Inside Rensselaer
Commencement Goes Green: Supporting Sustainability

A green, sustainable mindset has picked up tremendous momentum on the campus over the past two years, culminating in the Princeton Review naming Rensselaer as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the nation, two years in a row.

In support of Institutewide sustainability efforts and after consulting with students, the Bookstore has changed the bachelor’s and master’s graduation regalia used for this year’s Commencement. The regalia features caps and gowns made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottle pellets. The regalia, supplied by Oak Hall Cap and Gown, is known as the “GreenWeaver” style. According to the organization, an average of 23 plastic bottles are removed from landfills for each gown made. Other regalia features include: tagless size labels stamped with soy milk, and a reduction in the CO2 gas emissions by more than 54 percent in the process of manufacturing fabric from plastic versus virgin polyester. In addition, the plastic bags used to store the caps and gowns are made from recycled plastic.

“One of Rensselaer’s goals, similar to many other colleges and universities, is to minimize its carbon footprint through sustainable practices.” —Jason Jones

Following Commencement, the used regalia can be turned in, and it will be used to recycle new fabric.

For every gown purchased, Oak Hall will make a donation to an on-campus sustainability program at participating colleges and universities. The organization plans to make a donation to the Class of 2010 Green Roof fund for continued maintenance of the green roof over the Bookstore.

According to Robyn Marquis — graduate student in transportation engineering, member of the Student Sustainability Task Force, and a senior columnist for The Polytechnic — prior to this year’s Commencement, Rensselaer had already taken some steps toward planning a more sustainable ceremony. Early efforts included growing many of the floral displays in the campus greenhouses. This year, in order to support the single-stream recycling program, large bins will be placed around the perimeter of the stadium to encourage attendees to discard plastic bottles and paper programs in the same bins.

In addition, to make this year’s Commencement environmentally friendly, a long-standing decoration will not be used. Recently, a “Non-Research Helium Boycott” initiative spearheaded by Benjamin Cohen ’11, graduate student in mechanical engineering, has encouraged members of the campus community to support the initiative and consider the elimination of helium-filled balloons while planning events. Helium, the second lightest element, is a non-renewable resource. The gas is created by the nuclear fusion process of the sun, or by slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, and is typically captured as a byproduct of the natural gas drilling industry. Recent reports by news, science, industry, and government organizations have noted that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate due to a law passed in 1996 that has made helium too cheap to recycle. The Helium Preservation Act stipulates that the helium must be sold off by 2015, regardless of the market price. Researchers note that it is possible that there may be an empty spot on the periodic table within the next 30 years.

On a larger scale, the latest parking and transportation initiatives planned for Commencement will benefit the community, according to Jason Jones, operations supervisor of parking and transportation. “One of Rensselaer’s goals, similar to many other colleges and universities, is to minimize its carbon footprint through sustainable practices,” Jones said. “Rensselaer has teamed up with several local partners such as the Capital District Transportation Authority and the Capital District Clean Communities Coalition to advance sustainable initiatives.” To cut down on the carbon footprint from transferring guests between the events and parking facilities, Rensselaer will use 14 hybrid CDTA buses.

Hospitality Services at Rensselaer, provided by Sodexo Campus Services, plays a large role in sustainability on campus. According to Jeff Kurto, operations manager for Sodexo, several initiatives planned for this year’s Commencement will help to support the local economy and community. For the annual Commencement barbecue, Sodexo will be using locally baked hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as locally made ice cream novelties, bottled water, and canned Pepsi products. In addition, Sodexo will use Aspretto, a 100 percent fair trade certified coffee. The sustainable coffee program, launched last year, is also available in all the resident dining halls. Following the barbecue, Sodexo has invited area food pantries to help them distribute any remaining food items.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 10, May 27, 2011
©2011 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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