Green graduation educates public
The College held its first Green Graduation in 2008. What began as environmental studies major Alaina Clark’s ‘08 senior thesis, Green Graduation incorporates green practices into Senior Week and Commencement activities. After receiving approval from the Environmental Advisory Group (a group formed to advise the President on campus sustainability and environmental issues), obtaining 274 signatures from graduating seniors in 2008 and speaking with numerous other College administrators, Clark was able to make Green Graduation a reality.
In its summary of values, the College states that it “seeks to lead by example and foster morally responsible, environmental stewardship.” The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Me, Bowdoin College, Oberlin College and Duke University implemented their own green graduations, the College has subsequently embraced Green Graduation and lived up to its role as a leader in climate change mitigation. Green Graduation is consistent with the College’s goal to lead its community to long-term sustainability. “[Green Graduation is a] chance to ensure that everyone who plans the event is on the same wavelength and understands methods for being environmentally conscious,” Clark explained.
Green Graduation practices include minimizing the use of plastics, reducing electricity use, increasing composting, serving sustainable foods, using 100 percent recycled products and reducing paper use, among other initiatives. Green Graduation encourages other college departments to utilize similar practices when planning events. This year, the College will eliminate bottled water from Commencement events and water will be provided under the seat of each guest. Colby continues to be a leader among the NESCAC schools and other institutions in its use of green energy, and Green Graduation is just another step in the right direction. The administration has widely supported Green Graduation, as evidenced by the supportive announcement made by President William D. Adams in 2008. Sarah Sorenson ’11 was a member of the Green Team in 2008 and 2010 and served as its coordinator in 2009. Sorenson emphasized the commitment that the College has shown to green initiatives, “The College has truly committed to a lot of what students want to do in terms of green [initiatives] and sustainability [efforts]. In fact, they back a lot of student interests.” Sorenson suggested that the benefits of being greener outweigh the additional costs.
One of the primary goals of Green Graduation is to model green practices for those present and therefore encourage implementation of similar practices. Sorenson said, “A lot of people are really impressed by what [the College] is doing in terms of sustainability. It is a really great way to highlight what we have done and the victories we have had that year in particular.” However, there is a tradeoff for having a green event, and especially one as large as graduation. In her senior thesis, Clark estimated that in 2008, Green Graduation would incur approximately $2,306 to Dining services alone. This excludes the cost of programs printed on Recycled Paper, Biodegradable Balloons, Biodegradable Trash Bags, Carbon offsets, the more recent elimination of bottled water and other miscellaneous costs the College incurs for Green Graduation each year. While the College does not directly shoulder the responsibility for reducing individual carbon emissions due to travel, it does encourage guests to purchase carbon offsets and incorporate greener practices in their own lives by having informational booths available. Sorenson said, “I think [Green Graduation] has been successful [in reaching] its goals— and its goals are mainly education and pushing [the College] and the community around [the College] in a more sustainable direction.” In order to balance the inevitable carbon emissions from family and friends traveling to graduation, the College purchased roughly $6,000 of offsets in 2008 in the form of Green Energy Certified Wind Renewable Energy Credits.
Clark’s thesis, which has been the basis for Green Graduation, suggested implementing similar green practices at all College reunions and events in the future and expanding Green Graduation to be even greener by renting hybrid vehicles for the event, expanding the supply of local and organic food and surveying people at the event to gauge its effectiveness. The College has already recognized the event’s success, however, and put green orientation into practice in 2008 following the implementation of Green Graduation.
As Clark wrote in her thesis, “Graduation is a great opportunity to teach the greater [College] community about possible actions that can be taken to minimize the impacts of climate change.” This year, five to six members of the Green Team, lead by Keith Love, are endorsing the event and can provide more information on green practices. The College has been very supportive of Green Graduation, but the reality is that in order to reap the benefits of being green, the College has to spend more green.