Thursday, January 2, 2014

I love NY Water

Just to tell you a little bit about myself, I absolutely LOVE water!
I hear students all the time in my health courses ask, “How can I make water taste good” or “I know I am supposed to drink eight glasses a day, but how do you do it?” or “How do you get kids to drink water?”.  I have to admit, I am often stumped trying to come up with a decent answer when all I want to say is, “Water tastes AWESOME!  How do you NOT drink at least eight glasses a day?”.  And the only human who might love water more than I do, is my six year old son, Cyrus.  (For those of you who think I am making that up, here’s a copy of his Christmas list this year.  I think we can all forgive him for letting the Batmobile and WiiU trump the water bottle.)
I will admit that I fell victim to the bottled water craze for a time, like most people.  Being somewhat of a water connoisseur I picked my favorites amongst the different brands and settled on one that I felt tasted the best.  I realized then that the reason I loved that one so much is that it reminded me of the best water I have ever tasted; the water straight from the tap at my Dad’s cottage in the Adirondacks.  Delicious, pure and that perfect cold temperature that only water straight from a well deep in the earth can have.  I tried many other waters direct from springs and found that most of them were also good.  I considered for a time, making money by going to my Dad’s place, bottling up the water from the tap and selling it to people.  Until I realized that is EXACTLY what these other people are doing!  Obviously this sent me on a mini tirade to whatever environmental class I was teaching at the time, where a student held up a bottle of water and announced that their water was not “spring water” and that their bottle said “filtered water”.
Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA
Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA
After a bit of research and a few tirades later, we all came to the realization that that water was not even the tap water from really clean places that had great well water.  This water was just local water that was filtered again and stuck in plastic bottles to be sold to us for $2.  The fact that we also expended energy to get the water back to the exact temperature it comes out of the ground at will not even be discussed at this time.  A student then came to me with a horrible story he just heard and now he believed me about bottled water being bad.  He heard if you left the bottle in a hot car, chemicals from the bottle went into the water and would harm you.  He was therefore dumping out all the half empty bottles from his car.  He now knew those bottles were bad!  As he was telling me this, he pulled out a new plastic bottle of water and started drinking.  When I asked about it, he said he just bought it, so it was safe.  I couldn't help but point out the flaw in his logic, as he bottle probably did not go to the store in a temperature controlled environment.  Sure enough, we saw a water delivery truck.... Just as warm as his car.  Last I saw he switched to stainless steel.
Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA

It was these arguments a few years ago that spurred me to try to get filtration stations on the campuses.  I was sick of wasting my money and seeing all my students waste money of filtered water when we could filter it ourselves for a lot less AND have healthier water.  Thankfully someone finally listened and the Berkeley community responded with rave reviews, getting them on every campus.

Cyrus with his new water bottle.
Today I was contacted by someone who feels as I do about water.  She was calling from “I Love NY Water” and wanted to see if Berkeley College was interested in getting involved in the movement to drink local. That is why I am reaching out to you.  So, how about it?  Are you with me?  Ready to ditch those bottles and BYOB? Take a picture of your water bottle, cup, whatever you use.  I want to see what changes my readers will make for their health.  Because if our water isn't healthy, how can we build on other Eco-friendly ideas.  We need to start with the basics!  Go out and make the switch to healthier water and a healthier you!

Friday, December 6, 2013

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

When I think about the Berkeley I started working at almost 15 years ago, I am continually amazed at how far we have come in those few years.  I know others are thinking the additional campuses, the success of degree programs, restructuring and all the things we have done to make this institution great. 

