Two tales of a city.

The first inkling appeared before even crossing the bridge. She was young, confident and comfortable with the spotlight. Comfortable with the attention and the cameras snapping her every move, her every detail. Her frilled and voluminous black skirt sat below a figure-hugging bright red top and above exaggerated platform shoes and frivolous long socks. Hair in pigtails, adequately accessorised.

Her friend was just as pleased with the attention. This itself is a rarity in a culture which traditionally expected women to defer to men and display humility and subservience. They were also comfortable with the beats of western pop and hip hop drifting across the stream.

The teenage girls were the precursor to Harajuku Street, the epitome of Japanese counter culture and youthful rebellion against a stereotypically conformist culture. Harajuku Street is the birthplace of alternative self-expression and youthful resistance to Japan’s hegemonic culture.

Harajuku Street was at one time the only place to see, or even consider, outward displays of challenges to conformity, and certainly the only place to see a woman with tattoos.

It is thought to have become commercialised these days. Counter culture and expressions of freedom replaced with overpriced must-have fashion statements catering to the coolest kids of the capital. A stroll through the precinct doesn’t necessarily challenge this view.

Items of immense value lie inside the shops, judging by the queue stretching from the door and around the corner, and by the presence of the bouncers managing the flow of traffic. Objects of high quality and expert craftmanship perhaps. Garments of exceptional beauty or simply items that no one else possesses – not yet. Items found only in this store, at this time, which will set their buyers apart from from everyone else on the street, at their school or university.

That explains the queue. Not the quality, the appearance, the fabric or the production, but the originality. Originality and the rejection of conformity created Harajuku Street and drives its energy. Keep in mind, this was before the age of Instagram, and even Facebook.

What is it like now for image obsessed teens?

I left the trendy young things and continued my journey around the streets of the city. The dichotomy of Tokyo revealed itself within an hour.

She was demure, eyes downcast; inching forwards slowly with tiny steps. Adorned in traditional Japanese attire and make up and tottering on tiny sandals to the soothing tones of traditional Japanese music. She was participating in a wedding procession which had been practiced for hundreds of years in Tokyo and throughout the country.

The bride’s family completed the age-old ensemble and were also dressed in traditional wedding clothing and following rituals passed down from generation to generation.

Japan’s traditional culture and Harajuku Street’s inherent modernity present two tales of a city.

I DO…care about the planet.

I DO love you, I DO care about you, and I DO care about the planet. For that reason, I want my wedding to be as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Why should I make my special day as sustainable as possible?

It’s all about sharing the love. Embrace the love for your partner and those around you, and share that love with the planet. Plus, your marriage will likely create a family, and it is vital to leave a healthy, liveable planet for your children.

How do I make my wedding as sustainable as possible?

The Ring

The materials which comprise a wedding or engagement ring include precious metals, gemstone and diamonds which are often mined destructively and on such a large scale that it inspired the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio – and his failed attempt at a South African accent.

Thankfully, ethical wedding jewellers can be found online. They source recycled or conflict-free diamonds and materials, or even lab grown diamonds. Lab grown diamonds are increasing in popularity as they are equal to mined diamonds and have a much smaller environmental and social impact, as well as being less expensive. You’re not only saving the planet, you’re also saving the world from another Hollywood actor butchering a ‘foreign’ accent.

The Venue

Indoor or outdoor

To narrow down the choice of venue, decide whether you and your better half want to wed indoors or outdoors.

Outdoors

Outdoor venues tend to be more sustainable as they require less lighting and air conditioning. Locations such as vineyards, botanical gardens, lakes, refurbished farm properties and eco-lodges are beautiful locations with stunning backdrops. In the right season, they can be simply blissful. Modern outdoor venues also provide modern conveniences, so you can celebrate in comfort.

What about a barefoot wedding on the beach?

Indoors

Indoor venues can also be green. Choose a venue which catches natural light, and book the right venue in the right season. Search for reception venues which recycle and use energy efficient appliances, solar and biodegradable products.

Hold the ceremony and the reception at the same place, or next door. If you plan to marry in a religious ceremony, host the reception nearby, and if you plan to exchange vows in a civil ceremony, organise both events at the same place.

Transport and Accommodation

Holding the reception and ceremony at the same place can reduce emissions. You could also arrange accommodation at the same place. Destinations such as vineyards are not only spectacular places to tie the knot, but often provide a location for the ceremony plus the reception and accommodation, all at the one site.

Of course, vineyards are expensive and while you may be prepared to bear the cost, some of your guests may not. How about DIY? Host the celebration in a more humble location and do the decoration yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of your imagination and ingenuity.

Ask your guests to car pool. This not only saves on emissions, but allows friends, workmates, relatives and former classmates to mingle on the way to the reception, so that by the time they arrive, everyone is ready to party.

