Greenwashing 101 :: “green” wedding planners


The Minnericks Photographers

So, I am often asked about green weddings, obviously. But when I’m discussing my business with other wedding pros, I often have a lot of reading in between the lines to do. I think there are questions that industry pros want to ask, but are maybe a little afraid to for fear of sounding skeptical.  But, lucky for me, it takes a lot more than curious skepticism to ruffle these feathers!

Being a green wedding planner doesn’t seem like it would be all that different than being a ” normal” wedding planner. And many wedding planners will tell you that is the case. After all, anyone can plan a green wedding. Right?  Well, that is true, in the same way that it’s true that anyone CAN plan any wedding.  But when you are hiring a wedding planner, you are hiring someone for their expertise.  They know exactly what vendors to go to that will make your budget work with your tastes and expectations.

The Niche market is fun.  But, the whole point of a wedding planner catering to a specific niche is that they are different from other wedding companies who are more traditional.  For example, I would never claim to be an expert Indian wedding planner.  I’m not going to be able to tell you who the best henna artist is, or who serves the best paneer, or even be knowledgeable about everything that is necessary to be present at a Hindu ceremony.  Of course I could do research and use my best judgement to find these things, but I could not go from past experience on having planned dozens of Indian weddings.  Although I have worked with several Indian brides, and even planned a full traditional Hindu wedding and all of the side ceremonies, I can not call myself an expert in the area.  The same is true for green weddings.  Someone who has planned one or two weddings with a few eco-friendly elements doesn’t particularly fit the bill of being an experienced green wedding planner.

Lauren Larsen Photography

It is important if you want to have an eco-friendly event to hire someone who knows exactly which vendors and resources are the real deal.  For example, some catering companies boast that they use local sources for their foods.  But technically, if a restaurant orders their food from Ben E. Keith, which is a local company, then they are sourcing their food locally.  Unfortunately they still have no idea where that food came from.  A traditional wedding planner who is unfamiliar with greenwashing and what to really look for in a sustainable catering company might recommend someone who is not what they seem.  Whereas a true green wedding planner will do continuous research and know all the right questions to ask caterers about how they source their products.  I personally keep a running tab on which companies are taking measures to offer green business practices.  I know the farmers set up at the farmer’s markets and ask them about what restaurants they work with, and they are usually excited to promote them to me.  And for the record, if a company is truly using local sources they will be able to tell you exactly where they get their eggs, milk, veggies, and meats come from, and most of the time they are purchased farm direct.

I’m not a fan of green certifications.  Most companies will tell you that if a business carries their seal of approval then they are the real deal.  Unfortunately, most of these organizations have no real verification process and are a pay to play opportunity.  Anyone can say on a form that they recycle, therefore they are a green business.  But when you look at their websites they have weddings with beautiful over-sized floral arrangements, and disposable items with custom lables, and the whole nine yards.  These items are beautiful, but don’t necessarily showcase a green wedding.  And a green business certification program that does actual verification will see that and not approve the business.  Does your wedding planner provide recycling boxes and carry them away at the end of the night?  Because most DFW venues do not offer recycling services.  Are they showcasing huge flower arrangements?  Because there are only two eco-friendly florists in North Texas who source local, organic, and fair trade flowers, and chances are they aren’t the ones who made those arrangements.  If a business (any business) touts being green certified check into the certifying organization.  Do they require coursework?  Do they have a real verification process?  Or do they have a checklist and paypal account?  If an organization does research and checks referrals and requires proof that a business is practicing what they preach, then you can feel more confident in their seal of approval.  If it is an organization that will issue anyone with $50 and who can justify their practices on a checklist then you might want to dig a little deeper.

As a wedding planner and green business owner there is one certification program that I suggest above all others.  I talk quite a bit about The Green Bride Guide, and what a great resource it is.  Their founder Kate Harrison has teamed up with the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners to offer an in depth certification course.  What I like about this course is that it gives wedding planners the tools and education to build a green business, and to know where to start with finding the best resources for planning a green wedding.  Of course just because someone has gone through this process doesn’t mean that they actively implement what they have learned in their work, but it is a great starting point for determining if your wedding planner is holding true to their claims.  I in fact am so supportive of this program that this year I am teaming up with Kate Harrison to host a green wedding workshop for wedding planners to learn from national and local experts about how to execute the perfect eco-friendly affair right here in North Texas.  I am so excited about this event, and encourage all of my wedding industry friends to join us.  There are so many brides out there who are seeking out these services, and I am so excited to help educate North Texas wedding pros on giving their clients TRUE eco-friendly wedding services!

