The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

The world's trusted guide to sustainable and ethical fashion

6 Steps to the Perfect Ethical and Sustainable Wedding Registry

Made Trade, pictured above, is one great option for conscious couples because its registry is easy to use and everything they carry is ethically made and/or sustainable.

When we were planning our wedding a few years ago, I struggled to put together an ethical and sustainable wedding registry.

My first problem was defining for myself what that even meant! Does everything have to be made in an artisan workshop of sustainable materials? Or is it enough to register for something that is a lifetime piece? If you want to buy things used, how on earth do you do that? Or is this a time to indulge in getting the perfect shiny, new, energy-efficient appliance that you know you will treasure? Should you just register for experiences? Or is cash OK? Maybe you should just have everyone donate to a charity. Gah, so many questions!

I was a bit overwhelmed at the time, but I did my best, enthusiastically cramming all of the above options into one Frankenstein registry. Luckily, it’s gotten much easier to build an eco-friendly wedding registry since then. So let me walk you through your options and considerations, so you can build a registry that will help you create a comfortable love nest (and life!) that aligns with your values.

Before you do anything, discuss your ideal life and home with your partner.

Registries were started in order to equip a young, heterosexual couple with everything they needed to have a traditional 1950s home. The cooking appliances so she can cook an amazing dinner for the family every day. The china so she can host fancy dinner parties for her husband’s colleagues and their wives. The china cabinet to show off all these decorative objects. The engraved silver that she’ll lovingly polish twice a year (or have the housekeeper polish.) The linens for the master and the guest bedroom. If that doesn’t sound like your ideal life, you’re not alone.

I myself grew up watching my mom use her stand mixer to whip up her famous mashed potatoes and red velvet cake. But when I opened a registry and hovered my mouse over the $400 stand mixer, I hesitated. First of all, we didn’t have enough counter space for this monster. Second, we will never be hosting the whole family at our tiny apartment for Thanksgiving, so I’ll never need to make mashed potatoes for 12 people. (That is what NYC restaurants are for.) Third, we already had a basic hand mixer and we only use once a month. Fourth, I can’t eat too much sugar, so baking elaborate cakes is out. Finally — and most importantly — I felt selfish for even putting something so expensive on our registry. We have very few friends or family that could ever afford to buy us a $400 gift, unless they pooled their money. And if a bunch of my girlfriends pooled their money to buy me a stand mixer that I didn’t even really want that much? I would feel terrible.

My fiancé and I had already built our home together, so we had come to an understanding of how we wanted to live: in a small but well-organized apartment where we would cook simple, healthy meals for ourselves and maybe four other people (at most) for dinner. That required us to register for a large cast-iron griddle for cooking my husband’s signature Venezuelan arepas and a meal-planning cookbook, but no eight-piece sets of bone china.

If you’re on the cusp of really building your life together and haven’t yet had this conversation, make sure to sit down and talk about what your ideal home looks like, feels like, and contains. How do you want to spend your time, and how can your home facilitate that? Maybe your goal is to quit your jobs and travel for a year instead of registering for stuff. In that case, do a honeymoon fund. Maybe you want to live in a tiny home. In that case, put up a tiny-home construction fund. Maybe you want to be minimalists. In that case, register for a few choice items and forget the rest. Maybe you want to recreate your family’s non-Western home with non-western stuff. In that case, build a registry that pulls from artisan stores instead of department stores. Maybe you want to be philanthropists or activists instead of consumers. So have everyone donate to charity. Forget about what your home and relationship should look like and contain, and craft your registry to help you reach your #couplegoals.

Consider a honeymoon, renovation, or secondhand fund.

Maybe you don’t want to ask for physical things, which require resources and carbon emissions to ship to you. But giving straight cash makes some people uncomfortable. Tying that gift money to specific things that you will use it for makes it more fun for you and your guests!

For example, you can offer an option to give you and your honey $26, which will pay for two cocktails at a farm-to-table restaurant in Hawaii. Then you can tag the gift giver on Instagram or Facebook, and also make your thank you note more heartfelt. Renovation or down payment funds are also a great idea, because it’s an investment in your home together that should come before the kitchen stuff, and also feels like the most responsible thing to do with gift money.

If you would rather buy used instead of new, then you can do that via a fund, too. Do research on eBay and in your local resale shop for typical prices, and tell people what used thing you will get with the money, like a loveseat, reupholstery for the loveseat, a used bicycle, antique mismatched plates, a desk off of Apt Deco, etc.

You can set up a honeymoon/renovation/down payment fund via Honeyfund (if you’re not registering for any objects), or Zola, Thankful, or Blueprint (if you want to mix the fun in with registering for traditional gifts).

Don’t neglect to choose a charity.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably the kind of person who has some feelings about the inherently privileged position of being able to throw a big party (maybe with your parents’ money) and get expensive gifts in return. Well, spend that privilege then and ask your guests to donate to a charity that means something to you and your partner. We did offer the opportunity to buy us some objects, but we also offered the opportunity to donate to an environmental nonprofit, Conservation International, that does work preserving the Amazon, which stretches into my husband’s native country of Venezuela. It was something that really appealed to our more eco-minded friends and family.

