Greening Graduation

Author: Rachel Novick


A commitment to sustainability has been integrated into many aspects of Notre Dame’s Commencement ceremonies, with the result that graduation gowns are made of recycled bottles, announcements are made of recycled paper, and class rings are produced with high standards for environmental and social justice.

Each ND graduation gown is made of about 23 plastic water bottles. “Used bottles are broken down in a process that forms fibers that are woven together to create fabric,” explained Donna Hodges, Vice President of Oak Hall Cap and Gown. “At our company, this process occurs entirely within the United States and creates domestic jobs. One ND graduation ceremony takes three full tractor-trailers of water bottles!”

The recycling continues even after the gowns are worn on graduation day: post-ceremony, there will be bins placed on campus for seniors to recycle their gowns, where they will be remade into furniture and carpet.

Balfour, the company that prints the announcements, uses 50% recycled post-consumer cards and envelopes and 100% recycled materials for all of their packing supplies. “It used to be that the quality of recycled material was not able to withstand the 30,000 pounds of pressure that is required to press the Notre Dame seal on to the paper. Due to better technology and knowledge, next year the company will be making announcements from 100% recycled fine paper,” said Chris Barr, a representative of Balfour.

Class rings are another area in which Balfour exhibits has demonstrated leadership in social responsibility by becoming the first class ring manufacturer to endorse No Dirty Gold’s Golden Rules. This policy encourages the mining industry to extract and manufacture gold under higher social, human rights and environmental standards. These standards include responsible disposal of toxic wastes, safe mining practices, and the promotion of social and environmental justice. Balfour also has a No Dirty Diamond Policy, ensuring that their diamonds come from conflict-free sources.

“It is not easy to do the background work to ensure that suppliers and vendors use sustainable practices, and I commend the university’s efforts for ensuring that our school is associated with companies that have high social and environmental standards,” said Shelly Fuhrman ’12. “If I have to graduate, at least I am doing it in a green way.”