Getting dirty at the prom

By HANNAH JONES  |  May 9, 2007

Cape Elizabeth High School students are riding a bus to their “Green Prom” this Saturday — those who aren’t arriving in stretch Escalades, that is. Students around the state are joining the sustainability crusade, but like their adult counterparts who drive SUVs to pick up organic groceries, they struggle to balance doing good and living the good life.

Many of the green improvements in Cape Elizabeth’s prom, themed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” won’t be immediately apparent to guests. Students won’t be dining on soy cheesecake or dabbing their mouths with hemp napkins, but the party is being held at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, recognized as a “Maine Green Lodging property” by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Every aspect of the prom, including sorting, recycling, and composting trash, and using reusable glassware and recycled twinkle lights, is designed to reduce the prom’s ecological footprint. Even the flowers, sustainably-grown stems donated by Whole Foods, will be passed on to a local nursing home for Mother’s Day.

But the party bus idea, which was pitched to students as a safe and ecological alternative to private cars, has met with mixed success. Principal Jeff Shedd is insisting that all students arrive at the prom — a 45-minute drive from Cape Elizabeth — in limousines, private cars driven by parents, or the luxury motor coaches chartered by the school from Custom Coach of Portland. The school reserved three buses, but only 54 students had bought bus tickets at press time — so few that they can all fit in just one bus.

Several green-minded students were chagrined to say that they had chosen limos over buses for predictable reasons: one boy’s date had already booked the limo. Another girl’s friends had all opted for a stretch Escalade, and she didn’t want to be left out of the fun. Perhaps the most honest answer is that limos are just way cooler, and the prom is a major event in students’ lives.

The good news is that even taking a stretch Hummer to the prom is more energy efficient than driving Daddy’s Taurus. While the 54 students who are riding the charter bus will be rolling in at an astonishing 324 passenger miles per gallon, according to Robert Damuth, a consulting economist at Nathan Associates of Washington, DC, a stretch Hummer, which holds 20 passengers and gets eight miles per gallon, will get students to the prom in style for a respectable 160 pmpg. The Taurus, on the other hand, if it carries four kids and gets 25 mpg, will earn a measly 100 pmpg. You can imagine how inefficient the poor kid who comes alone in a Hyundai will be. Cost is another matter. While the bus was offered to students at an unbeatable $10 per round-trip ticket, kids would rather pay $100 or more to emulate MTV celebrities or spoiled brats on My Super Sweet Sixteen. Even if it’s a luxury coach, and not one of Cape’s “loser cruisers” — as the students call school buses — bus ridership at CEHS remains a paltry 20 percent.

One student who walks to school every day and derides the stream of private cars entering the high school as a “slave parade” isn’t going to the prom at all, a decision that’s environmentally friendly, perhaps, but not much fun. “I guess I’m sort of a teenage curmudgeon,” he mused last week. “I feel kind of sorry I’m not going.” My advice: hop on the green bus and enjoy the ride.

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