Couples Need to Talk About Biggest Impact on Their Carbon Footprint

Spoiler: It’s not emailing your wedding invitations or using upcycled decorations

What’s a tree hugging couple to do? (Photo credit: Danny Bostwick)

Spring is in the air, and wedding season is right around the corner. Many couples are now in wedding planning high gear.

And smack dab in the middle of the wedding planning frenzy is Earth Day on April 22. It can serve as the perfect reminder for couples to think about the carbon footprint of their wedding.

In the midst of scary reports about climate change and a minimalism craze, sustainability is already something more couples are adding to their wedding vision boards. Eco conscious nuptial inspirations abound on Pinterest, and there are plenty of listicles floating around about how to have a green wedding.

But before you get too caught up in recycled-paper invitations, cruelty-free makeup and seasonal flowers, there’s a big part of you and your partner’s footprint you should be considering as you head into your happily-ever-after. And it isn’t talked about enough.

First comes love, then comes marriage…

You know the rest. Then comes baby in the baby carriage. Having kids — or not — is something you and your partner should discuss before you say your “I dos.”

Do you want them at all? How many? When do you want to have them?

And this conversation shouldn’t be left until the honeymoon or when Aunt Mildred brings it up at the rehearsal dinner.

Earth Day marks the two-month countdown to my own wedding and all that comes with it: We’re collecting RSVPs, finalizing menus and confirming timelines with vendors. And while we’re still months out, the baby topic has already come up.

Wedding photographers have brought up how we’ll want engagement pictures because our lives will change as our family grows. And my own mom has mentioned that not taking my fiancé’s name will make things tricky when we have kids.

People just assume that a baby is the next logical step, so it’s better to discuss whether you want kids with your partner before it unexpectedly (and often awkwardly) gets brought up.

No one is under the illusion that the kid question isn’t one of biggest choices couples make together. But few know it’s also the single largest decision to affect your lifetime carbon footprint.

“Going green” isn’t enough

In fact, deciding to have one less child has a greater impact than checking all of the boxes on a typical sustainability to-do list like recycling, eating a more plant-based diet and being more energy efficient combined. Specifically, it saves almost 60 tons of carbon emissions per year.

The average American wedding is reported to result in about 63 tons of carbon emissions and is hopefully a one-time contributor to climate change. So the decision to have a child has much bigger implications than whether you go with the compostable utensils at your reception.

Why does having kids have such a large impact? Because they need to consume resources and will grow up to be an adult who may also produce more kids. The average American eats over 200 pounds of meat per year (which is double the amount of protein that is recommended) and uses 80–100 gallons of water per day.

Despite concerns about the slowing birth rate, our country’s population is still growing. And unsustainably at that with our current levels of consumption, our country’s population grew by over 2 million people last year. People tend to think their individual decisions are a mere drop in the bucket, but those drops make ripples as their impact spreads.

Speaking from experience

Let me be clear, I’m not anti-kid. I was a camp counselor for years and babysat through graduate school. My cousin’s kids are hilarious, and my friend’s toddler joined us for wedding dress shopping (she said every dress was pretty, so she was truly a great shopping buddy).

But my partner and I decided we wouldn’t be going the parent route years before we even were engaged.

We don’t want kids, but we did include our fur child in our engagement pictures. (Photo credit: Danny Bostwick)

I don’t remember a light bulb moment when we came to the decision. It was more of an overall lack of excitement and general ambivalence about the idea of becoming parents.

Topped with knowing that more people means less space and resources for wildlife, we just felt like the stakes were too high for something we felt so-so about. We weren’t sure about having kids, but we were positive we wanted to do whatever we could to stop the disappearance of endangered species.

Let’s talk about (protected) sex

If you haven’t already, talk with your partner about what you envision for your family. You’ve already taken the first step by choosing each other, so now decide if and when you want children.

If the answer is “No” or “Not anytime soon,” make sure you both take the time to figure out what the best contraceptive is for the both of you. Knowing you have the right option and using it effectively will hopefully give you peace of mind knowing you’re not adding to your family before you’re ready.

Then you can put that mental energy back into ceremony planning, seating charts and dance party playlists.

Sarah Baillie is the Endangered Species condoms coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity.