How to Have a Sustainable Elopement

Getting married and wedding is a big and heavy impacted affair. The Green Bride Guide states that the average wedding produces around 180kg of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. For some of our couples that's one of many reasons that they choose to elope instead, to reduce their carbon footprint. Still, elopement and adventure elopement involves traveling and activities outdoor in natural environment. Whether we like it or not, our elopement will still have impacts on our planet and other live forms. Lucky for us, sustainable elopement is possible and it doesn't have to be boring or hard! And here is our complete guide to elope in a sustainable way, to minimize our impact as much as possible.

1. Leave No Trace

Those seven practices are there for a good reason when exploring outdoor and nature, especially national parks and protection areas. When we first started shooting adventure elopements we were ignorant, didn't know better and did a lots of things that go against these principles but a good thing about human nature is that we can learn and change for the better. So let's not focus on what we've done but rather put our energy on how we can do it better from now on.

- Principle 1: Plan Ahead and Prepare. 
Good and detailed trip planning and preparation helps exploring backcountry & remote places safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land.

- Principle 2: Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
The goal of travel in the outdoors is to move through natural areas while at the same time avoiding damage to the land or waterways, when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. Concentrating travel on trails reduces the likelihood that multiple routes will develop and scar the landscape. 

Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly
Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease and maximize the rate of decomposition. 
Cat holes are the most widely accepted method of waste disposal. Cat holes have to be dugged at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) from water, trails and camp. Select an inconspicuous site where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. With a small garden trowel, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. The cat hole should be covered and disguised with natural materials when finished. If camping in the area for more than one night, or if camping with a large group, cat hole sites should be widely dispersed. 
Urinating on rocks, pine needles, and gravel is less likely to attract wildlife.
Pack out all trash and garbage you bring in.
Pay attention to micro-trash.
To wash yourself or your stuffs, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes.
Soap, even when it’s biodegradable, can affect the water quality of lakes and streams, so minimize its use when possible.
Lotion, sunscreen, insect repellent and body oils can contaminate these vital water sources.

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- Principle 4: Leave What You Find
Minimize Site Alterations, Avoid Damaging Live Trees and Plants, Leave Natural Objects and Cultural Artifacts.

- Principle 5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

- Principle 6: Respect Wildlife
Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small.

- Principle 7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors
One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward other visitors. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Many people come to the outdoors to experience the secluded nature. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets and damaged surroundings take away from the natural appeal of the outdoors. Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together!

2. Have a plastic free elopement

Or even better. Have a plastic free life. Or almost. Although to be honest, we have to admit we're far from this goal, but we're still learning and reducing plastic use one thing at a time, all day, everyday. Being sustainable is not a competition or badge of honor, we all have to try our best because plastic never goes away. Today millions tons of plastic trash can be found in swirling convergences making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. Every year thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed after ingesting plastic or getting tangled up in it. There's a whole book dedicated about tackling on this issue. 
Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. We bough it over a year ago and it's amazing and changed our daily live for good. It's tough at the beginning but we can always start small and work our way up!

When we visited United States in 2018, the way people go crazy on single-use plastic items stunted us! And for that we think this book is very positive and non-preachy guide on how to get rid of our plastic addiction. It talks about what plastic actually is, how it's made, and what it does to the environment. Most of the book is a practical guide and divided in different sections, though, which was actually great and very realistic, easy to follow and doable.

So what can we apply on elopement?

- Instead of having single use plastic water bottle, opt for multiple use water bottle made from other materials, tap water, water filter like Sawyer and water pen to filter water from nature.

- Using non-plastic cosmetics & hygiene products: bamboo/electric toothbrush, soap bar, metal razors, menstrual cup, reusable cotton cleanser pads, bio-degradable wet wipes... Avoid single use plastic in general.

- Watch out for synthetic, plastic-based materials such as polyester and embellishments such as sequins, and instead choose a beautiful wedding attires made from a natural fibre and non-plastic material...

- Say no to confetti, balloons...

- Voice your concerns with involved vendors or find the right people to start with (because many old-school supplies I think they're less willing to adapt or go extra miles) to make sure they're on the same page to keep the catering, decoration, logistics... plastic-free as possible.

- Sourcing local and seasonal so less packaging involved.

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3. Outdoor Apparel

Voting with your wallet. It's for sure ethically unsound to trash the Earth while selling products people use to recreate on it. Support brands & companies that are ethical and environmentally conscious. We can vote with our wallets to support small, ethical businesses and create a greener economy. Boycott products that endanger wildlife or are unethical. Buy from sustainable, ethical, fair trade clothing brands or second hand. Do the research carefully, because after all companies are there to make money, and for some being eco-friendly is just their marketing ploy!

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. The oil industry being the first.

Of course the most eco friendly way is buy used apparel or don't buy at all like what Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer Lisa Williams once said, “The most environmentally, sustainable piece of clothing is the one that’s already in your closet… If you need to purchase a new one, the best one is the one that is durable, repairable and multi-functional.”

The ones that were made from eco-friendly materials, new technology that allows to produce them with low waste and less resources spent from ethical, sustainable outdoor clothing brands who raise a lots of environmental awareness through their social initiatives like Fjällräven, Patagonia, Jack Wolfskin... Down below is a quick guide from gearjunkie to know what's okay to add to your closet.

