The reuse team (Angelo LaCommare-Soto, Kalea Conrad, Jeremiah Gallegos and Maya Sandhofer) work to spread the word about the gown reuse program on campus before the upcoming graduation ceremony. Credit: Courtesy

The Green Campus reuse team is hoping they can collect more gowns from graduates this spring – after only 10 gowns were donated following the fall 2022 commencement ceremony. 

The graduation gown reuse program was started by Cal Poly’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which last officially ran the program in 2018 and collected only two gowns from both fall and spring 2018 commencement. The program was later halted due to COVID-19. 

The Green Campus reuse team is now revamping the program and ran the first pilot gown reuse program last fall.  

“Most people will only wear that robe once in their lives and then it’ll sit in their closet for years or decades, or it’ll be thrown in the trash,” Green Campus reuse team leader and environmental sciences and production graduate student Kalea Conrad said. “So we are trying to just divert graduation regalia from landfill.”

Not only will this initiative make graduation a “little bit cheaper,” it will also make it a lot more sustainable,” Conrad said.

On commencement days, the reuse team will be located at the exit to tell students about the donation program. If students are inclined to hand over their gown on their way out, the team will be available for gown collection. 

The reuse team will be accepting donated graduation gowns and other regalia pieces such as caps and cords.

Students interested in donating their regalia at a later date can bring in their gowns to the Campus Facilities front desk (Bldg. 70) through the week after graduation, or students can mail in their graduation attire any time over summer to the same location. 

“We are hoping that by increasing the number of ways gowns can be donated more people will find an option that is convenient to them and follow through [in donating],” reuse team member and environmental earth and soil science sophomore Carina Ballek said. 

There are five teams including the reuse team – the other four teams include the drought response team, energy efficiency team, sustainable transportation team and sustainability visibility team. 

Green Campus is a student-led program with oversight from the Energy, Utilities and Sustainability department in facilities that works to implement conservation projects, expand educational outreach and marketing, infuse sustainability into curriculum and empower student leaders and clubs to be more impactful.

What sets Green Campus apart from other environment and sustainability clubs on campus is that the program is tied to and funded by facilities which allows the teams to have a lot more resources on campus, visibility team member and environmental management and protection junior Allie Mortensen said. 

The reuse team has been communicated with Assistant Director of External Relations of the commencement office Kanani Makekau, who approved the program project plan and included information about the program in email communications to Spring 2023 graduates. 

They have also spread the word about the free gowns by circulating a message through Basic Needs subscription list and attending the graduation fair to hand out informational cards to students who are waiting to pick up their graduation attire. 

The reuse team was able to distribute 130 gowns to students graduating this spring – 10 were from the last collection program they ran in the fall and 120 gowns were donated from EOP. 

Conrad and her team hope endorsements from groups like Basic Needs and EOP will increase total donations.

The past year the team has also worked on a variety of other programs: free pick up auctions for goods sitting in Cal Poly Surplus – which manages university property on campus and working with Cal Poly lost and found to collect, clean and repurpose abandoned water bottles. 

“Hundreds of attendees came out to the warehouse and took office chairs, dust organizers, just so many random things that they [Cal Poly] had stored and were destined to go to landfill,” Conrad said. “And were able to be repurposed by students which was really successful and exciting for us.”

The reuse team has since been able to work closely with surplus to market for auction events such as an iMac and iMac desktop auction and bike auction held earlier this quarter.

The reuse team has also worked with Cal Poly lost and found to repurpose abandoned water bottles by bringing them to dining to be washed there, and then bringing them out for the monthly swap n’ shops –  which is another collaboration event they have worked on with Sustainable Fashion Club

Those interested in learning more about Cal Poly’s Sustainability initiatives can visit their webpage