Knowing that her wedding would have a big environmental impact if she didn’t do anything about it, Kate Harrison worked hard to find green services for her eco-friendly wedding. But the experience took way too much time and was full of frustration. Determined to make it easier for future brides to plan a stunning, sustainable wedding, this green entrepreneur wrote a book about her experience and founded The Green Bride Guide, a website to promote green weddings to eco-conscious consumers in the US.
In a nutshell, can you describe what Green Bride Guide is all about?
There are 2.2 million weddings a year in the United States, each producing an average of 400-600 lbs of garbage and 63 tons of CO2. Our mission is offer sustainable alternatives and to help couples connect with credible, eco-friendly companies and products for every aspect of their wedding.
Who is your target consumer and how are they unique compared to the average consumer?
Our customers are engaged eco-conscious couples looking to include one or more green elements in their events. This year, according to David’s Bridal, 46% of couples getting married fall into this category.
What’s the most challenging thing about planning a green wedding and how do you help your clients overcome that challenge?
Because many of the vendors are small companies that operate locally, you cannot just Google them, and they are extremely hard to find. It was actually the frustration I felt as a bride trying to find green products and services for my own wedding that led me to write The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-friendly Wedding on Any Budget book and to launch www.greenbrideguide.com to begin with.
The site brings all of the resources together in once place, and offers advice and suggestions for making simple green substitutions, no matter what part of the country you are in or which vendors you use. We also go out of our way to show that going green does not mean spending more – in fact, couples can save quite a bit of money by making smart green choices. I think this message is particularly important given the state of the economy and helps couples explain their choices to their families.
Is there a particular gap in the market you’re trying to fill?
Many of the companies we work with are small companies or individual artisans that have poor access to the market and cannot compete with the major industry players. We offer them a conglomerated marketing platform, with direct access to the couples who are most likely to use their products and services.
As I mentioned earlier, weddings are a dirty business. We help couples reduce the impact of the event across many sectors of the economy, from food and flowers to invitations and attire. Each part of the wedding offer unique opportunities to support the local green economy and to make a difference.
What is Green Bride Guide’s business model?
We have several different channels of revenue: traditional online advertising (banners, newsletters, advertorials), subscription fees to our green wedding directory, which is like a Yellow Pages for green weddings, and commissions from sales in the green wedding gift shop and registry. We also offer a four-week online Green Wedding Professional Certification course through the Wedding Planning Institute, which gives planners the tools they need and the network they need to offer their clients gorgeous, sustainable events.
How do you qualify products and service providers for inclusion in your online shopping and vendor areas?
Every business in our directory is assigned a “leaf” rating on a scale of one through five. The leaf ratings provide our shoppers with a relative indication of how green a provider’s business is. It also attempts to portray the voracity of a business’ commitment to being green and helping the environment. In order to qualify for our directory, a company must earn at least one leaf.
The Green Bride Guide Leaf Rating System depends primarily on a self-administered questionnaire that each vendor must complete on our site. The questions are divided into two sections: general business practices and industry specific practices. The general business practices are broken down into ten categories: Mission Statement, Certifications, Offerings, Kitchen, Bathroom, Office Supplies & Marketing Materials, Transportation, Energy, Conservation and Health, Garbage & Recycling, and Community.
The industry specific section is more focused. For instance, a photographer is asked a different set of questions than a baker or florist. The rating reflects where a company falls on the spectrum when compared to similar businesses. The leaf system has been constructed to accommodate large companies, independent artisans and non-profits alike.
All of the answers a vendor provides are made public on their profile, and are spot checked for accuracy. We encourage our visitors to rate and review companies, and we also allow companies to display badges on their profiles that have been issued by our green rating partners (e.g. Green America or the Fair Trade Federation).
For our gift shop and registry, every product is hand selected by our staff based on quality, manufacturing practices and materials. In each item description, visitors can find detailed information about why the product is green, where it comes from, and any certifications it has (e.g. USDA organic).
