Calculating the carbon footprint of a wedding

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Stellar

Worried about your wedding's carbon footprint? You're not alone. Here's Stellar to give some advice on how you can calculate and offset the environmental impact of your party.

Footprints
Photo by andy_5322, under with Creative Commens

There are a great many carbon offset calculators out there… but there's more to a wedding than just energy consumption, flights, cars, and hotels. There's also all the STUFF, and food, and waste, and, and, and…

By DIYing almost everything, I'm able to significantly keep the costs down on waste, and source sustainable and local materials as much as possible. I've been working with our hall to have our meals be locally sourced whenever possible, and am trying to organize a donation of our leftover food to a local shelter. I'm paying a little extra to have the equivalent of our energy usage at the hall added to our local power grid from 100% renewable sources (wind/hydro mix vs. the nuclear/coal/whateverwhatever mix that the regular energy companies use). My invites and all paper products so far have been through a local printer that I can walk to for pick-up on post consumer waste and Forest Stewardship Council certified paper stock.

I've narrowed down the offset providers I will purchase from to either Less or Planetair. Both are Canadian-based selling certified Gold Standard offsets to invest in renewable energy projects in under-developed countries. I'm leaning towards Less because they post their audits publicly, and follow all the UN frameworks developed, including offset registry. Planetair also has projects that are Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism certified, but not all are.

The tricky part, though, is finding a tool to calculate the carbon. Really, how do you calculate that!?

I've found three so far, but only one seems suitable.

Carbon Fund's Wedding Calculator

  • Covers: flights, car travel, hotel stays. Calculates average distances, total hotel nights, with option for "upscale" hotel.
  • Does not calculate: anything else, like food sourcing, waste, energy consumption, decorations, etc.

TerraPass Wedding Calculator

  • Same calculations as Carbon Fund, but with a bit more options regarding flight differentiations (short, medium, long), but no differentiation for upscale hotels, and car distances are also average.
  • Also does not calculate anything else.

Wedding Museum Carbon Footprint Tool

  • BY FAR the most inclusive calculator for weddings!
  • Covers: electricity use, natural gas use (based on sq. feet), driving by number of cars/average distance, flying by four length categories, bus trips, hotels by average/upscale and average nights, paper use by sheet and percent of recycled content, flowers, catering, waste generated, AND honeymoon calculator!

Wow. That's almost everything. Of course, it's all an imperfect science, and of course, the best way to offset the carbon cost of having a wedding is to just not have it, or at least, not have it at the scale I am. I can only hope that when my parents realize the environmental cost of this Big Fat 400 Guest Wedding, and they follow through with their agreement to contribute to the environmental programs of my choice in lieu of favours and as the compromise for me going along with their imposed size of it, that they think twice before insisting upon an event so big in the future.

Plus, it gives me the opportunity to teach the few willing guests about the impact they make on the environment! We're probably all screwed anyway, but a little change can still go a long way. 🙂

  1. Did you find any info about the carbon footprint of an average wedding? I want to know how mine compares!

    • The Carbon Fund calculator has averages at the bottom…It has 8 tons, 15 tons, 50 tons, with 8 looking like it's for 100 guests or less, 15 for 100+, and 50 for super large or destination.

  2. This is a great post! I'd love to hear more about how you are cutting down on waste and finding sustainable local sources (follow up post?).
    Is it possible to register so guests can contribute towards the offsets instead of gifts?

    • I know for sure there's some offset companies that allow gift registries, I just can't think of any off the top of my head…but I know I've seen them…

      RE: waste cutting down – I decided to go the route of giving people meal choices so it's more likely they'll eat what they get, and I'm trying to get the venue to allow a shelter to come take the un-touched leftovers instead of throwing them out.

      RE: locally-sourced — it's a family-owned venue that used to be a bakery business, so they already had pretty good ties to the local economy. The chicken and veggies all come from local farmers; the beef does not, unfortunately (they had a contract with a certain place), but a little is better than nothing!

  3. Man…I don't even want to know. At least I can sleep easy knowing I walk to work everyday and have my produce personally delivered by a local farm. My wedding will probably undo all of that, though. Especially since we, the bride and groom, will be traveling 3000 miles to get to it.

    Thanks for the links.

  4. Nice:) I wanted a nice backyard-20-person-wedding but I fell in love with an Irish-Catholic boy..MAN they have huge families! At least we have recycle bins at the wedding and a lot of upcycling going on:)

  5. Weddings can make a big impact on the environment and I'm glad you tackled that issue. Your wedding is about you and your ideals, so it's only appropriate that you do what you feel is right. It might lead to a bit more legwork on your part but it will definitely be worth it in the end. You'll look back and be proud of your wedding day. That's fantastic.

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