Of course none of that is what I am thinking of. I’m just referring to the leaps and bounds we have made toward sustainability! 
  • We signed on to the New York City Mayors Carbon Challenge in 2007 and have reduced our carbon emissions by 17% since joining. 
  •  A Community Garden was created at Woodland Park where employees can grow vegetable, herbs and flowers. I’m certain students can get involved too, just ask around.
  • Signatory of American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment  In July 2009, President Cortes signed the American Colleges & Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment Challenge (ACUPCC), pledging to help Berkeley College make steps toward carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • I could be here all day talking about the retrofits to all of our campuses; new energy saving windows and lighting, changing thermostat settings, recycled products in construction and low VOC paint.  (One campus had a large enough drop in energy use after a retrofit, the energy supplier called to see if they shut down!)
  • Vending machines and photocopiers have been replaced with low energy machines that go into energy saving mode when not in use.
    Vending machine at Berkeley College
    Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA
  • Since 2005, the Pharos print system has resulted in a 60% decrease in paper use.
  • Our office supplies even arrive in reusable totes and recycled options are always recommended when ordering.
  • All computers are now set to shut down at night. 
  • Reusable bag available at Berkeley College bookstores
    Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA
  • Our bookstore now sells reusable water bottles, travel mugs and reusable, recycled bags. 
  • Payroll has gone green and paperless.
  • Our waste management provider converts waste to alternative fuels.
  • Courses in Sustainability are now offered like Sustainable Solutions, Green Marketing, Sustainable Enterprise Management and & Sustainable Design.
    Berkeley College student fills up her water bottle
    Photo courtesy of Berkeley College/VIA
  • Water filtration stations are now at all campuses, providing you with pure water.  Not only do you get purified water for free, it has saved countless plastic bottles from heading straight to the landfill.
Why do I choose this time to do a little retrospective on some of the things we have done in 15 years? 
  • Is it because I am feeling nostalgic?  ....  No. 
  • Is it because I have already run out of sustainability ideas to talk about? Definitely not!  I actually already have the next one ready.
  • Is it because I want you to know about all the things we have done.... Possibly, but that is not the real reason.

The real reason is that I recently heard a terrible number here at Berkeley and that number was 10%.

Ten lousy, measly percent.

What is that number? 

The number of people who have signed up to get their W2 paperless.  As an online bill fan, I found it shocking that the number was so low.  Not to mention the fact that if you get the e-version you can download it right into TurboTax or right to your tax preparer!  Honestly people, are you really still walking around with those little pieces of paper?

Here is the mission I ask of you…. In thanks of all that Project Greenpath and Berkeley College have done to make a difference to help you… take 5 minutes and sign up in the next few weeks!  Please!  If you work somewhere else, talk to your boss about paperless W-2s.  If you don’t, irritate a Berkeley employee to do it.  Let’s get prepared for a better, healthier, greener 2014!


p.s.  Here are the instructions you need from Sarai to get it done!

If you already receive the electronic only W-2, and wish to continue in this manner you do not need to take any further action.
If you would like to change your option from last year or if this is your first W-2 from Berkeley College, please follow the instructions below:
Logon to your UltiPro Home Page at:

Under Myself, shift the cursor to "Pay", and then to "W-2".  On the right hand side of the screen you will see a caption that reads
"Things I Can Do".

Select the "Change W-2 Consent " Form

Select either the first or second option under the "Information" box, then select the "save" button at the center of the page.

If you have any questions or would like any assistance with this procedure please feel free to contact the Payroll Department either by e-mail at, or by phone.

If you are not able to log on to Ultipro, please reach out to the Help Desk at ext 1540

Friday, November 8, 2013

Do Anything!

Since I first launched this blog, I have asked myself a thousand times, “What should I blog about first”?  I have asked others this question as well and rephrased it over and over.  I have looked back through old notes, lists Project Greenpath put together on what I should blog about and even pulled up my first set of Environmental Science lectures to inspire me and a quote from Albert Einstein.  Yet nothing came to me.  On the way to an awards dinner this evening, I even wrote a thoroughly uninspiring bit about water that I will rework for you some day, but it wasn’t good enough.
The awards dinner I attended was the Instructor of the Year Dinner and the first since Berkeley’s merger with Dover Business College and a wonderful event for all.  Towards the end of the evening I was introduced to some of the faculty from that school and introduced myself in the usual way, “Hi, I’m Laura Harste and I will inevitably drive you crazy with my incessant pestering on recycling and sustainability so enjoy your evening until I do.”  I like to be honest so people know what to expect up front, as many of my students will attest to.   

