VIEWS: The Carbon Footprint of an SSC Wedding

Dispatch from SSC President Jennifer Woofter

I got married on Saturday, at the ripe old age of…well, let’s just skip that part. I wanted an “elopement in the Caribbean” wedding, but my soon-to-be-husband wanted a local event in which our friends and family would participate. Beginning the long, hard road of compromise, we opted for a small-ish wedding with only minimal “stuff”. We kept the cake, but lost the bridesmaids and groomsmen. We rented out a B&B but kept the guest list small (51 people attended). We served local wine, but ditched the wedding rings (no engagement ring either). Mostly, we tried to keep our sanity. (The wine helped.)

Making our wedding eco-friendly was in the back of our minds, but not the sole criteria for decision making. For example, I couldn’t care less about having flowers. My mother, on the other hand, decided that a flowerless wedding was a line in the sand she would not cross and so we let her be in charge of floral decorations. My understanding is that she ordered them online, and the gerbera daisies that arrived were beautiful but probably laden with chemicals from a factory flower farm that does nothing positive for the environment. I just hoped that forgoing an engagement ring and wedding bands would even out our eco-wedding karma.

I was curious, though, about the carbon footprint of the wedding. Even though we kept everything small and minimal, we did have family flying from across the country. So I went out to the internet and found a variety of wedding carbon calculators. Lo and behold, they all spit out different numbers:

  • Terrapass’s Wedding Carbon Calculator indicated that our wedding was responsible for 18,009 pounds of carbon (8.2 tons), which it graciously offered to offset for $113.05 (rounding up to 19,000 pounds).
  • Native Energy’s Wedding Carbon Calculator indicated that our wedding was responsible for 13 tons of carbon, which could be offset for $182.00. Or maybe not. The Native Energy calculator has a confusing way to calculate the number of miles driven and flown – not indicating whether you are supposed to enter the one-way or round-trip distances, and not taking into account the fact that most people that drive will carpool with at least one other person. For the initial calculations, I entered the round-trip distances – if I entered only the one-way distances, the total carbon footprint of the wedding drops to 7 tons, which I could offset for $98.
  •’s Wedding Carbon Calculator indicated that our wedding was responsible for 9.1 tons of carbon, which could be offset for $90.94. But again, we have a problem. The calculator is similarly confusing, leaving it up to me to decide whether I should put in the one-way or the round-trip “average distance” that people drove. I opted for the round-trip numbers in the calculations above, but using the single-distance numbers would have dropped the total numbers to 6.2 tons (offset for $62.14).

So which is it? Your guess is as good as mine - somewhere between 6.2 and 13 tons of carbon. It’s a bit frustrating that these websites provide such different carbon calculations. There are a few things that could make them easier to use (e.g. being explicit about one-way vs. round-trip distances), but even so, my guess is that they would still have some wiggle room. Having gone through the trial and error myself, though, I feel most confident in Terrapass.

Interesting to note: these calculators basically take into account only the “major” sources of emissions associated with weddings – the (air and car) travel and hotel stays associated with the event. allows you to choose “upscale hotel” to adjust the energy profile of the event location, and Terrapass also adds “about 1 ton” of carbon for all the extras – like the DJ, the caterer, temperature control, lighting, etc.).

None of the calculators included things like the eco-impact of wedding attire (my $150 dress was certainly not eco-friendly, although I think there is something to be said for simply being frugal), the food served (meat vs. vegetarian), the drinks (we declined to serve bottled water, much to the shock of our immediate family), or the waste generated at the event (about 3 times higher than if everyone just stayed at home), or gifts given to us from our engagement through the bridal shower and wedding. But since these impacts are relatively small in comparison to the travel/accommodations associated with a wedding, it probably doesn’t affect the final footprint number that much. It also didn’t include the honeymoon – although there are other calculators that focus on this specifically.

Just to put this all in perspective, in our most recent sustainability report, SSC had an annual carbon footprint of 55.2 tons. So apparently, even having a modest, relatively eco-friendly wedding is the equivalent of about 2 months of SSC’s daily impact. Yikes. One more reason to make this marriage last!