Make your simcha eco-friendly


The first flurry of mazel tovs has been acknowledged with smiles all around, the date is set and now the planning begins. One way to add joy –and ease up on a beleaguered planet at the same time — is to go green for your simcha.

Abigail Miller, 12, is doing just that for her bat mitzvah, scheduled Sept. 5 at Shaare Zedek Synagogue, 829 North Hanley Road. “I have this opportunity to do something to help the environment — that’s how it all started,” says Abigail. Using recycled items, she is constructing table centerpieces and decorations, and she also is making thank-you notes from recycled paper.

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“After my bat mitzvah, I’m giving the decorations to a friend to use at hers, so I’m even recycling my recycled materials,” adds Abigail, who is in sixth grade at Solomon Schechter Day School. “This all makes me feel good. We need to find a way to help people be more aware and to show others how to help the environment.”

Abigail is the first in her congregation to propose an environmentally friendly celebration, according to Jeff Miller, executive director. A spokeswoman at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Boulevard, reports that several families have planned green simchas. One family put together an abbreviated service booklet and brought in environmentally friendly dishes and compostable utensils.

“We’re finding that a lot of people are much more sensitive to the environment in this recent economic downturn. That seems to fuel sensitivity about going green,” says Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Amoona, 324 South Mason Road. “In addition to green decorations and sharing photos on line, families here are recycling leftover food and flowers at the end of parties, taking everything to hospitals and nursing homes.”

Whether you are planning a bat mitzvah, bar mitzvah, wedding, anniversary, baby shower or other special occasion, plenty of environmentally sound options are available. “Planning a sustainable party is easy, and it’s not expensive,” says Rachel McCalla, who at age 35 is a 12-year veteran of the party planning business. “Many resources are available here.”

The owner of Lucky You Productions, McCalla promotes those local resources. “The first thing I say to clients is to keep everything local — local food, local beer, local wine,” she says. “Anything you can do locally cuts down on the carbon footprint, as the goods are not transported across the U.S.”

Many local brides are combining traditional white with touches of green. Christy Ricker, owner of All Dressed in White, reports that one client had her gown and those of her bridesmaids sewn here in St. Louis from sustainable fabrics. Some bridal shops offer “green” gowns, among them Town and Country Bridal Boutique (in Frontenac and Chesterfield) and David’s Bridal (Sunset Hills, St. Peters and Fairview Heights). Brides who prefer wearing recycled gowns may find them on, Craigslist or even eBay.

One recent bride decorated tables at her reception with soy candles surrounded by river rocks, and each guest received what appeared to be a paper butterfly that was actually a ready-to-plant seed packet of wild flowers. Another opted to forego table decorations in favor of making a donation to a conservation agency.

“One of the easiest environmentally friendly things brides can do is use recycled paper for invitations,” says Ricker. Low-toxic dyes and soy inks are available now (that’s true for all sorts of invitations), and some brides ask that guests respond by phone or e-mail, rather than on separate reply cards.

All party planners concerned about the health of the planet may buy something intangible that will help the environment and that also is likely to make a big impression on guests: Renewable energy credits (RECs) that offset the electricity used at the event.

“Any time you have a party or a special event, you use electricity that contributes to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” explains Cindy Bambini, senior AmerenUE partnership manager who oversees the company’s Pure Power volunteer renewable energy program. “As long as we can quantify how much you use – and usually, we can — you can buy RECs to offset the electricity, and that negates any carbon emissions.”

Bambini elaborates: “If you were to buy one REC — that’s 1,000 Kilowatt hours — you would prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from getting in the air. That’s the same as not driving a car for a month and a half.”

The cost is low — often as little as $15 for the entire event — and the satisfaction level is high. “Buying RECs guarantees that the electricity you use at your event was put on the grid from a renewable source, such as wind power, rather than from coal,” says Bambini.

“We print a certificate that you can frame and place next to the guest book,” adds Bambini. “That certificate sends a message to your guests that says, ‘We’re not just thinking about ourselves today – we’re being socially responsible.'”

That’s a message that resonates with more and more people, and fortunately, many manufacturers, utilities, agencies, vendors — and party planners — are making it easier than ever to be green.