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Credit: Claudia Newell

I was at a baby shower the other weekend with a gift table that would put Christmas morning to shame. On most gifts, the wrapping paper was Martha quality, but within seconds, the offerings were stripped bare, naked to the scrutiny of 40 eager eyes and one gracious mother to be.

By the end of the day we had accumulated enough discarded designer wrapping to fill an entire garbage bag, and it was headed straight for the dump. It was clear that what was inside the packages was far more exciting than what they were dressed up in, and I wondered whether people would be willing to axe the wrap altogether. And furthermore, are we ready to enter the era of eco-taining?

As a green event planner, looking for alternatives is the best part of my job. I look for eco-friendly substitutions to familiar practices and ultimately I try to make events and parties tread as lightly
on the Earth as possible. So when I see a sea of paper primed for disposal, my wheels get turning.
Most of green planning is about creativity, imagination and good old common sense, so if you’re the kind of person who likes to throw a party, this should be second nature.

Wrapping paper: the original sin
Kicking your paper habit is a small change that garners big results, and I like to gently suggest that my guests leave the paper behind. I like to give my gifts in reusable shopping bags. There are definitely some stylish ones on the market, and they double as bonus gifts. My favourite bag is by Solegear Design. Solegear bags are made from hemp and bamboo fibres, are completely biodegradable and can be composted in any backyard or commercial composter at the end of their life cycle. They are also locally produced, making them the most sustainable shopping bag that I’ve found to date. (They’re available at www.solegear.ca.)

I recently came across the ultra stylish art of furoshiki, a funky Japanese way of using cloth as gift wrap. Google this origami-meets-fabric art, and you’ll come across loads of sites offering direction and diagrams to get you started. Not only is the wrapping reusable, but if you have any old sheets, pillow cases, T-shirts or material lying around the house, it’s a great way to recycle them.

Invitations: saving the world one party at a time
I’m going to annoy a lot of traditionalists here and say ditch the paper invites. In the world of Internet-for-idiots, my inability to draw a stick figure can be transformed into graphic design decadence faster than you can click “send.” Applications like those offered at www.e-vite.com allow you to design and manage your entire RSVP list, including the ability to take addresses from your current email program to save you from typing them in manually. It’s easy, environmentally friendly and free.

If you must use physical invitations, then definitely make sure that the paper stock is 100-per-cent-post-consumer recycled. Avalon Office in Kitsilano and Eastside Stationery on Commercial Drive both carry 100-per-cent-post-consumer recycled stationery.

Seed paper is a creative way to keep the party alive – literally. Seed paper is a blend of seed and post-consumer-content paper, and can be planted to produce wildflowers. You can order an array of seed invitations from www.botanicalpaperworks.com, or locally you can buy seeded postcards at www.fairware.ca.

Lighting
Lighting is a teetotaller’s beer goggles; it has the ability to make everybody look good and significantly contributes to the mood of the party. You can reduce your party’s footprint by considering when and how you light your party.

If you’re entertaining outside of the house and looking at rental spots, be sure to pay attention to the natural lighting that the venue provides. For example, many hotel ballrooms are windowless and require indoor lighting, so even if your event is during the day, you will be wasting electricity that could otherwise be saved by choosing a venue with windows. Even the position of the venue in relation to the sun can play a part in saving energy by keeping the room cool or heating it up, depending on the time of day that you choose to celebrate.

If you are planning to fete at night, consider using candles; their soft glow creates an intimate feel whether it’s a party for two or 20. But not all candles were created equal. Did you know that paraffin candles (the most common type) are as dangerous to your lungs as second-hand smoking? Paraffin is a waste product of the petroleum industry and releases carcinogenic toxins when it burns.

You’re far better off choosing one of the many natural alternatives on the market. Soy candles are non-toxic, biodegradable and made from a renewable resource. I love Kelowna-based Granville Island Candles, which are sold in Capers Community Markets throughout the city. Natural beeswax candles are also a great option, and though they can be a little more expensive, they tend to last twice as long as soy and produce a beautiful sweet scent. Choices Markets always have a fully stocked array whenever I pop by.