You can also recommend accommodation providers near the venue which have proven environmental credentials.

Flying

Many families and guests fly to weddings, and air travel is the most environmentally destructive form of transport. If you must fly, encourage your guests to offset their carbon emissions. For a few extra dollars, the airline will contribute to a project which benefits the planet, such as tree planting, and neutralise the emissions of the flight.

Catering

Support local

Eating local reduces the carbon footprint of a meal. Look for caterers who source their food from local suppliers. Also ask caterers whether the food waste will be composted after the wedding. You can also plan a menu which uses ingredients that are in season. What’s more, the Farm-to-Table movement has made fresh, locally-sourced ingredients more commonplace, and many of them are organic, which is even more sustainable.

What about the cake?

It is a centrepiece of the reception. How was it made? Can you find a cake made with locally-sourced eggs and diary products?

Why not replace conventional table décor with herb plants in terra cotta pots? Guests can then add basil or cilantro straight to their meals.

Avoid plastic plates and utensils

Disposable plastic plates and utensils are easy, especially if you’re planning a casual, low-budget DIY wedding. They are harmful though. Plastic cutlery and dishes end up in landfill. Instead, use compostable or reusable dishware. Try to avoid plastic straws, as the next time you see them could be in the belly of a turtle.

If you’re hiring a catering company, ask if they can avoid using plastic, disposable items. You could go even further by giving each guest their own glass or cup for the reception, which cuts down on washing and the use of water and detergent. You could also customise the receptacle and they can take it home with them.

Put on a keg

Skip the individual cans and bottles at the bar and serve drinks in a keg, and favour bottles of wine over cute rose cans. This will help to reduce packaging and waste.

Gifts

Traditional Bridal registries were created for a certain time. A time when newlyweds would move into the marital home and thus required new household items. These days, many couples are already living together and have accumulated homewares. This means you can be more creative with your registry.

Request non-tangible gifts.

Register for items such as gift cards or vouchers for experiences, or ask your guests to contribute to the cost of the honeymoon flights, transport, accommodation or restaurants, as these require less harmful packaging.

Fortunately, almost every item you might like to list on your register has an eco-friendly alternative. Search for the origin and materials of the items, and consider alternatives such as organic bedding, cloth shopping bags, reusable bamboo plates and natural kitchen and bath products.

Donate

Do away with tradition, and encourage guests to donate to a charity as their gift to you, and send this money to an environmental organisation.

Flowers

Flowers are synonymous with weddings, but what happens to them after they’ve decorated the venue?

Donate

Various online organisations arrange for flowers to be donated to places such as health care facilities. Encourage guests to take flowers home if possible, or arrange for the flowers to be composted. Plants can be more easily composted if they are sustainably sourced in the first place, so do some research before ordering the flowers.

For decorative flowers which do not end up in landfill, also consider potted plants and succulents. Plants in pots can serve as favours as well as décor. These types of plants will last longer and can provide a reminder of the special day for years to come.

Invitations

When considering invitations, you have a number of choices:

– Eco-conscious stationery

Many brands are now producing beautiful paper products with minimal impact on the environment.

– Plantable paper

This is paper made without harm to trees. It is made with post-consumer materials, and it is embedded with seeds. When planted, the paper composts and the seeds grow.

– Electronic invitations

Embrace the electronic age and send out digital invitations which require no paper. Let’s face it, most guests will text you their confirmation and will use their GPS to find the venue anyway, so go paperless.

The dress

It’s all about the dress, and why not. It’s your day, and you want to shine. So how do you protect the planet while choosing your wedding dress?

Research sustainable wedding attire designers (for the bride and the groom – or both brides and grooms). Maybe ask your maid of honour or groomsman to help do some of the leg work in finding an outfit sourced and created ethically.  Many eco-friendly options exist, using materials such as organic cotton, silk, hemp or even pineapple leaves.

Secondhand or pre-loved dresses are more sustainable. Secondhand conjures up images of poor-quality items sold at charity stores, but this is not the case with wedding dresses. Remember, a wedding dress has only been worn once (hopefully) and most are kept in great condition. Online stores and organisations sell pre-loved dresses, often much cheaper than a new dress, and some donate part of the profits to charities. A friend claims she filled half her wardrobe with clothes from charity stores in wealthy suburbs – it’s amazing what rich people throw away.

Vintage dresses can also be found online, so you can celebrate with a unique look.

Of course, you could always wear your mum’s dress, and this is a popular tradition. Get out the bobby pins and the sewing machine if you have to, and watch your mum beam with immense pride as you walk down the aisle.

Also be sure to check vintage clothing shops and consignment boutiques. Try renting the gown, or fit out the entire wedding party in their own clothes. With a bit of planning (over a glass of wine) you can all put together a great ensemble for the day.

