When Michigan State University graduates walke across the stage May 7 through May 9, they showcased what can be done when a university cares about its carbon footprint. Their diplomas were made from recycled paper, caps from one 20-ounce plastic bottle and gowns from 12 20-ounce plastic bottles.
More than 58,500 plastic bottles. That’s what it took to create the fabric that robed MSU’s 2010 graduating class. The caps and gowns were green with a matte finish – instead of the shiny finish of previous gowns – and feel durable and comfortable. This move alone saved 16,500 yards of fabric.
When families and friends proudly searched commencement program booklets for their graduates’ name, they saw it printed in soy-based ink on recycled paper.
The collaborative impact of MSU's sustainable efforts at commencement was huge. MSU sent nearly 8,000 e-mail invitations and used recycled paper for token diplomas and commencement booklets, which actually started with the December commencement. All together, the changes saved 7,288 trees or 1,043 tons of wood; 2,317 million BTUs or the heating for 25 homes; 694,768 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent or 64 fewer cars on the road; 3,345,169 gallons of water or six Olympic-size swimming pools; and 208,188 pounds of solid waste or eight garbage trucks. (Savings were calculated using the Environmental Defense Fund's Paper Calculator and considers the energy saved by reducing paper.)
“At MSU, we’ve had a long-standing commitment to advancing sustainability, and through academic programs, outreach and extracurricular activities, we teach our students this is one of our fundamental values,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “A green commencement is the perfect celebration of undergraduate experiences that have been enriched by our focus on sustainability – on campus and around the world.”
And the places of celebration are just as green. All commencement facilities – Breslin Center, Auditorium and Wharton Center for Performing Arts – have recycling containers and have undergone heating and cooling system upgrades. In fact, Breslin uses demand ventilation, which measures the number of people in a space and adjusts automatically for appropriate heating and cooling levels.
Also, Wharton Center’s recent renovation incorporated low-flow toilets and sinks, and natural light in the lobby. And 50 percent of the construction waste was recycled or reused.
Shaping environmentally conscious and globally aware students is a key goal for MSU, said Jennifer Battle, assistant director of campus sustainability. With its own power plant, more than 500 buildings and the potential for more than 60,000 people on campus each day, even small changes at MSU can have a positive impact.
The change to a green commencement was seamless for students, Battle said. And since this will now be standard operating procedure for MSU commencements, future graduating classes won’t experience anything but green.
“This is just the beginning. We’re going to continue to look at commencement and other events and operations and look for opportunities to get better,” Battle said. “As products, services and technologies improve, we’ll continue to improve. And with MSU’s active research in sustainability related areas, some of those technologies may be born on campus.”
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