Students filing into the Big House to receive their diplomas at this year’s Spring Commencement will receive one final lesson from the University — go green.

Some graduates will be dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles at commencement on April 30 as part of a collaborative initiative between the University administration and students in a Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute course. About 35 percent of graduates will don the recycled gowns, according to a recent Graham Institute press release.

Though the option to wear recycled gowns has been available for the past two years, the number purchased has significantly increased this year. Mike Shriberg, who teaches the course “Sustainability in the Campus” which is sponsoring the program, said the change was prompted by a greater interest in sustainability on the part of the University administration.

“I think what you’ve got right now is some strong interest from the folks who run commencement, and (they are) really looking at the entire ceremony and the weekend that surrounds it and looking at opportunities for improving environmental performance,” Shriberg said.

The gowns are made of 100-percent recycled plastic bottles, according to Oak Hall Cap and Gown — the company that makes the garments. Major bookstores on campus including Barnes & Noble, Ulrich’s and Michigan Book and Supply have been selling the recycled gowns in the last few weeks.

Students in Shriberg’s class considered the impact of resources used at large University events before creating plans for an environmentally friendly graduation. The students researched green initiatives at other universities, analyzed standard commencement practices and then focused on areas in which the University could best conserve resources.

“They started by looking at the entire commencement exercise, everything from people getting here, to what happens in the stadium, to all the auxiliary events,” Shriberg said.

While planning the changes, students considered factors such as cost of the adjustments, environmental impact and the probability of success. The students presented their ideas to administrators who worked with the students after choosing which of their proposed changes they wanted to implement.

To promote the sustainability effort, the Program in the Environment is offering free recycled gowns to students graduating with a PITE degree, according to Shriberg. Though the students may use the gowns at no cost, they must return the gowns after commencement so they can be reused next year.

In addition to sustainable gowns, Shriberg said this year’s Spring Commencement will save about 840,000 sheets of paper due to a different program design. The event will also feature more vegetarian food choices, and tips for environmentally friendly lifestyles will be projected on the Big House scoreboards to incorporate sustainability education into the event.

Shriberg’s course is part of a sustainability initiative launched by University President Mary Sue Coleman in October 2009 to encourage campus community members to be more environmentally conscious.

“We’re creating an increased culture of sustainability on campus in all kinds of ways — everything from offerings in the curriculum to how the University operates,” Shriberg said. “So having a more green commencement ceremony is just one way of demonstrating this commitment that we’re seeing increasingly and encouragingly pervading the entire campus.”

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