Don’t forget to encourage the groom to get on board with an eco-friendly outfit as well.

Some more handy hints

Reuse

Reuse décor elements throughout the day, as this will save the planet and save money. For example, a ceremony backdrop can become a photo booth backdrop and bouquets can become décor for food stations, the bar or the cake table. The décor can also come home with you. Place locally-grown flowers in glass bottles and use them to decorate your home.

Get rid of balloons, floating lanterns and sparklers. They look pretty, but balloons are very harmful for the land as they are not biodegradable, and they can be consumed by animals.

Sparklers end up in landfill, and while floating lanterns look beautiful, they can be a fire hazard at the wedding itself and as they float away, they could spark a bush fire.

A grand exit.

How will you leave the ceremony? In style of course.

Remember that sparklers, glow sticks and confetti are harmful to the environment, so consider biodegradable confetti or an alternative element for your grand departure.

Favours

You’d love to thank all of your friends and relatives who made your day special. Do so without the footprint. Offer favours such as small plants or seed packets, which can start a small garden. Give them consumable favours, such as coffee beans, chocolate, jams or preserves in reusable jars, or send the guests home with some of the flowers from the wedding day.

Bride or groom?

Are you the bride or the groom? How many people who read this article will be men? In heterosexual relationships, it is a long-standing tradition that women take on more of the planning of a wedding. It is important to involve the groom in creating a sustainable wedding because he makes up one half of the equation, and because his friends and family also need to enter into the spirit of the wedding to make sure it is a special day for both of you.

Be Cheeky

You know that relative you don’t like? The one you’re obliged to invite because they’re a blood relative. You could prevent them from coming. A cheeky friend of mine hosted an outdoor and largely sustainable wedding but cheekily exaggerated some of the eco-friendly elements of the wedding weekend on the invite, hoping that it would deter certain people from attending. It worked. The unpleasant relative was invited so awkward family conflict was averted, and the ‘conservative’ relative declined the invitation.

It’s a lot of work…

Planning an environmentally sustainable wedding may seem like a lot of work – but planning any wedding is a major undertaking. Do your planning and preparation well in advance, involve your bridal party and groomsmen in the organisation of the wedding, then enjoy a wonderful day devoted to a celebration of love.

Image: Adrianna Van Groningren

Do I?

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Ben breathed deeply and stared down at his shoes.

“Ben,” began a benevolent voice from a man whose genteel reflection Ben could make out in his impossibly shiny shoes.

But Ben could not bear to look up.

He breathed again, failing to calm his nerves. His mind flashed back to a nature documentary about the annual migration of the monarch butterflies to Mexico, which Ben was certain had just begun in his stomach.

He fixed his gaze upon his shoes, satisfied with the military-grade sheen he had affected after the third spit polish.

Still the voice beckoned, and would soon demand an answer. It was this demand for an answer which had set off the migration.

“What do I say?” he anguished.

The research had been done. The data collected and collated. Responses analysed – all useless. Nerves, panic, sweat, pure human fear now engulfed him. The research had failed to yield any actionable data. Requests for advice from friends, relatives, colleagues, psychologists…Google – ineffectual.

“Marriage,” professed his single Uncle, a part-time Satirist and famous eccentric,

“It’s a wonderful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with immense caution.”

A friend had offered more sensible advice.

“If you truly love her, you have to act on that.”

So, Ben acted. He proposed, surprisingly. She accepted, unsurprisingly, and, suddenly, wedding invitations arrived in mail boxes.

“He’s never done anything quite like this before,” responded the guests, accustomed to the notoriously reserved, calculated mind of the Risk Analyst and Airforce reservist, whose best man had loaded his speech with anecdotes of uncanny meticulousness and aversion to risk, and the amazing contrast to his spontaneous and effervescent fiancée, with big brown eyes, flowing dark hair and a well-publicised fear of flying.

Daniella brings him to life…he had written.

“Maybe she’s pregnant,” pondered wistfully the wedding guests who loved a good scandal. They spent the service squinting at Daniella’s dress for signs of a bump, or a cover up. Daniella had certainly been left with little time to diet for the big day.

“Yes, yes I love her,” Ben muttered internally, steeling himself for what he had to do. Yes, he loved spending time with her, loved her dimple, her deep blue eyes, her quiet intelligence and soft demeanour. He admired her flying record at the academy, something he hoped to emulate one day.

“It is love!”

The affirmation drew his gaze from his shoes and, with another deep breath, he met the eyes of the priest.

“Ben, do you take Daniella to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

Ben met her gaze, and surrendered into the deep blue eyes of the bridesmaid, the wisp of blonde hair framing her delicate cheekbones. He was transfixed, and before he could avert his gaze, Daniella saw the unbridled longing in his eyes.

Daniella whispered,

“What’s it going to be then, Ben?”