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Greenwashing 101 :: Verifiable Venues


Photo Courtesy of Lauren Larsen Photography

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Larsen Photography

We have been quite the busy little bees here at VGP this past couple of months, and to my dismay our scheduled blog posts have not been posting!  SOMEONE (see ME!) may have scheduled them to post in 2013, and that’s just too long to wait to finish this series :)

We just finished up our 2012 wedding season this past weekend and now it’s time to refocus and prepare for a busy holiday season, and goal setting for the next year.   My to do list is literally three pages long, but we are all so excited about some of the awesome weddings we have coming up in 2013.  It is always such an honor when a couple trusts their wedding day in your hands, as well as a huge responsibility.  Part of the responsibility that we have taken on as wedding planners is to help our client’s wedding wishes come true.  Brides specifically hire Vera Green Productions because their wedding wishes are to have an exquisite wedding without making a huge impact.  We have the responsibility to protect our clients from vendors who are trying to get their piece of the eco-wedding pie without offering true eco-friendly services.  This is what we in green commerce call “greenwashing.”

Today we are going to pick up our series on greenwashing by discussing what to look for in an eco-friendly wedding venue, and what warning signs you might find that will tell you to dig a little deeper and find out where their priorities really lie.

There is a lot to take into account when selecting a venue for your wedding.  Of course style and cost are the two biggest factors for couples when selecting their venue.  But from a sustainability standpoint there are certain other factors to take into effect.   They are listed below in no particular order:

1.  The building- Was the building itself built to serve it’s current purpose?  If so was it built (or remodeled) according to specifications set by the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental Energy Design (LEED)?  LEED is the international standard for sustainable building, and not only applies to new buildings, but also standards to give existing buildings credibility in the green commerce community through adaptive reuse.  In addition to adhering to LEED standards brides and grooms can think outside the box for their venue location.  Refurbished historic homes, parks, ranches, barns, and rooftops all supply beautiful backdrops for your nuptuials, and with the proper knowledge and planning they can add to the sustainability of your event.

2.  Waste- Many venues in DFW don’t have access to recycling services, so in order to have recycling facilities at their venue they must pay an outside service.  This is a big burden for most venues, which is why they don’t offer recycling services.  Some don’t allow disposables at all, and some will say that they CAN recycle, but that doesn’t mean that they do.  Be sure to ask questions about their recycling program.  If they can easily tell you what types of items can be recycled through the program that they use and have bins on the premises then you can be comfortable that they actually DO recycle.  Of course if you love a venue but they don’t have on site recycling you can always look into other options, such as bringing bins yourself and having the recyclables carted off after the event.  We will not only provide this service free of charge for our clients, but we will also take compostable refuse and food and flowers for donation!

3.  Power-  One of the easiest steps for businesses to take to “green” their operations, and current rates for renewable energy sources are in line with those of conventional options.  If a venue is claiming that they are eco-friendly this is a bare minimum that they should offer.

4.  Business Solutions-  In a businesses day to day operations it is imperative that they are taking steps in the office to reduce paper and solid waste if they are claiming to be green.  In today’s digital age it is so easy to be 100% paperless.  There are dozens of online services that offer affordable and user friendly online contract solutions, and the sky is the limit where electronic information packets and brochures are concerned.  This is not only an eco-friendly solution, but also a practical one as you have an online record of everything and don’t have to worry about lost documents!

5.  Site Maintenance- Does your venue use natural cleaning products?  Because if they are claiming their piece of the earth friendly pie, they should.

6.  Design-  It’s a big misconception that sustainable design has to be all reclaimed barn wood and living roofs.  Pay attention to the decor that is used in your “green” venue.  Are their lights traditional, LED or CFL?  Do they have wall to wall nylon carpet or a more sustainable reclaimed hardwood or bamboo option? Do they have vases among vases of fresh cut out of season flowers, or wholesome and beneficial living plants that contribute to air quality?

7.  Preferred Vendors-  Your venue most likely has a preferred vendor list.  Pay close attention to the vendors on that list.  Do they share the same principles as you?  This is the biggie, because these are the companies that do the most work at this venue, and if they don’t at least offer eco-friendly services on top of their conventional ones then you have to wonder just how true the venue holds to their claims.

