On one day in May, the entire Harvard Divinity School (HDS) community comes together to celebrate shared achievement. Graduates don gowns, and proud families filter into Harvard Square. However, beginning two years ago, the HDS commencement has come to symbolize something in addition to student achievement: the greening of Harvard’s Campus.

We were thinking of ways to bring the event more in line with the school’s values.

In 2010, HDS held its first zero-waste commencement, in which all materials were either recyclable or compostable.

“We were thinking of ways to bring the event more in line with the school’s values,” said Matthew B. Turner, Faculty and Academic Affairs Coordinator at HDS. “We saw that the cost for using compostable materials would be more or less the same as non-recyclable materials. So we thought, why not?”

Shortly after running its first zero-waste commencement, HDS implemented a zero-waste convocation as well. The school plans to continue both zero-waste events in the future.

As Ralph DeFlorio, HDS Director of Operations, said, “It’s not that simple to do.” However, the events fit into a larger movement towards sustainable practices at HDS. “Being green makes sense to us,” DeFlorio said.

Through zero-waste convocation and commencement, the HDS team learned valuable lessons regarding sustainability. One such piece of knowledge is that signage is extremely important to the success of recycling and composting campaigns. Since people are accustomed to reading from left to right, it is important that bins be arranged with composting on the far left, followed by recycling, and finally waste. HDS captures 70 percent of its trash for recycling or composting.

Apart from zero-waste events HDS also runs a successful Community Garden, and organizations such as EcoDiv bring ecological perspectives to religion and ministry. The school’s Rockefeller Hall, which achieved LEED Gold certification in November 2009, is one of the University’s most efficient.

"The commitment to sustainable practices at the Divinity School is something that has been strongly embraced by the entire HDS community," said Jonathan Beasley, HDS Assistant Director of Communications. "There is a campus-wide movement here that is expansive, highly visible, and pervasive in everyday life."