Grand Valley State University


There was a little green behind all that “Laker” blue worn by the 1,000 students participating in Grand Valley State University’s winter graduation ceremony last week.

For the first time, the university provided eco-friendly graduation gowns in keeping with its new push toward sustainability. The fabric of the gowns is made of wood pulp and the zippers of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a plastic commonly used in beverage containers.

University bookstore manager Jerrod Nickels said while most of the gowns may still end up in landfills, at least they’re made of material designed to disintegrate quickly. He said hopes are students may come to share them with future graduates to eliminate waste altogether.

“They probably would disintegrate in a washing machine, but you’re only wearing it for a couple of hours,” Nickels said. “For the past several years we’ve used a disposable gown made of polyester which after people wore them once went into a landfill and stayed there forever.”

The new gowns are from the “Elements” collection made by Jostens – the biggest player in the industry – feel similar to the polyester ones, Nickels said. They’ve been on the market for about a year and come with a special code graduates can redeem and have the company donate $1 to an environmental sustainability project.

GVSU leaders hope to decrease the university’s environmental impact, considering some 4,000 graduates participate in ceremonies and wear the traditional gowns each year.

Bart Bartels, project coordinator in the university’s Sustainable Community Development Initiative, said GVSU recently added sustainability as an official value, part of a set of core beliefs the university uses as guiding principles in its operations.

“That being the case we’re always looking for way to reduce our environmental impact,” Bartels said. “The best practices of sustainability go into the major decisions of the university.”