Convocation goes green

The environment is at the top of mind for most universities these days as everyone considers the state of the planet. Universities have long been at the forefront of the move to infuse sustainability and environmentally friendly practices into their operations..

Left: York’s Spring convocation will have a green influence this year

York University is moving forward with several sustainable initiatives of its own – from limiting the carbon footprint for course kits to being Yorkwise, and beyond. The newest recruit comes from an unexpected area – convocation and ceremonials. “Going green is a hot topic for universities,” says Sheelagh Atkinson, manager of convocation & special events in York’s Office of University Events & Community Relations. “No where is this more apparent than during convocation ceremonies. From getting rid of printed invitations to how ceremonial regalia and robes are dry-cleaned, universities across the country are looking for ways to go green for their convocations.”

“Green is the new black,” says Atkinson, who notes that York University has already adopted many eco-friendly changes to how convocation ceremonies are run. That being said, the task to reduce the carbon footprint of convocation in no small feat, she says, given the thousands of students who graduate each year from York. Going green for convocation now means paperless invites, online registration and streamlining processes.

What are green events? Atkinson says that for convocation it means that the event logistics of graduating more than 6,000 students every year are now being planned with a view to reducing the impact on the environment and ultimately the carbon footprint of this most significant of University ceremonies.

“Many universities, York included, are moving toward online registration and invitations,” says Atkinson. “The traditional printed invitation is being put aside in favour of virtual invitations. The move toward virtual invites has many advantages in the reduction of cost, the limiting of pollutants from the printing process and the simple fact that we aren’t cutting down trees for the paper.”

The new online invitations are nicely designed and suitable for printing as a keepsake by the student. There’s also the added advantage of being able to e-mail a copy of the invitation to relatives overseas, says Atkinson. The University already offers live and archived Webcasts of convocation ceremonies, which Atkinson says are very popular with family in far-off places.

The old invitation, printed on heavy card stock complete with a low luster varnish, not only consumed precious trees, says Atkinson, it was also environmentally unsustainable in its printing methods. There was also the added problem of mailing the invitations and having more than 10 per cent returned because of incomplete or outdated addresses. The returned invitations could not be reused and ended up being recycled or thrown out.

“Now we face the challenge of communicating to all graduating students the need for them to update their e-mail addresses with us and the importance of checking on their convocation details,” says Atkinson. “The My Graduation Web site has been updated to reflect the new online registration and invitation. Students will also receive an e-mail and the University is communicating these changes through a number of channels including Notebox.”

The information on the My Graduation Web site will be continually updated to reflect any late-breaking news, says Atkinson, who highlighted that faculty and staff involved with convocation should also check the Web site for the latest information on registration, robe and hood pick-up and marshaling.

“While it sounds complicated, the move to going online not only is beneficial for the environment, it is more streamlined and reduces the cost of the event. The challenges we face will eventually be overcome as we work through the logistics of making this change,” says Atkinson.

Other areas under consideration include reducing the amount of plastic in favour of more eco-friendly tableware; encouraging the use of public transit to get to convocation ceremonies; reducing the carbon footprint of printed diplomas; encouraging carpooling for families planning to attend ceremonies; and a review of dry-cleaning processes for regalia and ceremonial robes.

Going green takes time, says Atkinson, and to be truly effective she encourages everyone to embrace the changes underway. “Each step is important,” says Atkinson, who notes that making registration and invitations virtual, and eliminating printed invitations, will have an enormous impact on environment.

To learn more, visit the My Graduation Web site.