The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Graduation attire goes green

4 min read

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By Frances Womble

Graduates at this year’s commencement ceremony will be sporting a new color – green.

For the first time, UMW seniors will have eco-friendly regalia, made from renewable resources.

This new regalia, part of The Elements Collection by Jostens, features fiber from renewable, managed forests that decompose in soil, according to The company also says the packaging and zipper on the gown are also “earth-friendly.”

According to the retail operations manager of the UMW bookstore Kathy Underwood, UMW administrators approved the idea for the eco-friendly caps and gowns unanimously after another bookstore employee presented them.

According to Jostens, the acetate fabric of the robe decomposes in soil in one year, and the packaging is able to decompose in a landfill in a short period of time.

“[The regalia] contains an ECM BioFilms material that facilitates the decomposition process,” according to

Despite being designed to decompose outdoors, Underwood does not foresee a problem if a graduate chooses to keep theirs as a memento.

“I am not aware of any instance where the gown has fallen apart hanging in the closet, protected from moisture and soil,” she said.

Soon, however, that hypothesis will be tested.

“I’m going to document my experimental post-graduation compost and send my report back to colleagues here at UMW,” Sustainability Coordinator and senior Tori Wong said.

Each gown comes with a coded hangtag that graduates can enter online. For each code entered, Jostens will donate $1.00 to an environmental sustainability project. According to Underwood, all donations from UMW hangtags will go to the Nature Conservatory.

“Making this change is one more example of UMW’s commitment to sustainability,” she said.

Senior Eden Brown agrees.

“This shows that the UMW community is geared to sustainability,” she said. “While this is a minor example of our commitment towards a more sustainable lifestyle, I believe that this attitude will only continue to grow as we continue to focus on these environmental issues.”

Wong, who is also an officer of the UMW ecology club, agreed.

“I was overjoyed when I found out about the robes,” Wong said. “I think the switch is a really exciting, really fun way for UMW grads to be part of our sustainability initiatives. The switch is just another one of the many sustainability initiatives that UMW is quietly participating in. So few people realize how much we do on campus, and how easy it is to reduce their impact. It’s encouraging to me that our Business Services has recognized a potential area for change and has worked so actively to “green” one of UMW’s largest annual celebrations.”

However, some members of the UMW community are less enthusiastic about the change.

“I love that the school is trying to be eco-friendly, but bio-degradable graduation robes sounds a bit unnecessary,” said alumnus Rick Ware. “It’s not like people just toss their robe out the window immediately after graduation. There are so many better ways to be eco-friendly.”

Senior Gilmore McLean said she would like to see an option to rent a graduation gown rather than purchasing one.

“I would think that making new caps and gowns, even if they are environmentally friendly, would be less friendly than just reusing old ones,” she said. If people are buying them to keep, they probably aren’t going to just throw them away.

The new price for undergraduate regalia is $69.99, which is about $15 more than the regalia used in 2010.”

Despite her desire to see a renting option, McLean is still willing to pay the extra money for the biodegradable gown.

“If you’re assuming people are only going to keep their gowns for a certain amount of time, I’m ok with paying more for environmentally friendly ones,” she said.

Senior Elizabeth Emmel feels environmentally friendly attire still adds some degree of waste to the world.

“If we really cared about reducing our impact on the environment, would we be willing to give up our cultural traditions?” she asked. “If we really wanted to be environmentally conscience it is going to take changing or abandoning some of our current cultural practices and American habits, but that is a lot harder than chipping in an extra $15 for a new cap and gown.”

According to, the regalia will be available for seniors to purchase at the bookstore during Senior Days in March.

Others school in the area already using Jostens Element Collection include the College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, and Georgetown University.