if any, shipping or packaging; there is no need for returns of unwanted items; there is no risk of double-gifting; and last, but most critically, the recipient can purchase used items with the cash. When you have to buy something, buying used is actually the single “greenest” thing you can do, and a cash gift allows the recipient to do this freely and easily. So, for those who can resist the siren call of brand new kitchen gadgets, or stay strong in the face of grandma’s disappointment when she finds out you’re not registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond, this is the thing to do. If, however, you’re not entirely immune to the charms of brand new Le Creuset, consider that…
- Gift cards are another eco-friendly option. With gift cards or in-store credit, you also cut down on the quantity of unwanted gifts, shipping costs, and packaging. Plus, the recipient can support local industry by making a purchase at a brick-and-mortar store nearby, versus ordering something from an online marketplace. If you really want to register for some physical items, I recommend that you…
- Create a gift list through an aggregate website. This is what Tim and I ended up doing. MyRegistry.com allows us to register for gifts from any web shop, and place them all on one accessible list. I was a huge fan of this alternative to the traditional in-store registry, because it allows us to register for exactly what we want, and not be confined to the choices from a few particular stores. If you’re going to ask for physical gifts, they should be the things that you truly and genuinely want, and plan to use long-term. So, rather than selecting a “for now” set of dishes from Macy’s, a website like MyRegistry will allow you to ask for those dishes you really love from that small boutique in SoHo, or the hand-crafted pottery mugs from your favorite Etsy shop. You can also register for intangible gifts, like a honeymoon couple’s massage, or membership to a local museum, which is a supremely green, but still fun, way to go! And, last but definitely not least…
- Register for gifts from eco-friendly shops. Let’s say you really could use a nice set of placemats, or some good new towels. There are a steadily growing number of stores that specialize in “green” home goods, which can mean anything from made-in-the-USA to organic fabrics, recycled materials to fair trade. You may not find a product that hits every mark (like my fruitless search for an aesthetically pleasing set of recycled metal flatware that’s U.S.-made), but you might be able to check off at least a few of those boxes. I had a lot of luck with beautiful, but still (relatively) affordable bedding and towels, from Holy Lamb Organics, which are made in the U.S., from U.S.-grown organic cotton. Viva Terra is another home goods store that strives to be eco-friendly, and even more mainstream chains like West Elm are starting to offer lines of “green” products.
Above any and everything else, the biggest principle is use. Don’t ask for anything you don’t actually want, or won’t really use. (This goes for gift-givers as well: resist the temptation to give something the recipient did not ask or register for, no matter how tempting!!) That deluxe Cuisinart deep-fryer, sitting on the shelf at Williams Sonoma? We both know that you’ll probably use it once in the next ten years, before adding it to your ever-growing mountain of storage, or to the trash-heap. So think twice before getting trigger-happy with your scanner (this is easy to do, I know – Tim and I actually registered for a mini pie-maker with our scanning gun at Macy’s, before I realized that I don’t want to eat miniature pies, and promptly removed it), and really consider each option. Yes, this takes more time and effort, but in the long run, you will hopefully end up with a curated list of items that will serve you well in that next stage of life.