Free-spirited and an ardent animal lover, Sharanya Sridhar, like most people, wanted her wedding day to be the most memorable of her life, in sync with her values and set of beliefs. But her wedding was not what most people would opt for—a ‘green’ wedding. While most marriages boast of grandeur and opulence, Sridhar’s was a simple and minimalist affair in tune with her belief system. “My husband and I wanted our wedding to reflect who we are. Since I’m vegan and we both are extremely conscious about the environment, having an eco-friendly and 100% vegan wedding was only natural,” says 26-year-old Sridhar, who got married in February this year and lives in Hyderabad with her husband Susheel Joseph and an adopted dog.
The road to wedlock, however, was not an easy one for the couple, as it took them a long time to find a suitable wedding planner and vendors who understood their needs. “Our families were also apprehensive at first, but as they saw us go through the process, they became more accepting,” the home baker adds.
Theirs is not a standalone story, as of late many young Indians are choosing to have a green wedding, ditching the flamboyant and pocket-pinching big fat Indian wedding. As the name suggests, a green wedding is an eco-friendly wedding, where the couple and organisers try and incorporate eco-friendly alternatives holistically. For instance, non-biodegradable plastic cutlery is replaced with steel flatware, indoor halls with electric lighting are replaced with open-air venues such as gardens boasting of natural daylight, and e-invites are sent in place of paper invitations.
Reportedly, 24 weddings in Kerala between April 2017 and March 2018 conformed to the standards of a green wedding. Going ahead, the state aims to bring at least 80% of the weddings under the purview of green weddings with aid from Suchitwa Mission, a technical support group in the waste management sector set up under the local self-government department.
Even with all the progress, however, societal pressure remains a big impediment towards a green wedding. Also, the concept of that “grand affair” is so seeped into everybody’s minds that it’s not easy to make them think otherwise. Families start saving for the grand celebration of their offsprings since their birth and splurge beyond their capacity when the day arrives. “There’s this factor of log kya kahenge (what will people say) in our society,” says 28-year-old Prashin Jagger, who tied the knot with 27-year-old Deepa Kamath earlier this year. The couple raised quite a few eyebrows when they held a relatively small celebration with 150-odd people in attendance, and used old items (such as cardboard boxes) and scrap material (such as extra cloth left behind while preparing garments) for the decor. Not only that, they served a simple meal in limited quantity instead of arranging an elaborate exotic menu, a norm at most Indian weddings. “We served items like dal chawal, Sindhi kadhi, etc. For dessert, we served jalebi and that was probably the most lavish dish of the evening,” recalls Mumbai-based Jagger.
So did they have it easy? Of course not. “The vendors went berserk when we told them of the food items and quantity we wanted,” Jagger laughs. “They were like, ‘No, you should have far more variety and quantity’. They kept telling us that you’re calling people to a wedding and serving too little… what will they say?” he adds.
But for Jagger and Kamath, it was an extension of how they live otherwise too. “We live in a metropolitan city like Mumbai and still we are managing fine without a refrigerator, air conditioner or washing machine,” says Jagger, stressing on the importance of energy conservation. At their wedding, too, the couple laid emphasis on educating their guests by placing placards and posters around the venue (an open garden), detailing why everything was arranged the way it was. “Near the food table, for instance, we put quotes, poems, etc, to remind people that food should not be wasted,” the freelance photographer adds. They also gave ‘seed balls’ as return gifts instead of the traditional sweets to help their guests make a small contribution towards preserving the environment. The seed balls, explains Jagger, were seeds wrapped in cow dung and manure that could be strewn on the ground and they would grow into plants.