4. Reduce meat consumption

Eat less meat. Means less carbon emissions from meat farming and its linked deforestation.

Eat locally, organically. Means less food miles.

Eat fresh. Means less energy putting in processing food.

5. Saving resources

- Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Refuse to use the products that are harmful to our planet. Using less, consume less. Reject the culture of single-use. Recycle, the last on the list, the least preferable alternative, a way to try to clean up the damage while we try to prevent it from being done in the first place.

- Save precious resources such as water, energy...

- Go paperless.

- Go easy on decoration. We're not saying you have to give up on bouquet or other floral decorations but in season, locally sourced flowers are way sustainable, reduce carbon footprints for shipping and helps small local businesses. One way to do it is using live plants instead of cut flowers for centerpieces...

- Invest in better quality items that last longer. They are actually cheaper in the long run! The energy that goes into manufacturing things is astounding.

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6. Reduce Carbon Footprint while traveling

It may sound ridiculous from a full-time adventure and destination wedding photographers & videographers to talk about reducing carbon footprint while traveling when we travel all the times. Like fighting for peace. 

Long story short: The best way to reduce carbon footprint while traveling is not traveling. We think that is something we can all agree. But it's tough. Traveling is our passion and profession, we have learnt and broaden our horizon and benefitted so much from it and we can't imagine our life without traveling so here we have to find some compromises. 

- Travel less. It's one of the reason that we raise our price steadily and take less and less weddings / elopements per year. At the moment we only take 10-15 bookings per year!

- If possible, flying less. In many cases, airplane travel is indispensable, especially if your travels take you overseas or across long distances. But with regional travel, choosing a train, bus or car over an airplane can go a long way toward conservation.

- The truth is that not all airlines are the same. Where possible, choose airlines that go beyond their way for sustainability.

- Use public transportation when possible.

- Please don't support the huge ocean-liner cruising ships. They cause seriously environmental problems.

- Know your impact and donate to offset your carbon footprint while traveling. Many airlines now have that built-in options when booking tickets online or you can do it by yourself. Depending on where and how you purchase carbon credits, your money can go toward investing in renewable energy solutions or planting more trees to act as carbon sinks (because they absorb carbon from the atmosphere). Sounds great in theory, right? However, it’s not a solution - it's like recycle - the last resort but we do think it's still better than doing nothing or when there is no realistic alternative that produces fewer carbon emissions. Also, do ask offset provider, where does your money go? How much goes to the project? What does it pay for? How much of the project is funded by offsetting? Can you see an annual report? How long has the project been going? What would happen to it if offsetting funds dried up?

- Take longer vacation than many shorter ones. Travel slow! It's better experiences traveling that way anyways.

- Take it easy on Hotel Resources. Just because something is complementary or inclusive doesn't mean we should waste it.

- Pack light, fly economy, choose direct flight.

- Use your feet whenever possible.

- Stay in low carbon impact accommodations. All the unique lodges below they have a strict sustainable approach and philosophy!

7. Support ethical Tourism

What is ethical tourism? Ethical tourism and responsible tourism mean thinking about the consequences of your actions as a tourist on the environment, local people and local economy.

Don't go cheap. Most of the time it's better and cheaper to pay more! Since there is no such thing as cheap. In order to have a low, competitive price, tour companies and agencies will have to cut cost somewhere else. It can be staff employment and terrible working conditions, water infrastructure, weak community support for poverty, agriculture, education, health, gender equality, other equalities, conservation, local infrastructure, environment impact, zero waste management, partnerships, peace.... Support small businesses that demonstrate commitment either to environmental, social and/or wildlife responsibility.

This topic itself can be a little confronting, especially if you are used to travelling in the typical way and haven’t given much thought to the impact your trips may have. We understand because that's what we have experienced and yet we still have so much to learn to make positive impact when travel. But I think it’s great that awareness of what we can do is growing so much.

Sierra from Passport Voyager has written a great post on how to be a responsible tourist and we're doing some recaps here:

- Taking care of people

- Cultural understanding and appreciation instead of appropriation

- Treating different people as equals

- Supporting local vendors and artisans

- Supporting social enterprises and community-based tourism

- Seek ethical animal encounters

- Look after the environment

"Travelling in the off seasons, not using mass-tour companies, and visiting lesser-known areas are great ways to ensure you don’t contribute to overtourism. And travelling slowly, with less itinerary and more time to immerse yourself into a culture, makes your travels less stressful, less taxing on the environment, and more meaningful."

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8. Donate to environmental organizations

Do throughly research the NGOs and charities before you donate. Decisions about donations are for sure hard to make, especially when there are a lot of options and many of them are businesses or have dirty secrets behind the scenes! There are multitudes of environmental organizations working every day to make our planet greener and healthier. 

Consider asking questions like, ‘’Is the organization meeting its goals and promises? Is their business transparent?’’ The more notable NGO’s are already assessed by organizations such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance. These are great sources when searching for a donation-worthy nonprofit, as they provide answers to those questions and reliable information on the credibility of the charities. For instance, Friends of the Earth, The Rainforest Alliance, Wildlife Conservation Society, 1% For the Planet, Ocean Conservancy, Amazon WatchNational Geographic Society... just to name a few.

Looking for an adventure elopement photographer and videographer? Let's chat!

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