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May 6, 2013 Business Strategy

CT colleges embrace green graduations

Contributed photo Wesleyan University is moving to eliminate throwaway plastic water bottles from campus. Showing off the portable water dispensers to be used at commencement are, from left, Nina Gerona, a sophomore; Jen Kleindienst, Wesleyan's sustainability coordinator; Bruce Strickland from the school's machine shop); Tavo True-Alcalá, a sophomore; Dave Strickland from the machine shop; Brent Packer, a sophomore; and Madeleine O'Brien, a freshman.

College commencement ceremonies are accompanied by weekend long events, thousands of visitors, and consequently a great deal of waste. In response, colleges and universities across Connecticut are taking steps to make their graduation ceremonies as environmentally friendly as possible.

Wesleyan University in Middletown, in the midst of a yearlong effort to completely eliminate disposable plastic water bottles from its campus, will have two student-made water filtration dispensers at its ceremony, said sustainability coordinator Jennifer Kleindienst.

"Graduation weekend was the last big hurdle in eliminating disposable water bottles from our campus," Kleindienst said. "Thousands of visitors bring with them thousands of these bottles each year."

Wesleyan held a competition in the fall for students to design portable water dispensers for graduation. The winner was chosen this spring, and two designs will provide water at the ceremony.

The university will be providing 6,000 reusable water bottles for use with the dispensers as well; one will be placed under each attendee's seat. Barrels will also be provided so that the bottles can be turned in, rather than thrown out, at the end of the ceremony. The bottles will then be washed and used again at other university events, Kleindienst said.

Wesleyan also is making an effort to improve recycling at the weekend's annual picnic. Rather than just providing trash cans and recycle bins, there will be tables with staff and volunteers who will help separate waste into recycling, trash, and composting bins.

"Past events and ceremonies had so much compostable items or trash in recycling bins that everything ended up being thrown out," Kleindienst said.

Quinnipiac University's efforts to reduce waste have taken a different route, said spokesmen John Morgan.

"Since 2010, we have had areas for students to turn in their caps and gowns after the ceremony, this way they can be used year after year," said Morgan.

Trinity College in Hartford also is making efforts to encourage recycling while sticking with its very traditional ceremony, said Trinity spokeswomen Michele Jacklin.

"For years, we have put out more recycling bins around campus during graduation weekend to cut down on trash and increase convenience," said Jacklin.

Connecticut colleges still aren't going to the extremes proposed by another New England university in March.

Unity College of Maine has decided that for the school to completely green its commencement, it needed to divest all fossil fuel investments from its endowment portfolios.

"Commencement exercises are among the most clear expressions of institutional values," said Melik Peter Khoury, senior vice president for external affairs at Unity. "At this point the realities of what the burning of fossil fuels are doing to worsen the crisis of global climate change is undeniable. Institutions of higher education cannot have it both ways, they cannot claim to be working for a sustainable earth and yet support the industry that is driving this planet to extinction."

Only after this endowment divestment can schools call their commencements truly environmentally friendly, Khoury said.

"There are no halfway measures when it comes to environmental claims," said Khoury.

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