How to make your wedding day environmentally sustainable? - Kristen & Dustin


Sustainability. When this word comes to mind, we quickly think of things like cutting down on vehicle emissions, making an effort to recycle, and conserving energy and water. Sustainable rarely comes to mind when you shout out the word "wedding!". An unfortunate truth is that weddings can have a very negative impact on our environment. Things like leftover food, lots of trash, and even floral arrangements can be very wasteful. As an active part of the wedding industry, I have seen first-hand how much waste can be generated on a single day. 

From the first time I talked on the phone to Kristen, she made it clear that she was going to do what she could to host a sustainable wedding. I have to admit, the thought of a sustainable wedding never crossed my mind until Kristen talked me through several ways that she could cut down on her wedding day's waste. 

Kristen Johnson is the Campus Sustainability Coordinator for San Jose State. She advocates for sustainable behavior change around waste, water, energy, and more! Her and her (now) husband Dustin are both dog lovers, outdoors enthusiasts, exceptional human beings, and a really talented at DIY!! To encourage future brides to take small steps to make their wedding days more sustainable, Kristen answered some of my questions about how she helped to create a sustainable wedding day with help from friends, family, and vendors. My questions (and her answers!) are below - sprinkled with beautiful wedding day photos! 

First off, I'd love for you to describe the steps you took when you were looking to create a sustainable/zero-waste wedding! 

Yes! Zero-waste was my goal but I would say we accomplished a sustainable wedding! My favorite definition of sustainability is, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The main steps I took when going into the wedding was making sure I looked at alternatives to everything I was going to purchase. Could I buy it used? If not, could it be reused afterwards or sold? For vendors, I tried to think of friends or friends of friends before researching new vendors. For example, my good friend Stephanie created all the graphics for our invites/table number signs and my good friend Kate and her mom (a former florist) worked on all of the flower arrangements.


What were a few easy ways to cut down on the waste from your wedding?

1. Food

There will most likely always be leftover food at any event you have - in fact, an estimated 40% of edible food is wasted in the United States. I made sure to talk about potential leftover food at my first meeting with my caterer. If there was to be any leftover food (which there was), I asked if the leftovers could be dropped off at a local shelter on their way back to the catering location that night. It was no problem for them and the shelter was on the way!




2. Flowers & Greenery

Flowers are one of my favorite things but cut flowers can be quite unsustainable.  Most of the flowers you see in the U.S. are being flown in from warmer climates in various countries. In fact, 80% of the roses in the U.S. come from South America. Once the flowers are flown over, they are driven in temperature-controlled (very cold) trucks before making it to florists in every town. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with this business can be very high, which is unfortunate because who doesn’t love flowers!? The key for me to being sustainable with flowers is buying flowers that are local and in season. A farmer’s market is the PERFECT place to buy flowers for your home because you can be assured they were grown in the area you live in, so there are no major transportation emissions associated with your beautiful flowers.

Being aware of this fact, my friend Kate and her lovely mother (a former florist) worked with local growers in Chico, CA to find out what flowers were in season in April and grown locally. We then were able to order flowers I loved in colors that I loved (lots of whites and light pinks) from local flower growers. I knew I wanted a lot of greenery and I love eucalyptus. Even though eucalyptus trees are non-native to California, they are very resistant to drought and produce an abundance of leaves. Kate and I had spotted a few eucalyptus trees in her neighborhood, so she asked her neighbors if she could do some light trimming and they happily agreed! She also found a few other trees and bushes around Chico that she could trim from. I couldn't have been any more in love with my flowers! I felt the community that went into the making of them and that was a really beautiful feeling.


3. Centerpieces

Centerpieces are something you see at every wedding and you won’t believe I almost forgot all about them until a few weeks before! I started searching on Pinterest and found that I liked a very simple look. We decided to put lots of greenery on the table with gold candlesticks and table numbers in the center. I think there is something so peaceful and elegant about greens, golds, whites, and light pinks together. 

My cousin Kelly and I thought it out and figured we could acquire quite the eclectic group of candlesticks from thrift stores and Craigslist. We were able to find around 50 gold candlesticks of all shapes and sizes between Portland and the Bay Area! All the girls in the wedding had their eyes peeled for a candlestick or two. It was a really fun experience to see them all come together so uniquely. Also, I have a few of the candlesticks in my home now and I will be reselling the rest.

4. Signs

Having signs at weddings is such a cute trend to me! I knew I wanted a few of them, so I worked with Dustin (my husband!) to figure out if it they were something we could make. We found old wood (pallets are free at almost any grocery store), cut it to the correct sizes, sanded it, and stained it to a deep, rich brown.  Nicole, one of my best friends, has a really cool machine that creates lettering so she was able to do all of the lettering for us. We loved the signs at the wedding and now we have the “Better Together” signs and the bar sign hanging in our house.


