Graduation Goes Green in Texas

Apr 22, 2010 8:00am

ABC News on Campus reporter Allison Ignacio blogs: As University of Texas students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas this year, they’ll be saving 23 water bottles from landfills just by donning their cap and gown.
GreenWeaver graduation regalia are being introduced to graduates at several universities nationwide this year as part of the growing movement to make graduation ceremonies more eco-friendly.
Several universities have expanded the green trend to other parts of their commencement — Michigan State University is printing diplomas and graduation programs on recycled paper in addition to using recycled caps and gowns. Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas will be using artificial flowers to decorate the stage that graduates will walk across and Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania is offering biodegradable robes that will easily degrade after one wear. Now, the University of Texas in Austin will become the largest university in the state of Texas to use recycled caps and gowns.
The eco-friendly caps and gowns provide students with an easy opportunity to help save the environment. “In general, the caps and gowns are a one-time-use-only thing,” said Kristen Hilbert, University Coop Graduation and Online Manager at the University of Texas. “You don’t graduate again and again and again. So it seemed to me that it’s kind of wasteful.” Hilbert had been shopping around for green products to sell at the UT Coop for a few years. When she found GreenWeaver robes, she jumped at the chance to order them for all 2010 graduates. “In the industry, eco-friendly options are definitely a growing trend, especially in the retail industry,” Hilbert said. “They’re [GreenWeaver caps and gowns] are actually a lot nicer fabric quality than our previous gowns.”
There’s only one downfall to the robes. “You can’t iron them,” warned Hilbert. “But similarly on the polyester gowns you can’t iron those as well so there’s really no difference in quality.” Students can steam the gowns in the event of wrinkling.  GreenWeaver caps and gowns are made completely of 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. From a distance, the recycled caps and gowns look the same as the non-recycled ones. But a closer look shows a clear difference in the fabric — the GreenWeaver robes appear darker and lay smoother then the shinier polyester robes.
Oak Hall Cap and Gown, an academic apparel manufacturer based in Roanoke, Virginia, introduced the line in 2009 but this May will be the first spring commencement during which students will be able to purchase the green graduation gear. The fabric for the caps and gowns is fashioned from molten plastic pellets. “In one year of adopting these we’ll keep 200,000 water bottles out of the landfill,” said Hilbert. “That’s super big to me. That’s a massive quantity and that’s something that the students don’t even have to think about! It’s not a choice it’s going to be automatically done.”
The new green graduation caps and gowns run about $5 more than the polyester graduation caps and gowns offered by the Coop in 2009. Hilbert says that price was her biggest concern when choosing to adopt the greener option. “Because the green stuff is always more expensive on the market that was our first question,” she said.  “We actually negotiated with Oak Hall our regalia vendor to give us a deep discount on these things so that we can retail them for around the same price as last year. It’s just a slight increase from last year so we plan on keeping these forever.”
But some students are frustrated at the lack of options being offered by the Coop for graduation. The GreenWeaver caps and gowns are the only regalia being sold by the university.
Lauren Skjott is a senior at the University of Texas graduating with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She says that although the GreenWeaver gowns are contributing to a good cause, the look and feel of the regalia just isn’t what she expected.
“The look is all right,” Skjott said. “Not as shiny as you would think for recycled fabric. The fabric does feel cheap though.”
Skjott said that on a day as special as college graduation, students should be given the choice to look their best.
“I think that the coop should give the students a choice on which robe they want to wear for their own graduation,” she said. “If the robes were the same price or looked the same it would be fair to not give them a choice, but that's not the case. Some people care more about looking good on their important day.”
But other students said the gowns offer an easier alternative to recycling.
“We get to help a small part of the environment without actually having to do any work,” said Hunter Lehrman, a senior at UT. “By wearing the gowns, we’re going to go ahead and knock out 23 water bottles that would be otherwise disposed and hurt the environment whereas we get to wear it and keep it forever and not have to worry about any eco-impacts.”
Lehrman says he understands how the green gowns price and look could be a turnoff for some students but he’s trying to keep the bigger picture in mind. “The way I see it I’ve been waiting 23 years to graduate on that day and one gown’s not going to ruin that for me.”
In addition to the green graduation caps and gowns, the University of Texas is also offering eco-friendly diploma frames at a discounted rate and reusable tote bags for students to haul their graduation gear away in.
Although some students have minor issues with the robes, Hilbert says that most don’t even notice the difference. “In general, the students that come in are not thinking about that kind of thing,” said Hilbert. “They’re thinking ‘Ah! I'm graduating what am I going to do next?’”

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