Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eco-Friendly Entertaining

Get off on the right foot - First thing's first: the invites. Make sure you use invites made from recycled paper. Contrary to ecologically-challenged perceptions, recycled paper can look and feel just like high grade paper, but minus the guilty conscience. If ordering them from a professional, ask whether they use recycled paper.

Faux Flowers - Gone are the days of deplorable fake flowers you could spot a mile away - usually collecting dust in some over-crowded knick-knack filled nook and cranny in your grandmother's house. These days, if you know where to look, fake flowers can pass for the real thing.

Aside from standard silk flowers (which are still using silk worms), there's the option of clay flowers. Deco Clay flowers are absolutely gorgeous and look just like the real thing - except that they cost a fraction of the price, are environmentally safe, and last forever.

The even better upside is they're reusable so you'll save money in the long run, plus you're not contributing to flower butchery nor the very unsustainable flower industry, which has to shower flowers with pesticides - a factor that's damaging to both you and the environment.

However, if faux is not your thing, then get flowers from the local farmers market. You can even get great arrangements and settings out of potted plants and flowers. A personal favorite is the clever use of moss as decorative center pieces. Moss is not only cheap, sustainable, and uber chic, but it can also be planted afterwards with next to no effort.

Lighting and Décor - One big aspect of party planning is how the party will look. You want your guests to be dazzled, "oohs and ahhs" should be pouring out, compliments gushing.

When done right, the atmosphere that lighting and decorations can create will provoke that response. But rather than choosing blazing electric lights to illuminate the event, try choose more environmentally friendly lighting. Candles are the perfect choice, as they are both lovely and economical - not to mention they don't require any energy to run.

As for the décor, you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars when home made paper goods will be far cheaper and far more interesting. Consider making paper mobiles, such as the popular origami crane mobiles. You can hang them lined up on a string, as a collective, or individually from just about anywhere. You can even use left over ones as decoration pieces on the dinner table - plus making them out of scrap paper makes good use out of something that was just going in the bin anyway.

Eco-Friendly Wine - Because it's not just about what you're using, but what you're consuming, try switching out your wine for one that is more Earth friendly. There are three categories of eco-friendly wines: sustainable, organic, and biodynamic.

"Sustainable" means that grapes were grown with few to no chemical, fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. This method nurtures the soil naturally, whereas "organic" wines are grown in organically certified vineyards and are made without added sulfites.

On the other hand, "biodynamic" winemaking goes way beyond organics. With biodynamic, the farm is viewed as a living system. The soil is treated with complex compost preparations (of course without chemicals or pesticides), including quartz, yarrow flowers, stinging nettle, and more.

Biodynamic winemakers claim to have noted stronger, clearer, more vibrant tastes in their wines, as taste test conducted by Fortune confirmed. Now all you have to do switch out bulky refrigerators for portable wine coolers, an energy efficient way to chill your wine.

Sustainable Serving - If you consider the glasses, dishes, knives, forks, bowls, and all the other little items used to create a smash hit setting, you quickly start to realize how much goes into entertaining.

In order to host not only your guests, but a more eco-friendly lifestyle, consider purchasing tableware made out of recycled materials. You don't even have to trade in your luxe taste. In a green-conscious corporate world, companies across the board are all offering unique yet refined dining options, including dishes made out of recycled glass.

Target, for example, has recycled glass goblets great for a Sunday brunch; whereas Macy's cobalt blue stemless wineglasses offer an element of sophistication. These stunning little gems, made with 30% recycled glass, are a striking visual for an evening dinner.

However, if you're opting for something even more sustainable, try compostable cornware tableware, biodegradable sugarcane plates, or even biodegradable bambooware. These serving alternatives are not only green but far cheaper than buying 50 sets of "real" dishes to accommodate larger gatherings. On the other hand, if you insist on using "real dishes", then I suggest using what you have rather than buying more. If done right, mixing and matching dishes (and even seating) can offer an eccentric look that's sure to catch your guests' eyes.

Set the Stage - The real drama at any party is at the dinner table. The visual centerpiece of the evening should reflect the mood you want to create. Whatever your choice, make sure that you set your table using eco-friendly items. In addition to naturally available plants and flowers, as well as sustainable dishes, you can get organic table cloths, runners, and napkins; you can even

make sure the lamp shades and curtains are eco-wary items. Setting the stage doesn't have to be limited to just the table - your whole environment can reflect your eco-chic taste.

Ice Goes Eco - There's no point in wasting time, gas, paper and plastic by going to the store to purchase ice for your party. Rather, a sleek compact portable ice maker will quickly plunk down cube upon cube to keep drinks nice and cool. Plus, nothing kills a party like someone announcing "We're out of ice."

Leave Them Wide-Eyed and Wondered - One of the most important elements of any party, large or small, is how your guests feel when they leave. Out of the many ways to send your guests off, the most beautiful and memorable has to be a sky lantern send off.

Lanterns (lights) are very popular in South Asian and Asian cultures, where lights represent both spirituality and hope. It's a spirited feeling to stand there gathered with friends, lighting and releasing lanterns that ascend as golden orbs set against a dark night's sky.

Made out of recycled paper and bamboo, sky lanterns are also eco-friendly. For added measure, have your guests write messages on each lantern before sending them off.

Hostess Gifts - And any chic eco-hostess knows to lead by example even when attending other parties. When attending another bash, swap out your normal hostess gift for one that is earth-friendly. The same goes for others who obey the rule of "do not go empty handed" - simply swap out the routine bouquet of flowers or dessert with something eco-chic that shows of your cleverness and commitment to the environment.

There are a ton of options for sustainable gifts. There's even a growing trend of green toys if it's a child's birthday you happen to be attending.

But more importantly, there's no reason to give green gifts just as a hostess gift; swap out Christmas and birthday presents for the same.

But above all, here's the simplest rule for eco-entertaining: "Use what you have, and borrow what you don't", and remember that at the end of the day, a great party is about who you're with and not what you have.

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