One of my new colleagues (who shall remain nameless unless he wants to come forward) immediately stepped forward and told me he did receive the email about how much he commuted and that he was guilty of commuting 40 miles and he knew it was bad, but could not change that right away.  I must admit I was impressed with the honesty!  I informed him that I am not in charge of the survey, I only see the overall results, and would never have been able to blame him if he had not just fully admitted guilt.  We laughed and began to discuss things he did do, and it was an impressively long list: everything from using vinegar for cleaning to recycling and ditching water bottles.  I did harp on him a wee bit about ditching the paper towels in favor of microfiber cloths, but overall a great start.


I then had to run to catch my bus.  As I walked there I realized what I had done.  I had done EXACTLY what I yell at other people for not doing.  I had done nothing out of fear of not being perfect.   Exactly what this man was apologizing for, although he actually WAS doing a whole lot, just doing one bad thing.  Starting right now I am going to post ideas.  Some will be good, some might not be so good, I hope none will be bad, but I am going to post them.  If they are not my best writing, I apologize now, but I am going to do something.  If you asked anyone who knows me at that event tonight and said, “Laura Harste does not know what to say about what people can do to be better for the environment”.  I guarantee most, if not all, would say, “Laura Harste doesn’t shut up about that treehugging stuff”.  So… quiet time is over.  I prepare my next tirade and leave you with the start of one of my favorite quotes.  See if you can fill it in.

A small pile of stones and one word...


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Confessions of a Treehugger

When I was thinking about how to begin this blog, many ideas came to mind and many more were suggested by my colleagues.  Together we came up with several great ideas and a few that weren’t so great.  None of the ideas sounded like a good place to begin, so  I thought deeper about what I wanted others to gain from this blog, what I hoped to accomplish, and what the greater picture was.  I was drawn to the tag line on my emails, “Sustainability…. Not just for treehuggers anymore”.  I have loved including that on my emails for years and it’s what I want to encourage others to do.

So that was it.  I want to convince others that sustainability is not just for treehuggers like me.  It is for everyone and that is what I want to help other people see.  At that point I suddenly had a harsh realization that I must confess to you, my readers.  I don’t hug trees!  I have tried it in the past, but never really understood the point.  Perhaps a tree shunned me years ago; it never wrote or called.  Perhaps I just didn’t see how the hug benefited either me or the tree.  The trees just continued to stand there enjoying a great deal more benefit from continuing to stand than from being hugged while standing.  In truth, as long as the tree remained and had not been cut down to make fax paper or to make room for a new parking lot, it seemed happy and I was happily breathing the oxygen it gave me. 

Honestly, if I look at my history as a self-proclaimed treehugger, I really have never done it for the trees.  I started on this journey because I fell in love with the animals that lived in the trees and realized we needed to keep the trees to keep the animals.  Later, when I had children, I wanted to keep the trees for them as well.  I wanted them to grow up in a world with trees and with the animals that live in and near them.  I also wanted to find better solutions to help them live healthier lives.  They needed healthier air, healthier food, healthier water and all of this was dependent on having a healthier planet. 

I turned my thinking toward what specific things I can do to make this happen.  And this is what I am here to share with you.  Project GreenPath has done more than you probably are aware to help your campus and Berkeley College to be more sustainable, greener, and healthier too.  I have made big changes in my home.  These beliefs are what led me to develop Sustainable Solutions.  Through this work and the collaboration of other staff, faculty and students here at Berkeley College we have developed great ideas.  Great ways you can help make a difference in your lives and the lives of those you love.

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Some of my ideas might sound crazy or over the top.  Do what you will with them.  Use what works for you!  I admit some of my favorites are the ones where people remind me of how much money they saved while doing the right thing for the planet.  All of the things you’ll read here will help make a difference for someone and I hope that someone is you.

Welcome to Harst├ęs Green Scene!