It is nearly impossible for a venue to feasibly be 100% eco-friendly.  That would be a huge investment for business owners, and in order for them to operate such a business there fees would have to be incredibly high restricting them to a very limited portion of the wedding market.  So with that said, just because a venue doesn’t follow any or all of the above practices doesn’t mean that they are a BAD option.  For example, if a venue runs on fossil fuels and doesn’t have a recycling program in place they may take other steps to make up for those facts.

The point of this post is not to condemn those who are not able to offer 100% eco-friendly services, but to provide brides and grooms with the knowledge to spot businesses who are making unfounded claims.  And if you are in love with a location for your wedding, but they fall more in line with traditional operations you can take that into account in other aspects of your wedding planning.  But it still never hurts to encourage them to make the necessary steps to lead their business into the green revolution!

To end I would like to share some of my favorite eco-friendly venues in North Texas:

Hickory Streent Annex

F&R Whiskey Distillery 

City Club Fort Worth (This was the first venue in Fort Worth to start taking green initiatives!)

Nylo Hotels Dallas Southside

Trinity River Audubon Center

Greenwashing 101 :: The different levels of sustainable diamonds


To kick off our series on greenwashing, I thought I would touch on the first thing that you usually think about when it comes to having a wedding.  In fact, you’re thinking about this before you even get engaged- the highly sought engagement ring.  This is the one thing that you will have forever, wear every single day, and hopefully even pass on to future generations.  Unfortunately two thirds of the world’s diamonds come from war torn areas in Africa, where their sale goes to fund insurgency efforts.  I will not get into the social implications behind purchasing gems from these areas, but if you would like to read about it you are welcome to google “blood diamond”, “hot diamond”, or “conflict diamond”.  Of course diamonds are not the only natural resource that’s trade is controlled by a rebel regime, but it is the one that we are discussing today.

Many couples are seeking out more ethically procured gemstones for their wedding bands and engagement rings, but just because a diamond is conflict free doesn’t necessarily equate it to being sustainably sourced.  I’m often asked by couples what is more “green” a vintage diamond, conflict free, or cultured diamonds?  Here I have compared the different types of diamonds that are generally referred to as “eco-friendly”.  I will point out that none of these are BAD stones, but some are just more sustainable than others.

  •  Conflict free- Mined diamonds still require a lot of energy, travel, and putting a big hole in the ground, but they do (theoretically) detract from the blood diamond issue .  Brilliant Earth has this awesome guide to educate consumers about purchasing conflict free diamonds.
  • Cultured diamondsOne option that is not quite so widely known about is cultured gems.  They are created in a lab environment and are real diamonds (as opposed to cubic zirconia or moissanite)  that are superior in quality to mined diamonds (because they are created in a perfect environment), they cost less than mined diamonds, and come in an array of colors.  Unfortunately the process does require the use of energy (but not nearly the amount as the mining process) so we can’t call it 100% sustainable.  However, with better technology in alternative energy I’m positive that it’s not far off.  www.gemesis.com is an online company that creates beautiful wedding jewelry from lab cultured diamonds and is a great place to start your search for a lab created piece.
  • Vintage- The energy that is required to find the perfect vintage diamond is more personal energy as you will be required to scour the ends of the earth to find the perfect setting. But at the end of the day, no new energy is being used to create a vintage ring since it already exists, making this the most sustainable way to source your engagement ring.  Sourcing specialty items such as this is a specialty of Vera Green Productions, but if you would rather scour the land on your own my suggestions are to stick with nicely organized antique stores that have large locked jewelry cases.  And once you arrive, ask for assistance.  It’s always amazing to me how many shop curators have a mental catalog of the items in their stores.  And ask for verification that what you are purchasing is what they claim to be selling.  It would be a shame to pay diamond prices for a CZ!
  • Recycled metals and stones are definitely making a comeback.  It’s not uncommon for a couple to source the materials from pieces that they already own and work with a jewlery designer to transform them into custom pieces.   Our go to resource is Sofia Jewelry (of course!) formerly Priolo and Co.  There are local designers in Fort Worth, TX and Mill Valley, CA and they are available for consultations via Skype nationwide.  (They also deal conflict free stones and recycled metals)

Will you be sporting socially conscious jewelry on your big day?  What route will you be taking?

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_diamond

http://www.conflictfreediamonds.org/

http://d.neadiamonds.com/

http://www.thechicecologist.com/