By Tania Asnes

When Rachelle married Ed, she didn't know she was promising herself to not only the wedded life but also the green life. You may be familiar already with ways to tie the knot while staying faithful to the planet. There are earth-friendly wedding dresses, organically grown flowers, recycled-paper invitations, green gift registries, and the list goes on. Did you know that your choice of engagement and wedding rings could also reduce your impact on the environment?

What's un-green about the standard gold and diamond rings that grace so many of our fingers? Like many of the metals and gemstones used in making jewelry, gold and diamonds are mined in ways that deplete and pollute natural resources. Often, the phrase "diamonds are forever" is all too true; the environmental impact of mining can linger long after operations cease as toxins remain in the environment and cause lasting changes. When buying rings, there is also a human aspect to consider. Many of the large-scale mining operations that unearth metal and gemstones exploit their workers and employ child laborers. What's more, in recent years, conflict or blood diamonds have come to public attention for their role in funding terrorist operations through illegal sales. Unfortunately, trends that threaten the safety of people and the environment are pervasive in the jewelry industry. So, shall we hang our heads and let our betrotheds' fingers go unadorned? Hardly; after all, we have the luxury of options.

Ten years ago, eco-friendly engagement and wedding rings were diamonds in the rough, but today there is a range of companies to consider when choosing yours. One favorite that has been featured frequently on TreeHugger is GreenKarat. Not only does the company offer tasteful jewelry made out of recycled metals and created or recycled gems, it will also melt your old gold down: to make new pieces for you, as a way to earn you store credit, or as a way to donate to green charitable organizations. GreenKarat also provides you with a summary of the green practices and materials used in your ring, which you can access on its Green Assay website. Another company to consider is Wiser Jewelry, the brainchild of jeweler Steve Wiser. Steve uses only post-industrial metals in his unique jewelry and tries to use created gems and pearls that are harvested or cultured in sustainable ways. He also shoots for the green standard in his jewelry-making processes, which includes using gentler-than-usual cleaning and finishing agents and switching his studio over to solar power. If you are a hands-on bride or groom and happen to be in New York or San Francisco, you can even make your own wedding and engagement rings under the guidance of New York Wedding Ring's jewelers. While the company uses various metals, not all of them green, it offers eco-gold and recycled platinum and palladium for the same price.

Another green way to make a diamond your best friend is to go vintage. If there's a family heirloom at your disposal, you?ve got it made. If not, you have plenty of alternatives. The pre-owned rings you'll find for sale probably will not have been made in a green way. Still, you'll be bypassing the part of the jewelry industry that continues exploitative practices. If the word vintage makes you envision musty, outdated hats and gaudy costume earrings, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Antique jewelry shops tend to be stocked with elegant pieces that would cost you and arm and a leg new. Older jewelry tends to be well made and feature intricate designs that you won't find in a conventional store. Another good bet is the trusty old pawnshop. Though typically you can't make much money hocking your jewelry, you can scoop up some unbelievable bargains by perusing rings other people left as collateral and never reclaimed. These rings may be newer than those at the antique shops, but they are likely to be even more affordable. One more option for pre-owned rings is eBay; each day, thousands of people list vintage jewelry online, including beautiful wedding and engagement rings. The catch: you won't be able to see your ring in person ahead of time and some buyers do not take returns, so asks questions liberally and bid carefully.

When strangers admire your ring finger later on, you can smile and tell them that you didn't divorce your green habits to have the perfect white wedding.