College grads’ gowns going green — The future is now

USA Today ran the following on Friday, May 27, 2011. Wendy Koch gets the byline. To comment:

Some students are picking up diplomas in gowns made from recycled plastic bottles (they’re actually quite soft), and others are using ones made from wood pulp.

More than 250 institutions have ordered the attire this year from Virginia-based Oak Hall Cap & Gown, up from 60 in 2010, says vice president Donna Hodges. She
says it takes an average of 23 plastic bottles to make each GreenWeaver gown set.

A handful of U.S.-based companies, seeing bottom-line green in the eco-conscious world of higher education, have entered this booming market within the past
three years. Some donate a small fraction of the proceeds to participating colleges.

• Minneapolis-based Jostens makes graduation gowns out of wood fiber from sustainably-harvested North American forests. “We’re seeing a significant
increase in demand,” spokesman Rich Stoebe says, though he declined to detail the sales numbers.

• Omaha-based Willsie Cap and Gown sells a GreenGown made of the same resin used in plastic bottles and reuses the fabric if it’s returned. Sales are up 300% from a year
ago, says the company’s Steve Killen.

Some say being green costs more green.

Richard Spear, owner of American Cap and Gown, a New Jersey-based distributor, says the new gowns often cost much more than the polyester ones he sells for about $30,
and most colleges still have students buy rather than rent them. “College bookstores are there to make money,” Spear says.

Last week in Fairfax, Va., George Mason University graduated 7,392 students in the GreenWeaver gowns, which Hodges says typically cost $4 to $5 more than
traditional ones.

“Some students suggested a (gown) swap” but since it was the first year GMU used the green gowns, it wasn’t able to start one, says Karen Eiserman, merchandise
manager at GMU’s Bookstore. She says the undergraduate gown set costs $49.98, same as last year’s polyester ones, and a 25-cent donation included in the
price goes to the campus’s Greening Initiative.

Andrew Reid says he hasn’t worn his gown since his 2009 GMU graduation and probably never will again. His take on the situation, posted on Facebook:

“They would be even more ‘green’ if we could sell them back!”

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