Energy Stars

Suzanne Parmet and Michael Whelan were married on June 29, 2008 at East Lane Park in Bethesda, MD. "We chose Bethesda as the location for our wedding weekend because it is easy to get there by mass transportation. All of the events (which included a rehearsal dinner, welcome drinks, open house, ceremony and reception) were located within a short walk from the hotels we recommended to our guests and from one another so they could get around without driving."

Both Michael and Suzanne have environmental backgrounds. Michael is a registered architect, a certified Building Performance Analyst and a participating auditor in the Maryland Home Performance with Energy Star program. His company, Live Green LLC, provides energy auditing and design evaluation, which means he "gives recommendations for increasing a home’s energy efficiency, determines its gas appliance safety, and suggests other improvements for increasing the home’s value, comfort, usefulness and longevity." Suzanne is an attorney, with a degree in architecture and development, who currently works on workforce housing and other real estate development projects. She is also the Director of Design and Sustainability for her company. The two met at a party hosted by college friends.

The Decision to Go Green Because of their jobs, Suzanne and Michael knew how much impact this three-day event could have on the environment. "Michael and I are increasingly aware of the adverse impact that our choices – particularly with respect to energy usage and resource consumption – can have on the environment. Clearly, our wedding weekend was likely to have a significant carbon footprint – particularly when you consider the transportation impact involved for so many out of town guests." To decrease the impact of their wedding, the couple decided to incorporate many green elements into their planning and asked their guests “to join in making choices that would help decrease the impact of the weekend."

Invitations Although they originally considered sending an electronic invitation, they opted for a sustainably made paper invitation instead. "To appease my mom, we decided to send out printed invitations (but without direction or reply cards, and using tree-free paper). The cover wrapper and envelope liner for our invitations were made from mulberry and sugar cane paper. The printed sheets and envelopes were made from milkweed post-consumer recycled paper. The thread tying the pieces together was linen. We did all the printing and assembled the invitations ourselves."

To supplement their invitations, the couple set up a wedding website. "We developed a wedding website because it enabled us to reduce the amount of paper needed to share important information with our guests. Instead of sending them each a lot of cards with information about events, printed updates as details changed, and reply cards with envelopes, they could instead find out everything they needed to know and RSVP right on the site. It also allowed us to describe in great detail the mass transit options for getting to Bethesda and to make arrangements for ride sharing." Their wedding website also featured a Green Choices page, which included “a detailed list of tips for reducing energy consumption, reducing fuel consumption, reducing water consumption, recycling and reusing, avoiding petrochemicals and selecting natural products."

Reducing Waste The couple took other steps to reduce waste as well. For example, "only reusable plates, glassware, silverware and linens were used during the wedding reception." For the Open House on Saturday, they supplemented what they already owned with recyclable and reusable products. They also assembled welcome bags for their guests, using Whole Foods reusable bags (made from post-consumer recycled materials), and filled them with snacks and a summary of the weekend activities printed on recycled paper.

Decor "Our wedding ceremony was held in an outdoor park, so no additional flowers were needed."

"Our wedding canopy was decorated with cards made by guests."

For the reception "we made our wedding centerpieces using glass vases and dried flowers and plants – including cattails and bamboo."

Food Suzanne and Michael chose to serve a primarily vegetarian menu - as vegetarian food requires ten times less energy and one hundred times less water to produce than meat. The menu included bagels and cream cheese, cheese blintzes, grilled portabella mushrooms, red peppers, omelets, salads, yogurt, cheese strata, and a variety of homemade breads.

Dessert Instead of serving a traditional wedding cake, the couple offered their guests a selection of small cookies and cupcakes from Heidelberg Bakery (which are easier to take home or donate after an event). "Many of the desserts were made by our friends and family and the cupcakes were decorated by my sister."

Carbon Offsetting To further reduce the impact of the weekend, Suzanne and Michael sent guests a note about carbon offsetting. “We suggested that guests use a carbon footprint calculator to determine their carbon footprint for traveling to the wedding and then balance all or some of their emissions by buying carbon offsets. Some options include making a contribution Green Communities Offset Fund, which raises funds to support the development of green, carbon-reducing (more energy efficient) homes for low income families, to Native Energy, an offset company that invests in renewable energy projects on Native American land, to Carbon Fund, which supports renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects, or to an environmental group that works on climate change issues such as Natural Resources Defense Council.”

Entertainment The couple kept costs down and further decreased the footprint of their wedding by putting together a CD of their own music to play during the reception. "We also put together a slide show of photos of us growing up, as well as our families and other guests attending the reception. Tommy Joe’s (the reception venue) played it on their TV screens throughout the restaurant during the reception."

Photo Credit: Greg Land