5. Party Favors

One last way we reduced waste was not giving out party favors. I looked for the longest time and couldn't find something I loved that wasn't wasteful or a large extra expense. We decided to donate our budgeted amount to a charity that I really believe in. The table card we used is shown above.

Do you have tips for finding vendors who are more accommodating with helping to create a less wasteful wedding?

I truly believe in the saying that, “you vote with your dollar”. I think it’s important to do research on potential vendors so that you can see if their values align with your own. For my wedding, I knew I wanted to support my friends, friends of friends, or vendors that could work with me to create the day I was dreaming up. I think weddings have an excellent opportunity to drive change with sustainability in mind. A vendor may have never donated leftover food to a charity but with the proper information (laws protecting anyone donating food in good faith), maybe they would be open to it and might implement food donations for all future events!

Several weddings include things like menus, announcements, programs, etc. What are some ways you found that you could achieve the same effect without creating all the paper waste?

This was an easy one for me - I didn’t need them! There wasn’t anything that would be in a program that couldn’t be said over a microphone. For the menu, I asked that one menu be printed and framed at the beginning of the buffet line so that everyone knew what was being served.


Besides helping out the environment, were there any other benefits to limiting the waste from your wedding?

I loved the way everything looked and had a ton of fun in the process!


Next, I wanted to ask Kristen about her wedding day and to give advice to future brides for their own wedding planning experiences. 

1. What was your favorite part of having a wedding?

Each and every one of my relationships grew tremendously throughout the wedding process. It was a team effort to pull it all together and it was so fun to try and do it sustainably. The absolute best part (besides marrying my favorite person on the planet!!), was knowing that everyone we loved was there to celebrate with us. I woke up early on the morning of our wedding and walked to my favorite Coffee Shop, The Naked Lounge, just as it opened at 6am. I drank an almond milk latte in the window as I watched the town wake up. It was such a cool feeling to know that all of our family and friends were in town. As I sipped my latte and wrote my vows, I knew everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be at that very moment in time. I felt so grateful for the incredible amount of support and love I had been shown in the process. A wedding is so much more than one day - it is a beautiful journey to that one day, which is really just the beginning!

2. Do you have any advice for future brides as they start wedding planning?

It can be easy to let wedding planning take over, especially in the weeks prior to the wedding! Here were a few things that I did to stay sane during the process:

- I made a Google Doc for every area that needed ongoing attention - flowers, music list, catering ideas, a schedule of the weekend, a to-do list for myself and Dustin, and photography/videography brainstorming. I shared the docs with the appropriate people so that everyone was on the same page.

-I did A LOT of yoga (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama).

-Ignore all of the intense timelines that wedding sites give out - they can add quite a bit of stress! There are things that do need to get booked in advance - venue, catering, photography, videography, DJ - so I would start with those. Pick top 3-5 in each area, meet or have an email conversation, check out their reviews, and make those decisions and get them over with. Take a break. Then start working on the next set of details, and repeat! It was important to me to take breaks and just be in between all the craziness. There isn’t a one size fits all for weddings - it’s an individual process and it should be enjoyable!

-At the end of the day, it’s all about the people that share that day with you. Whether it’s a small, intimate group of good friends and family or a huge celebration, it’s all about the love that is given and received that day. Things will come up during the process and I found that if I just took the issues as they came and did my best to adjust my sails to the new circumstances, I would be happier in the end

3. Lastly, how was your photography experience!?

My experience was AMAZING! Meg were such a pleasure to work with and she made two very uncomfortable people in front of the camera very comfortable. From our adventure in Yosemite (I will always treasure those photos so much) to that beautiful day in April, I loved every minute working with Meg! She took the time to get to know us as individuals and as a couple - before we even committed to working together! It was important to her that we were a good fit and I respect that so much. I felt so comfortable around her and that made all the difference on the day of the wedding! She knew which moments to capture and was aware and gentle with potentially difficult family situations. I am so in love with our photos - Meg captured the day perfectly and I am so grateful for her!! I cannot wait to see where her passion takes her in life.

Vendor List

Venue - White Ranch Events
Getting Ready Location - Hotel Diamond
Dress - Brides of California (Boutique); Made by Allure Bridal
Makeup - Esthetics by Megan Cook
Hair - Samantha MacDonald
Coordinator - Kelly Veenker
Photographer - Meg's Marvels Photography
Videographer - Andrew Nguyen
Catering - Bacio Catering
Florist - Kate Wright
DJ - The Wedding DJ (Jackson Moore)