Hyderabad-based Sridhar also gave her guests seed balls, but took a different approach towards imparting knowledge. Besides eliminating the use of plastic and choosing an open-air location (a beachside location) for the wedding, Sridhar and her husband organised green activities such as pot-making, tree plantation and bird feeding for their guests to take part in. “In the pot-making activity, people made clay pots that they could take home to plant a seed or sapling in… Basically, we did things that we could connect with on a personal level,” says Sridhar. Additionally, the couple arranged for glass bottles and cloth towels to be placed in hotel rooms of guests, contributing towards reducing the use of plastic bottles and paper napkins.
It takes two to go green
It’s thanks to people like Sridhar and Jagger that the Indian wedding industry, which is essentially demand-driven, is now seeing a slow rise in the number of green weddings. Wedding planners, too, are now more willing to give their clients’ weddings a green makeover. “A sustainable, eco-friendly wedding is the need of the hour because there’s so much waste generated at the end of each wedding. Once guests leave, you can see the amount of trash collected,” says Namrata Rajgarhia, co-founder of Mumbai-based wedding planner company Two Fat Ladies, which helped bring together Hyderabad-based Sridhar and Jospeh’s wedding.
Interestingly, the company only recently ventured into the green space. Talking about Sridhar’s wedding, Rajgarhia says, “Sharanya’s wedding was extremely difficult to plan because there’s always resistance to change…
It took a lot of time to convince the hotel owners to replace plastic bottles with glass bottles… the chefs, too, had issues with preparing a vegan meal because it had to be tried and tested before actual preparation. The make-up artists weren’t too comfortable with using PETA-approved make-up as well,” she adds. While Rajgarhia learnt to explore on the job, there are others who advocate green ways for guests to adopt. “We have been trying to make weddings as eco-friendly as possible and now we are at a stage when most of our clients, especially in Bengaluru, want to go the sustainable way,” says Nilma Dileepan, who runs Bengaluru-based event management company With Love Nilma. “We are seeing an increasing number of clients who don’t want flamboyant, over-the-top decor any more and are okay with eco-friendly alternatives,” she adds.
Listing out some ways she encourages eco-friendly alternatives, Dileepan says she dissuades clients, for instance, from having separate cardboard flooring for the dance area. She instead suggests jute-based flooring that can be reused. She also has a chalkboard designer onboard who decorates the chalkboard the way her clients want, thus saving resources used in pompous décor. These eco-friendly alternatives help cut costs in most cases, says Dileepan. “For instance, a regular floral centerpiece for the decor costs anywhere between `1,000 and `3,500. That can be easily replaced with a flowerpot that’s worth only Rs 100,” she says.
Chennai-based Veena Gopalakrishnan, who plans to launch her e-commerce start-up Two’s Company to provide affordable sustainable services and products soon, agrees. Gopalakrishnan’s own green wedding video went viral in June this year and since then she has been getting a lot of calls from young couples enquiring about it—Gopalakrishnan and her husband Vignesh Vancheeshwar sent e-invites in place of paper ones, seasonal flowers were used for decoration and were later made into compost, banana leaves were used in place of non-biodegradable plates, and guests were given messages written on seed paper as return gifts (embedded with seeds, seed paper can be planted). “Even though we invited some 700-odd people, my wedding was much cheaper than a normal Indian wedding… Today, we get queries from people asking us how to go about it,” says Gopalakrishnan.
There were many more mindful choices that the couple made for their wedding. “I wore my grandmother’s sari and Vignesh wore a shirt from his own wardrobe. Our parents wore what they already had. Sudarshana Pai, my partner in the company, borrowed a friend’s attire. This way, we ensured that we did not consume more resources,” recalls 24-year-old Gopalakrishnan.
Even the jewellery she wore was a hand-me-down from her mother and grandmother. “We also got the vegetable waste from the kitchen grounded and gave it away to be used as garden fertiliser. As for the excess food, which is usually in copious amounts at the end of a wedding, it was given to the Robin Hood Army, which distributed it among the needy,” Gopalakrishnan adds. At a time when ‘sustainability’ and ‘environment’ are the new buzzwords, it’s heartening to see weddings going the green way.