How to Create a "Green" Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Ensure All Rites of Passage Are Kind to the Environment

Spirituality is When Learning Leads to Meaningful Action

The environmental impact of your rite of passage, celebration and even your thank you notes is worthy of serious consideration since there are lots of ways to have a wonderful bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah while also being gentle on the environment. Here's how:

o Quantity: Holding more intimate events reduces not only numbers and costs but degree of impact on the environment.

o Flowers: Few cut flowers are grown in environmentally-friendly ways. Would you be willing to seek out and patronize organic flower farmers or friends’ organic gardens? Alternatively, consider potted plants – greens that are rooted and growing contribute oxygen and recycle carbon dioxide; they are natural air purifiers. Be aware of people who have pollen allergies; consider silk flowers from a non-labor-exploitive setting.

It is customary to give a charitable gift to a congregation or other caring organization as part of your own life-cycle event spiritual practice. Consider obtaining large plants or bushes for the sanctuary or chapel from a florist or nursery and arranging for them to be maintained for at least a year. Think how many will enjoy a greater quality of experience during the year to come because of your gift!

o Candles: Avoid petroleum-based products; they are “tapping out” our resources. Beeswax candles are a great renewable-resource choice. Select containers that are made of recyclable materials, or else the land-fill will retain memories of your event for rueful generations to come.

o Paper Products: Ask caterers and printers to make sure their bids are for recyclable and recycled paper products. E-vites are catching on (and track responses automatically). When you use them, others will think well, if s/he’s doing that, then it’s fine for us to save trees and not go to paper for our invitations! Be an ecological trend-setter; it’s a mitzvah.

o Waste Disposal: Ask whether caterers and facilities separate and recycle waste. Let them know you can’t use them if they don’t do this – only a few families have to say this before a facility will change its practices rather than lose business. Is the site a congregation? Tell them you’ll purchase recycling bins for them if they promise to use them. Take if to the board level if necessary. You are a leader now. What a mitzvah!

o Leftovers: Make sure before signing a contract and giving a deposit that the facility and caterer (if you are using one) has an agreement with a charity to pick up or accept delivery of leftovers. Insist or walk. Tell your friends which vendors you use and why. Let the vendors’ ethical actions speak through you, find your prophetic voice, don’t give in to the status quo.

o Materials: Avoid craft foams for centerpieces and cups; these release toxins during production and when unwrapped. 100% recycled paper napkins are readily available. If the packaging of a particular product is not recyclable or bio-degradable, ask the vendor to find an alternative. There are also bio-degradable trash bags, utensils, and disposable china-ware available. Best is using real dishes and bio-degradable soap for washing them. Going pot luck? Appoint a volunteer recycling coordinator to be part of the clean-up team. Consider projecting poems, menus, and songs, onto screens, walls and ceilings rather than giving out paper copies to your guests.

o Produce: Plan a menu that includes as many locally grown and produced in-season ingredients as possible. Don’t serve things that are verging on extinction or from over-fished regions or use vendors who do not protect endangered species.

o Ethics: Serve meat and eggs from sources known to cruelty-free. Ask about labor practices and require bids based on fair trade practices for items such as fruit, coffee, and chocolates. Kosher organics, including wines, are now a growth industry. Ask and you will find a wide range of amazing products available.

o Fuel Consumption: Holding a ritual and reception in the same building eliminates the fuel consumed driving between venues. A bus or carpooling is next best. Ceremonies held in warm but not hot temperatures won’t use much fuel for air conditioning or heat. Consider a carbon footprint offset donation to an environmental charity to compensate for what you use if your event takes place in an extra-hot, cold or distant locale. Ask vendors to donate as well. Since you’re not asking for yourself, the asking will be easier.

o Rent vs. Buy: Often, renting tables, chairs, and props costs as much if not more than buying in bulk. Check with area schools, camps, and other non-profits to see if they are short on some of the things you could buy in bulk and donate to them (with the donations being tax-deductible in United States, by the way.) Win, win.

o Inspire: Consider setting up workshops in congregations and organizations to discuss creating environmentally friendly rites of passage and demonstrate products. Offer a carbon footprint analysis form (available on Internet) to everyone and give a prize for the life cycle event held on-site each year that creates the smallest carbon debt.

Here is a sacred phrase to say before heading out to speak about these issues with family and vendors, the English interpretation uses poetic license:

Hineini--Here am I

mukhan u’m’zuman (m)--ready and invited ("called")--mukhana u’m’zumenet (f)

l’kayem et mitzvot ha-borai-- to enact the mitzvah given of my creator

l’tah-ken et ha-olam, to actively attend to the world’s resources

kawl y’mei ha-yai. all the days of my life.

The extra time it takes to engage with vendors and others on these issues can educate and inspire them, influencing hundreds or thousands more events after yours. Well, now you are a leader and an activist! May you be blessed with persistence, courage and reactions to your efforts that surprise and delight you by the strong measure of support they call out in others.