Talking Sustainable Wedding Décor with Owen Lavin

Owen Lavin of Little Lillies Floral Sculptures is back on the blog with us, this time discussing sustainable wedding décor.

1. What does sustainability in your industry mean to you?

At last!! I’m so glad this is being talked about. Sadly, we all continue to do what we do until we get a little education on the impact it’s having on the environment… I wish this had been raised at least 20 years ago.

Thinking back to 1999, when I had a fruit and veg shop called Little Tomato’s, I had a sign that said “mixed salad without the plastic bag” and would choose three lettuce to sell together for 59p. Even back then, I just couldn’t understand why you would pay more for less salad in a plastic bag! Subconsciously I might have known plastic would one day be so bad for the environment… To me, sustainability means being ahead of the curve and sometimes having the drive to try something new.


2. The idea of decorating a wedding setting sustainably could be considered harder work and more costly to some – do you agree?

It’s not true in all cases. In 2001 for example, I suddenly became very aware that the flower industry was the opposite of sustainable; not only were products for floristry mechanics all made of plastic, but the way flowers were transported was pretty bad too – well, bad in hindsight, but sustainability just wasn’t talked about back then. I feel fortunate to have been the type of person to always challenge products. I was the guy that wouldn’t design with floral foam just to prove I could! A typical young boy, being told I couldn’t do something would only make me want to do it more. I used to think I preferred my flowers designed out of the vase rather than in them – back then, we didn’t even realise how bad floral foam was, it just seemed a good alternative to plastic. It’s lovely to see florists now going back to flower arranging rather than floristry. It’s no harder if you have the passion, drive and sometimes courage to do it.

On the costs – I believe it is more cost-effective to create a structure that can be used again and again. Just adding different flowers to the structure for weddings and events will always, in the end, save time and money. We re-use our arch structure and plinths, amongst other things, simply switching up the flowers.

3. When a couple decides to go with a more eco-conscious wedding, what’s the best piece of advice you would give them?

I would advise them to do their homework. And I mean this in the best possible way – just because something is described as ‘local’, that doesn’t always translate to more eco-friendly. Not only from the travel perspective, but if you have a UK rose grower who, for example, used glyphosate to clear their field, and other pesticides to keep the bugs off, this is 50 x worse for the environment than a flying dutchman delivering flowers from the Netherlands. You will be surprised at some of the technology Dutch lorries have on emissions, and have had for years before the UK even started to think about such technologies.


4. Is there anything to be wary of when choosing sustainable wedding décor?

Again, really think about the production of the products you are using, or your supplier is using. We should all know plastic is bad, and although I am guilty of using some in my Christmas décor, I do justify that by reminding myself that some of my garlands and trees are 16 years old. There are also some great faux flowers for hire that would be considered eco-friendly! Mostly, it’s the large plastic trees that sadden me, and would be a big no for a Christmas or winter wedding. Anyone who listens to Radiohead will agree having one down a wedding aisle is the last thing you should be doing!

There are two sides to the argument of course; reusing or hiring can be better for the environment in the long term, but, if you are a true eco-warrior, the production of plastic products at all should be thought through before you make the decision to use any at your wedding.

5. Do you have any go-to local suppliers with sustainable practices at heart?

Now this is a tricky one, as I’ve said previously, I am quite torn between ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’. I touched on the fact that local sometimes doesn’t equal more sustainable, and will re-emphasise that some local growers use pesticides such as glyphosate, which is banned in a lot of countries, but is used for clearing in the UK despite being bad for the environment and to humans.

For 10 years, I used a very local Christmas tree provider who was fantastic. They would cut and open the canopy to the forest floor for new growth, which is great. However, they were also cutting down 20 ft trees, which just didn’t sit well with me. After looking into Christmas tree farms a little more, I found a grower in the midlands who plants two trees for every one cut down, but more importantly, their trees swallow 12,000 lbs of CO2 per acre, proving they are the better option even with the miles added on for delivery.

Whilst we all want to shop local, it is worth checking out sustainability first. Another example where I have chosen non-local is where I source my roses – my rose grower is Porta Nova, based in the Netherlands. They are not local, but they do generate their own heat and electricity for production.

I will almost always choose Dutch growers over local, as they are so far ahead with sustainability than the UK. There are also Ecuadorian growers who are very sustainable, and whilst they are a little further on the miles, they don’t grow their flowers in tunnels!

6. What extra steps do you take to be more sustainable in your business?

Some readers may be asking “how can this guy be discussing being eco-friendly… he drives a Land Rover Defender!”

Whilst I do put an additive in my fuel to keep the emissions down, I recognise it’s probably still not good enough. But, as long as we are doing something; reusing, recycling, and choosing other suppliers that are doing their bit too, we are doing better sustainably – and that has always been a part of the Little Lillies ethos.

I will continue to do the best I can to have less impact on the environment. One area I am currently looking at is paper use; I have always used recycled paper but I know the process is still very energy-consuming, so now I am sourcing all my paper through the Woodland Trust. Usually the “next step” can be found just by digging a little deeper to make better and more informed choices.

7. What are some of your favourite eco-friendly trends or designs you’ve seen, created or been inspired by this year?

It’s not necessarily inspiration – but – I think the fact all florists are going back to flower arranging designs we saw in the 70s is brilliant! A lot can be learnt from this – modular moon gates and flower troughs that are designed to axe the floral foam were great innovations for the industry. It also makes floral foam companies think about more eco-friendly foam, which is the right way forward.


8. Have any sustainable trends influenced your décor recently?

At Little Lillies, we are more about flower arranging and the artistic side of floristry, so trends involving more eco-friendly flower foam for example, wouldn’t really influence us. But, when I purchased the Exclusively Weddings business, which is proper old school floristry, floral foam was and is still a must! Chicken wire can be used in smaller weddings, but the rising trend of eco-friendly foam has been of use to us for bigger weddings. We re-use the bases the foam sits in, which is a step forward too.

Looking for a New Forest wedding venue to host the wedding of your dreams, sustainably? Careys Manor Hotel is a wedding venue in Hampshire with sustainable practices at its heart. Whether you’re looking for an intimate wedding with an eco-friendly edge, or a larger celebration with sustainable efforts filtering right through to the gorgeous rooms your overnight guests will be staying in, this New Forest wedding venue hotel and spa is a fantastic choice.

Photography in this blog is a small snippet of the fantastic work Little Lillies have done at Careys Manor for our weddings. If you love what you see, check out our wedding packages and deals, and Owen could be creating amazing displays for your big day!