Graham Sustainability Institute

Green Commencement Practices a Top Priority in '11

Monday, April 4, 2011

U-M colors are maize and blue but many of this year’s graduates will be wearing "green" at Spring Commencement.

An estimated 35 percent of graduates taking the stage for the 10 a.m. April 30 ceremony will wear gowns that have been recycled from milk cartons.

The university has for the past two years offered the option of graduation gowns made from recyclables. “Now it’s becoming mainstream,” says Julie Ashley, public events producer with the Office of University and Development Events.

While the increasing number of gowns made from recyclables may be the most striking green practice at this year’s ceremony, other innovative practices also are being recommended for possible implementation by students in the class Sustainability & the Campus. They include downsized commencement programs, more sustainable food options from vendors and presenting pro-sustainability tips on the scoreboard as commencement guests take their seats in Michigan Stadium.

“President Coleman made a major commitment to sustainability and it is important that a marquis event for U-M reflects that commitment,” says Mike Shriberg, instructor of the Sustainability & the Campus class offered through the Program in the Environment in the LSA and the Residential College, and cosponsored by the Graham Sustainability Institute.

“This is the first year we really made it a forefront project,” says Lauren Eckert, events manager with the Office of University and Development Events. “We’re using Spring Commencement as a flagship event to try green innovations.”

While announcing in October 2009 a multifaceted initiative to elevate the university’s commitment to sustainability in teaching, research and operations, Coleman said the university aims to educate students who will take their place in society as leaders and citizens who are informed, responsible advocates for a sustainable world.

The Sustainability & the Campus course is a key part of the initiative. Shriberg says the class has grown to include nearly 90 students per year working on 15-20 projects; one involves greening Spring Commencement initiatives. Since January the students have been reviewing all commencement activities, seeking to identify opportunities to pursue green initiatives.

“They’ve been analyzing how resources — such as food, energy and waste — flow through the commencement weekend, looking for leverage points to reduce or eliminate environmental impacts. They’ve come up with a list of ideas that we’re vetting right now,” Shriberg says.

“Some of the simplest ideas we’ve come up with are reducing the number of blank pages and the amount of empty space in the programs, saving a lot of paper in the process; ordering vegetarian food for the event, saving both money and resources like water, fertilizer and CO2-producing fuels; and producing a How to be a Green Graduate & Commencement Guest guide for the commencement website,” says Melanie Singh, an LSA senior from Iron Mountain.

The group has proposed ensuring that recycling stations at the stadium are well marked so people will know all of the things they can recycle, and is considering placing students at each station to answer questions, Singh says.

The students will present their recommendations at 2:30 p.m. April 14 in Dennison 296, as one of the team presentations from the Sustainability & the Campus project groups.

Even the smallest proposals are important, Eckert says, as they help to pursue the university’s sustainability goals.

Click here for a related story published in the Michigan Daily (April 11, 2011)