San Francisco photographer Zoe Larkin shares ideas for an ethical wedding

I am so lucky to live in San Francisco, a part of the world that loves to do good and give back. Why would your wedding be anything but an opportunity to serve others, and at the very least to minimize waste? Be part of the solution, not the problem, with these ethical wedding ideas.

ideas for an ethical wedding | Zoe Larkin

Donate to charities instead of buying wedding gifts

These days a huge majority of couples getting married already live together. A gift registry is a hangover from a bygone age in which couples only moved in together after they were legally wed. If you are all set for toasters, bread-makers and duvet sets, it’s easy to have guests make contributions from the money they would have spent buying your bath towels. Find the donation page on your chosen charity’s website and add this to your registry page. You can also make it easy to give through, which lets couples select a charity and choose what percentage of gifts will be donated to that organization.

Ideas for an ethical wedding - Zoe Larkin Photography

Trade your and your guests’ time on the wedding shower

How about something really different instead of the traditional wedding shower? If you have all the luxuries and modern conveniences you really need, maybe you could incorporate a visit to the food bank or local homeless shelter as part of the wedding shower. This is a really norm-challenging one that will surely open the eyes of some of your guests and put them outside their comfort zone.

Reuse and donate leftovers

Leftover food might be able to be donated to a homeless organization. Leftover flowers that are essentially worthless at the end of the wedding could be taken to an senior center or hospital that would like to receive them, where they will stay fresh for many more days to come. Make sure to organize this in advance rather then at the end of the wedding. Make it a helpful friend’s job to deliver them!

Ideas for an ethical wedding - Zoe Larkin Photography

Utilize local non-profits’ spaces

There are so many beautiful wedding venues which belong to non-profit organizations, whether they’re owned by the city, state, farm, educational facility or charity. The money you pay (often considerably lower than a conventional space) will be used to further the good work they do. As so many people are searching for something a little different, a non-profit’s space could be just the ticket on so many fronts.

Pair up with ethical vendors

There are so many wedding vendors plying their wares to you. When you choose them, make sure you are selective about those who make certain pledges be they about sustainability, human rights, environmentalism, minimizing waste, using Fair Trade or organic raw materials, sourcing locally made products, community-based vendors or those that give back. There are so many that a quick search will pull up. Working with these vendors will ensure that your good intentions will be seen through to the final conclusion.

Ideas for an ethical wedding — Zoe Larkin Photography

Have a low-carbon wedding

On a similar note, if having an eco-wedding appeals to you, make sure everything from your wedding is locally and ethically sourced. Flowers are the big one here – often shipped or should that be flown – from all over the world without a second thought. Great for the marrier who wants peonies in December, bad for the planet. Consider partnering with a florist who specializes in seasonal blooms and will be able to plan ahead and advise what will be in bloom on your day. Similarly insist on a cake-maker and caterer who can source their ingredients and specializes in local only. To cut down on miles for wedding invitations, scrap them and go with a wedding website and/ or a wedding email address where guests can RSVP without having to mail anything physically.

Ideas for an ethical wedding - Zoe Larkin Photography

Carpool or take public transit

If you are having a wedding off the beaten path, facilitate ways for guests (even those who aren’t already friends!) to travel to the venue together. It’s a great way for your guests to start the fun early and get to know one another! Perhaps you could put people who live in the same neighborhood in touch so they know where to start. If your wedding is more of an urban affair, ask guests to travel by public transport, taxi or ride-sharing apps. Parking is often limited anyway at all but the largest of venues, so it will also help minimize the stress of all concerned! Another hint: have the ceremony and the reception at the same spot.

Ideas for an ethical wedding — Zoe Larkin Photography

Rent, beg or borrow rather than buy

In the course of our everyday lives we’re used to buying shit. But for a wedding, we are often talking about a one-time use dress, accessories, decorations, attendants’ dresses, centerpieces, linens, lights, etc. Do we really need to buy all of that? Could they be rented or ‘something borrowed’ from local vendors or individuals? Or could things you already own be used instead? How about a wear-again dress?

Ideas for an ethical wedding — Zoe Larkin Photography

Go plastics-free and ban all disposables!

A lot of plastics and other disposable resources are needlessly wasted at weddings. For example do you really need plastic drinking glasses and paper plates when you could just as easily have glasses made of glass, ceramic plates and stainless steel silverware? This will eliminate a huge amount of resource waste which would otherwise be disposed of or thrown in the recycling – and probably make for a more pleasant, grown-up dining experience too.

Make a charitable donation with all the money you saved!

A lovely idea is to donate the money you would have spent on for example wedding favors, to a charity or a range of different charities! Your guests will be pleased to know that others in need will be on the receiving end of such generosity.

The list of things you can do is endless and limited only by your imagination! If you are considering hosting an ethical wedding, I would be honored to photograph your wedding and help connect you with ethical, local Bay Area vendors who share the same values.

Are you planning an ethical wedding, or interested in breaking from the herd and doing things your way? Cool! I’d love to hear what you are planning. I am a Bay Area-based wedding and elopement photographer specializing in non-traditional intimate weddings for unconventional couples. Get in touch if you have wedding photography needs you’d like to discuss, whatever stage of planning you’re currently at!

All photos by Zoe Larkin | This post first appeared on and is republished here with her permission. | Zoe Larkin is a preferred Equally Wed vendor. View Zoe Larkin Photography’s listing in our wedding directory of equality-minded wedding vendors.