By CONNIE MABIN
For The Associated Press
The bride chose a gown that could be worn again to parties, the groom organized guest car pools in hybrid vehicles, and the couple picked an outdoor Japanese garden over a big, energy-sucking reception hall.
Everything about Kristy Wang and Nik Kaestner's big day in San Francisco was decidedly "green" - from locally grown, organic vegetables and sustainably harvested fish to homemade tablecloths that were later turned into dinner napkins.
"Every time we make decisions, we're trying to decide what would be the least wasteful," Wang said recently. When it came to the wedding last May, "We didn't want it to be about consumption."
Going green is a growing trend in the multimillion-dollar wedding industry, and businesses are cashing in.
New York's OZOcar offers hybrid limousines; Boulder, Colo.,-based Organic Vintners helps wine lovers find all-natural vintages; and the Houston-based Green Hotels Association can find accommodations at places committed to saving water and energy and reducing solid waste.
Around the nation, caterers are offering pesticide-free menus, and fine china and linen napkins instead of throwaways. Web sites help newlyweds set up donations to charities that benefit the environment, so guests have an alternative to heavily wrapped presents.
"It's exploding," said Johanna Kaestner, Nik's mother and owner of the Berkeley, Calif.,-based Weddings by Recommendation Only, which helps pair event planners with green businesses. "Finally, people understand our environment is in danger and the more you can do, the better."
The potential to earn green is huge, too.
"Going green is one of the great business opportunities of the 21st century, and the rapid growth of green weddings and green wedding consulting groups is not surprising," said David Cooperrider, a business professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "In fact, wedding advisers that are not going green are going to be at a competitive disadvantage."
Eric Fenster, co-founder of Back to Earth Inc., an organic catering and restaurant business in Berkeley, Calif., said his company can plan everything from flowers to lighting. Employees often spend a few minutes telling guests how the wedding is eco-friendly, and some couples make a group activity of trash time, throwing plates made out of sugar cane and utensils made from potato starch or corn plastic into compost piles.
"All those things can end up in a compost and get turned into fertilizer instead of ending up in a landfill," Fenster said.
Eric Carlson, president of Carlson Catering Co. near Ann Arbor, Mich., said his company increasingly buys organic ingredients from local farmers. That means not only a potentially healthier menu, but also less fuel consumption and less air pollution. The company will not use plastic foam or cleaning supplies that are not "earth-friendly," Carlson said.
Though organic menus tend to be more expensive, couples committed to the cause are willing to pay - or cut back in other areas.
"We will work with them to make something incredible that fits within their budget," Fenster said.
The Internet has made it easier to learn about the environment and find eco-friendly products and services, said Maria McBride, wedding style director at Brides magazine.
"Going a little bit green is better than not at all, because every thoughtful action helps our environment," she said. "Celebrating your wedding with global awareness is a satisfying way to begin a life of commitment together and an important way to guide the marketplace to provide even more environmentally correct business practices."
That's why Wang and Kaestner chose a venue close to most of their guests. By cutting driving and flying times, they took a step toward minimizing smog.
"The goal of trying to do something about climate change is the mission of our generation, just like going to the moon or winning World War II was the goal of previous generations," Kaestner said. "I wanted other people to see that you can still do these things and have a great wedding."
On the Net:
Organic Weddings: http://www.organicweddings.com/
Back to Earth Inc.: http://www.organiccaterers.com
Weddings by Recommendation: http://www.byreconly.com/