Sustainable Cap and Gown Initiative

March 23, 2016

Article by Olivia Grah '19

For the first time ever, members of Princeton University's graduating Class of 2016 will wear 100% recycled caps, gowns, and tassels during Commencement. This marks a departure from past Commencement ceremonies where graduate attire was made from non-recycled polyester.

This sustainable switch is the result of the combined efforts of The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS), The Office of the Graduate School, and the Office of Sustainability. Dean Fisher of ODUS and adviser for the Commencement ceremonies introduced the sustainable GreenWeaver gowns to the Class of 2016 Senior Checkout Committee for incorporation into the ceremonies. 

GreenWeaver academic regalia is made from 100% post consumer plastic bottles and produced by manufacturer Oak Hall, also the supplier for non-recycled regalia. According to the GreenWeaver product description, it takes an average of 23 plastic bottles to make each gown. The caps and gowns are softer to the touch than traditional polyester, lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, and recyclable.

Jamie Simpson ’16, a member of the Senior Checkout Committee, succinctly explains the Committee’s eagerness to switch to GreenWeaver recycled regalia: “If we can make a change, we should.” To publicize this sustainable shift, the Checkout Committee has contracted with Student Design Agencies to design a poster to advertise the change, thus working to foster environmental awareness in 2016 graduates. The sustainability initiative will also be communicated verbally at Senior Checkout on May 3-5, and highlighted in emails to the senior class and in the Commencement program.

In an effort to implement this new initiative consistently across the undergraduate and graduate classes, The Graduate School is also upgrading its robes and hoods to 100% recycled plastic bottle material. Because the recycled gowns are more expensive than non-recycled gowns, both the 2016 Senior Checkout Committee and the Graduate School have applied and been approved for funding from the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund. This funding is for 2016 only, and the increased cost of the recycled gowns will be incorporated into the undergraduate Commencement budget and out-of-pocket cost for graduate students in the future.

Following both ceremonies, there will be collection bins at designated areas for students who choose to upcycle their gowns. The collection bin locations will be communicated at Senior Checkout. 

The Commencement organizers hope that the sustainable regalia will make a positive influence on campus, influencing future graduating classes to adopt additional measures to green graduation and instilling Princeton students with an ethos of sustainability. Simpson, in considering the impact of the recycled caps and gowns, says, “We [are making] great strides to becoming a more sustainable university.”