Gift ideas
Showcase your imagination when you give services, instead of tangible gifts. Vancouver-based The Art of Organizing (www.theartoforganizing.ca) offers gift certificates for professional organizing services, and spa and massage gift certificates are always a hit.

Local wine is a consumable gift that leaves a minimal environmental footprint, and there is a growing array of local and organic wines available in the city. I love Lotusland Vineyards vintages, and its vineyard is in Abbotsford (www.lotuslandvineyards.com).

As for clothes, I’m kookoo for Oqoqo; it sells designer duds made from luxurious soy and bamboo blends. HT Naturals on Venables also has a great selection of natural clothing, as does High End on West Fourth Ave. (They also carry organic cotton jeans, in case you’re gifting for yourself.)

Need Inspiration? Dream Designs on Commercial offers a dazzling array of sustainable gift choices, and if all else fails, hit your local bookstore for a copy of Ecoholic: When You’re Addicted to the Planet.

Catering: keep it local
Foie gras? Mais non! Food is a great way to get down with the planet. If you’re doing the cooking yourself (never tried it, but I hear it’s really fun), research what’s local and in season. It seems as though there are local farmers’ markets popping up everywhere (check out www.eatlocal.org for a complete listing), and if you’re too late for the growing season, places like Granville Island, Whole Foods, Choices and Capers are sure to stock hothouse, canned and local fare.

The more vegetarian the menu, the truer you are sticking to environmental principles. If you must have an animal protein, then consider fish, but only if the fish is on the safe list. The easiest way to check this is to go to www.seachoice.org, where you can search any fish on its SeaChoice database.

I’m not going to recommend an alternative for meat, because I believe that the only alternative is not to eat it. According to a 2006 report released by the United Nations, raising animals for food “is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” If you want to learn more about how meat contributes so drastically, check out www.goveg.com. As I tell my boyfriend: I’m not judging; I’m just saying.

Green cleaning
No matter how much time you put into preventing waste, inevitably you will create some garbage at your party. If your event isn’t near a recycling facility or is in a building that doesn’t offer it on location, your best bet is to call Recycling Alternative (www.recyclingalternative.com). It will manage all of your recycling needs and will ensure that you don’t leave a trace of waste behind.

All-natural cleaners should also be on your cleanup list; not only do they work better than chemical brands in many instances, but they don’t emit headache-inducing fumes.

And if you use paper towel, make sure it’s also 100-per-cent-post-consumer recycled, and don’t forgot that it can go straight into your paper recycling bin.

Flowers: say yes to beauty, no to pesticides
It’s not surprising that many people think that flowers are a naturally eco-friendly way to decorate. Unfortunately, most flowers sold in North America are imported from as far away as China, Colombia and Ecuador. Not only does transportation produce greenhouse gases, but many countries that ship flowers use pesticides that exceed North American regulations.

Your mantra in this instance is to keep it local. I recently spoke with Jennifer Tosoff who, with partner Onyx Harris, created Amoda Custom Floral Designs (www.amoda.ca) here in Vancouver. They work their hardest to find the most eco-friendly flowers on the market and arrange them to your specifications. When they can’t source locally, they ensure that the flowers they use are VeriFlora certified, which means the flowers are produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Offsetting: the piece de resistance
Once you’ve done everything within your control to invite nature as your featured guest, the icing on the cake is to offset the remaining climate impact of your event. Offsetting ensures that you are considering the carbon emissions created by activities such as guests flying to your event, the errands you ran in your vehicle to pick up your organic cake, or the delivery truck arriving with your local flower arrangements. When you buy a carbon offset, you are balancing the act of emitting greenhouse gasses with the act of doing something about it, such as investing in a renewable energy project or protecting an endangered habitat. In essence, it’s exchanging a bad deed for a good one that protects the environment. I can’t stress enough, though, that an offsetting strategy should always be used in tandem with a strategy to reduce. Offsetters Carbon Neutral Society (www.offsetters.ca) is a Vancouver-based company with local, national and international projects on the bill.


Emily Murgatroyd is a Vancouver-based green event planner.
Visit her blog at www.greenprintevents.wordpress.com, or contact her at emily@greenprintevents.com.