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Green weddings are catching on in the Middle East. But is it still a niche?
Sustainable nuptials are slowly finding a stream of steady takers. Industry players weigh in on the business practice
The eco-conscious couple in 2022 seems to be mindful of reducing their carbon footprint right from the day of the nuptials. That explains why, across the Middle East and globally, tying the knot in a sustainable way is catching on. From the dresses and the invitations to the menu, couples are increasingly weighing in on the environmental impact of each aspect of their wedding. Together with their green initiatives are wedding industry professionals, who admit that although sustainable nuptials in the Middle East are a niche sector, they are slowly finding a stream of steady takers.
Globally, nearly 70% of the 15,000 couples surveyed by The Knot, a US-based publication, in their annual wedding report 2021 had said that they included environment-friendly activities and decor at their wedding. Embracing second-hand or upcycled items, including recycled paper, minimizing single-use products, tackling food waste, and using thrifted accessories and faux flowers are some measures couples plan to involve in their eco-friendly weddings.
Closer home, for Dubai-resident Sabah Sheikh, who got married at the Al Seef Heritage Hotel last December, having an intimate, sustainable wedding was a top priority. “Most of our decor was recyclable or biodegradable. We used hand-painted stationery and signages, only dried florals for decor, which were later made into giveaway bouquets. The plants used at the wedding are now adorning my home garden. There was also no buffet style of serving. Our lunch was laid in terracotta utensils; the table was styled with candles, nuts, fruits, and condiments,” she says.
SUSTAINABLE WEDDING IS A TREND
As the owner of Atisuto Events, a bespoke design company based in the UAE, Sheikh reveals sustainable weddings are on an upward trend and that she continues to curate minimalistic weddings like hers for many others.
While Sheikh’s guests only numbered 25, another green wedding at the Caesars Palace Hotel, Bluewaters Island, Dubai, in late 2021 catered to a much larger gathering of around 350 people. Helmed by Dubai-based Vivaah Weddings, this event ticked most boxes on the sustainability checklist. Besides serving locally-sourced organic food, no plastic was used at this wedding. The invitations were on seed paper, QR codes were used everywhere to minimize paper, and electric vehicles ferried guests to and from the airport. Leftover food was donated, décor waste was sent for recycling, and 30,000 Ghaf trees were planted to offset the carbon footprint.
“For years, we had heard people talking about eco-friendly weddings internationally, but now we are finally seeing them happen more frequently in this region,” says Arun Bablani, Founder of Vivaah Weddings. The success of this large-scale sustainable wedding has generated quite a buzz in the event industry as well, he says. A founding member of the Middle East Wedding Alliance (MEWA), Bablani shares that sustainability is a hot topic of conversation at their meetings. “We are constantly bouncing off ideas, tips, and learnings from our experience to facilitate other planners and couples to go ahead with many more such weddings,” he says. At the International MICE and Wedding Forum (IMWF) in Antalya, Turkey, in April, Bablani was again part of several discussions with industry experts sharing insights on conducting successful eco-conscious weddings.
In March, he delivered a talk on this subject at Bride Lux Symposium in St. Moritz, Switzerland. “Luxury and sustainability are two sides of the spectrum. But now, everyone wants to do their bit for the environment. It’s purely a selfless act. A wedding is meant to be the greatest day of a person’s life, but it is unfortunately often the most wasteful,” says Bablani.
PROVIDING ECO-FRIENDLY OPTIONS
As sustainability spills over, along with the growing brigade of brides and grooms saying “I do” to nearly zero waste weddings, are several venues, caterers, and vendors who have adopted sustainable measures in most of their business practices.
Anticipating a future potential in hosting green weddings, the teams at these venues are now regularly trained to provide eco-friendly alternatives. At Caesar Palace, Bluewaters, Eisha Mehra, the Director of Events and Restaurant Sales, says, “We have our practices of using biodegradable straws, electric candles, reusable buffet tags, glass bottles, responsible sourcing, and waste management. We are united by this common mission of care and conservation, and we hope to drive a meaningful difference through our sustainable practices.”
Taking it a step further are wedding vendors who say they adhere to their sustainability policy irrespective of their client’s demands. They have devised innovative substitutes to enable most of their events to follow green standards. In weddings catered by Foodlink Global Restaurants and Catering, a bespoke gourmet luxury catering service based in India and Dubai, guests eat either in reusable crockery and cutlery or in leaf and clay bowls sourced from Fujairah and India.
To reduce food waste, the organization relies on a maximum of live cooking stations at its events. “Portion size control is yet another way we have found that reduces food waste. At sustainable weddings, plated mono-portions, plant-based meat, and minimalism in food aesthetics are some of the alternatives we offer,” points out Sanjay Vazirani, CEO of Foodlink.
Over the years, his company has set thumb rules to foresee the precise food quantity required for events. “But just in case there is a shortfall due to a higher than anticipated turn out, we analyze early and use our network of multiple restaurant kitchens across Dubai to address the need,” he adds. These measures come in handy mainly because, per the UN’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, food waste from households, retail establishments, and the food service industry totals 931 million tons yearly.
BRIMMING WITH FRESH IDEAS
Renting, borrowing, and reusing are other ways planners and couples exercise sustainable choices. For instance, repurposing a family wedding outfit, reusing the grandmother’s vintage ring, renting furniture and backdrops, and saying yes to lab-grown diamonds are a list of interesting ways millennials and the Gen Z are adopting to cut waste.
Even as the sustainable wedding industry is brimming with fresh ideas, it remains a niche sector at a nascent stage. Traditional expectations from extravagant, larger-than-life, near-perfect dream weddings make it challenging to convince the older generation to team up for green wedding parties. “Managing expectations and sentiments of other family members and guests on how a wedding must take place is a challenge we often have to deal with,” says Mehra.
Yet another deterrent is the high cost of a sustainable wedding, which makes them not easy to pull off. This is especially true if the number of guests is large. According to Bablani, one of the biggest fears for the couple is the elevated cost of a large-scale green wedding that could cost them two and a half times more than a non-sustainable one.
According to industry professionals, the silver lining is that with time, as the number of such weddings increases, they could become more common, which is bound to bring down the cost. “There’s a lot of work needed to put entire sustainable wedding machinery in place. While individually we can take small steps, forums and governments can play a bigger role in putting the infrastructure and technology needed in place,” says Vazirani.
“It is an extra effort to stay sustainable, but if we want to avoid ecological disasters, we must prioritize the planet and people above short-term financial gains.”
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