Building a website that allows both couples and vendors to get everything they need has been quite a challenge. The actual development of a site with the kind of capacities we are trying to build takes a lot of time and money. Luckily, we have found some wonderful investors and mentors to guide us on the journey and I am excited about the new features we will be rolling out this year.
Is Green Bride Guide self-funded?
The first year I funded it myself. Then I was lucky enough to win two business plan competitions (non-dilutive seed money grants) – the Sabin Environmental Venture prize at Yale and the CT Business Plan Competition, which gave me some seed money and helped me take the leap into running the company full time. Last year I raised a friends and family round with some additional angel funding and my company is currently raising a second round which will probably be a mix of angel, early-stage VC money and loans.
What methods do you use for marketing Green Bride Guide?
We buy some targeted advertising, have a Facebook fan page, and tweet – but most of our traffic comes from natural search and word of mouth referrals. We recently launched an affiliate program through Shareasale that allows companies and bloggers to promote our gift shop and registry and share in the profits (we offer a 10% commission and a 365 day cookie so they get the credit they deserve for sending couples and guests our way).
Last year we also created several green pavilions at major wedding and green shows across the country where couples could come and meet local vendors and learn about the site.
We offer a free green wedding checklist for anyone who signs up for our email list. It is a simple tool, but makes the process much easier and couples find it very helpful. Since we began offering it in a pop-up on our site, we have seen a 5x fold in email sign ups.
How do podcasts fit into your green marketing plans?
We did a number of podcasts through the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and I think these are key educational resources. We created a Listen section of the site highlighting these interviews. I would really love to do more of them, but at this time we have no specific marketing plan based around podcasting.
What do you do to minimize Green Bride Guide’s environmental footprint?
The following are some of the ways we incorporate our values into daily life at the Green Bride Guide:
Supporting Renewable Energy
Our hosting company uses 100% wind power. This website is carbon negative, which means we actually add electricity back to the grid! We also provide visitors with a carbon calculator, so they can quickly and easily calculate the carbon footprint of their event and offset it.
Brighter Planet invests the money in a diverse portfolio of projects, including tree planting and renewable energy projects. We chose them because of their outstanding reputation in the environmental community.
Most of our vendors ship in recycled materials and we offset the emissions from every shipment as well – I believe we are the first company online to offer free carbon neutral shipping.
ALL of The Green Life Guide’s paper goods are 100% recycled with as much PCW content as we can find. Our business cards and thank you cards are printed on 100% PCW recycled paper with soy inks. Whenever possible we communicate via e-mail and pay bills online to minimize waste. Our office recycles everything it can and all of our cleaning products are biodegradable, to further reduce our impact.
The book, The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-friendly Wedding on Any Budget was printed on FSC certified recycled paper. This saved 142 trees, 99 million BTUs, 51,862 gallons of water, 12,495 lbs of greenhouse gases and 6,660 pounds of solid waste.
We recently renovated our office space in New Haven. We installed recycled carpeting, used VOCs-free paint, bought CFLs, and furnished the space with reclaimed and repurposed furniture.
To help decrease the impact of these events, we have created a recycling & donation page, where couples can find everything from local thrift store listings to how to donate their gowns for breast cancer research. We also offer free resources to vendors with tips and tricks on how to green their own companies (available on our homepage).
I think the key thing I have learned (and this applies to all entrepreneurs, not just green ones) is that everything takes much longer than you expect and costs more. One of my advisers told me that when dealing with web development you should double the number and change the unit – so 2 weeks becomes 4 months. It is a hard reality, but the upside is it happens to everyone evenly, so your competition will face the same challenges.
That said, I often wish I could push a magic button and have the site match my vision for it instantaneously. There are so many things I would like to do and so many partnerships I would like to be able to act on, but we just don’t have the capacity to do them all at this point. Making choices and setting priorities is probably the hardest part of my job.