Thankful, Blueprint, and My Registry both offer charitable donations as part of its platform if you want to mix that in with regular gifts. Or you can register with The Good Beginning, which is what we used and linked to our Zola registry. It tracked who gave what amount, so we easily could send out personalized thank yous.

Oh, and here are my tips for choosing a charity for gift donations.

Make a list of stuff before you look at a registry.

I’m not going to judge you for wanting to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to upgrade your things. We certainly were ready to ditch the mismatched IKEA plates I had inherited from my old roommate. Plus, many of your older guests will be offended if you only ask for money or donations –– they are used to giving objects and will feel most comfortable and happy picking something out for you and placing it gift wrapped with a card on the gift table. But a lot of registry waste comes from wandering into a store (or website) and registering for a bunch of things you never knew you needed but –– since someone else is buying –– why not?

Don’t fall into that trap! Many an ice cream maker is languishing in someone’s cabinet for that exact reason.

Instead, treat your registry like you treat your sustainable wardrobe, and make a shopping list that you cull down to the essentials. Take a trip around your home (or prospective home in your mind) and note down:

  • High-quality items that you’ve been missing but couldn’t afford. I’m talking about moments where you’ve said, “Honey? Do we have a potato masher? Because this recipe is saying to use a potato masher and the fork isn’t working.”
  • Things that could use an upgrade to a lifetime or energy-efficient piece, like IKEA furniture or old appliances.
  • Items that you are sure would make living your best sustainable life easier and save you money. For example, we recently bought a coffee grinder and stovetop mocha (espresso maker), so my husband would stop getting a disposable cup of coffee at the local coffee shop on his way home or his way out. Maybe you want a kombucha-making starter kit or a Gentlewasher. It’s up to you!
  • Anything that will help you cook healthy, waste-free meals faster and more often. Just beware of aspirational nice-to-haves that you’re unsure you’ll ever get around to actually using. For example, don’t get a pasta press if you’ve never even bothered to make gnocchi. And I can say from experience that a mortar and pestle is the most beautiful and useless kitchen object you will ever own.
  • Non-toxic replacements for what you currently have, like seasoned cast iron instead of nonstick pans, glass or metal storage containers instead of plastic, non-toxic furniture instead of older conventional furniture, and a non-toxic mattress.
  • Creative things that you’ll use together in your new, eco-friendly life. Like bicycles for outings to the park, or camping gear.

Check out stores that only carry sustainable items.

I had a really hard time with this part, because at the time of my wedding, my favorite sustainable home store, ABC Carpet & Home, didn’t offer an online registry. ABC sells gorgeous, upscale, fair trade, ethically and sustainably made items. It’s the kind of stuff that’s too expensive for me to afford normally, but I want to be able to afford because I know everything is responsibly made. It’s like the furniture equivalent to Stella McCartney. I was so keen on ABC that we ended up going to the store and writing down a list of everything we wanted, then adding each item one-by-one to our Zola registry under the cash fund option. Thankfully for you, ABC partnered with Zola to offer a much easier online registry. (Did they get the idea from me?)

Made Trade (pictured above) has since introduced a gift registry element onto their site, which also would have been much easier for me. Made Trade only carries ethically made, fairly traded, and sustainably sourced products for you and your home, which means there’s a lot less sorting that you have to do. Plus, their registry is super easy to use. (For more reasons why we love Made Trade, check out this post.)

Little Market also has a super cute (and slightly more affordable) ethically made registry collection that I really wish I had known about when I was building my registry. Those gold-and-white plates… swoon. I also like West Elm, because you can shop specifically using their various commitments: Fair Trade certified, FSC-certified wood, recycled materials, handcrafted, organic, and locally made.

If none of the above appeals to you and you have much more eclectic tastes, you can add items from your favorite sustainable online stores to a registry site that lets you pull from multiple places, like Thankful or Blueprint. I recommend you pull from BuyMeOnce, which only sells items that are meant to last a lifetime, or fair trade/eco-friendly stores like Made Trade, Life Without Plastic, Viva Terra, Leif, Kaufmann Mercantile, or Accompany.

Just note that the above registry services may require your guests to make the purchase on another site, then come back and mark it purchased. There’s a possibility that you might get duplicates if a guest or two fails to do this. It didn’t happen to us, but in that case, you can return the duplicate and use the refund money to purchase any remaining things you registered for but didn’t get.

Stick to the eco-friendly brands on Zola

Again, I don’t think Zola had this when we registered, but now it does and it is awesome! There’s a special Earth Day collection on Zola and it is stocked with many of my favorite brands: Coyuchi (get all the Coyuchi, you will not regret it), Mela Artisans, Mpowered, and Full Circle Home, plus many more organic and eco brands I haven’t even heard of before.

Keep your eyes on the prize!

Done wrong, wedding registries can absolutely feed into our destructive, consumerist culture, by encouraging us to buy a bunch of stuff we really don’t need. But done right, your registry can support artisans, send money to charity, and do what it was always intended to do: set you and your partner up for a beautiful (and sustainable) life together. If you keep the above tips in mind, you can avoid getting carried away and ending up with a home full of stuff, and instead find yourself after all the hoopla of the wedding with an elegantly-feathered nest –– whatever that looks like for you.

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