Human Impacts’ Waterfront Bike Tour

Sunday, April 27th  was an especially exciting day for the HII crew. We hosted our first ever bike tour along the North Brooklyn Waterfront from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Greenpoint. It was a really fun group, with 15 bikers and 5 speakers.

Executive Director Tara DePorte leads the Waterfront Bike Tour

Executive Director Tara DePorte leads the Waterfront Bike Tour

Along the bike tour we stopped at various locations where we heard from our guest speakers. Our first stop was Times Up!, a volunteer-based group in Williamsburg that advocates for biking as a sustainable transportation alternative. The founder of Times Up!, Bill DiPoala, was our first guest speaker. Bill has been an advocate for biking in NYC for a long time and strongly believes in the importance of group bike tours. He explained that he has found that group tours provide bikers with opportunities and experience of biking in a busy city, giving them the confidence, safety and knowledge to eventually take on the streets alone.

Time's Up! entrance

Time’s Up! entrance

Our second stop was Grand Ferry Park where Wendy Brawer, the founder of Green Map NYC, was our guest speaker. She spoke to the group about her work in mapping the NYC waterfront. She showed us a map of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in different parts of NYC, and also maps things like community gardens and LEED certified buildings. These maps work to inform communities about local vulnerabilities or risk, which can perhaps help in emergency planning. They can also be a fun resource to simply learn more about your city or neighborhood!

Next, we visited the East River State Park where we heard from state park ranger Michael. There, he gave us a brief history of the park and the Brooklyn waterfront. He explained the role North Brooklyn and Queens played as a transportation hub and railroad connection for goods in the early 20th century. East River State Park officially became a state park in 2007. Educational plaques are installed all around the park to preserve its history!


Michael explains the history of the East River as a shipping hub

At WNYC Transmitter Park we heard Jason Beury, parks head gardener, talk a little bit about native plants in the park. Transmitter Park is unique in that, unlike most parks in our region, the grasses and plants that Jason uses are all native to our region. While other parks use non-native trees and plants to maintain aesthetics during the winter and early spring, Transmitter Park is in line with the seasons, coming to life in the summer when all the native plants are in bloom.

Lastly, we heard from Korin Tangtrakul from the S.W.I.M. Coalition at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Greenpoint. She gave us a really interesting overview of Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) events and their impact on New York’s waterways. She is working to create informational maps and online systems to educate New Yorkers about water pollution in their area and to inform them when CSO events are occurring.


We were so lucky to have such an engaged and excited group of bikers out for the event. The guest speakers presented us with unique and valuable information, so we all left having learned something new! Overall, the bike tour was a huge success and we look forward to hosting more in the future.NEIWPCC-logo

Many thanks to HEP/NEIWPCC for supporting this program.

By Anna Marr, Environmental Education Intern, Human Impacts Institute 2014

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“No dumping, leads to waterways” – HII works to prevent water pollution!

Human Impacts Institute volunteers installing storm drains

Human Impacts Institute volunteers installing storm drains

This past Saturday, April 26th, the HII crew, along with 17 volunteers, hit the busy streets of Williamsburg around East River State Park to spread awareness of water pollution. As a group we installed a total of 60 storm drain plaques reading “No dumping, leads to waterways.” These plaques are intended to stand as a reminder to pedestrians and residents that dumping waste down storm drains directly pollutes our waterway.

In New York City we dump 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water into our Harbor every year! A lot of the pollution is due to old urban planning problems with infrastructure in NYC, leading to what we call Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO). CSO events happen when rainfall and stormwater overload the sewage treatment plants. This means that a combination of rainwater and raw sewage drain directly into New York’s main bodies of water, such at the Hudson River and the East River. Once water enters the storm drains on street corners, it will not necessarily be treated before entering the waterway. Long story short: we have to be extra careful and responsible for what we put down the drain.

A volunteer points to one of many storm drain plaques around Williamsburg

A volunteer points to one of many storm drain plaques now placed around Williamsburg

In addition to installing the storm drain plaques, we worked with our volunteers to care for trees in the neighborhood. In total we cared for 48 trees by cleaning up trash and waste, aerating the soil, and adding compost and mulch to the tree beds. We were all proud of the work we accomplished together, and it was especially rewarding when people passing by thanked us or stopped by to ask questions about our work.


Community Relations Manager LeAnne Harvey and a volunteer pose with the newly cared-for trees

We all look forward to continuing both the storm drain and tree care projects! A special thanks to all of our volunteers that came out for the beautiful day!NEIWPCC-logo

Many thanks to HEP/NEIWPCC for supporting this program.

By Anna Marr, Environmental Education Intern, Human Impacts Institute 2014

Posted in Environmental Education, Environmental Leadership, Hii News, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Human Impacts speaks at Whole Foods

Community Relations Manager, LeAnne Harvey

Community Relations Manager, LeAnne Harvey

One of the seven Core Values of Whole Foods Market is: To Support Team Member Happiness and Excellence. To help strengthen this value, each store dedicates seven days each year to “Team Member Appreciation Week.” The Human Impacts Institute was given the opportunity to be a part of last week’s activities through showcasing our Lexicon of Sustainability exhibit at Midtown East Whole Foods in New York City. We also sent a speaker to talk about our mission and what we do here in the city. On Thursday, May 24th, I was lucky enough to get to talk at the busy store. It also just so happened that the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck was parked out front.

LeAnne with Whole Foods team members

LeAnne with Whole Foods team members

At the talk, I drew parallels between Whole Foods and HII. Both organizations are passionate about sustainability and making our communities better for our neighbors and ourselves. One striking similarity is our engagement strategy. Whole Foods tells stories of the vendors and farmers behind their products. They aim to show their customers how their purchases directly impact the world around them. At HII, we show individuals their impacts by relating their passions to the environment around them. In my workshop, I asked the team members what they really care about, what “blew their skirts up”. The following discussion was engaging, insightful, and inspirational. I met a fashion designer, a bike enthusiast, and a hip-hop artist. There is an amazing crew of people who are active in their communities and in the Whole Foods store. I showed them videos of how HII uses creative communication to link seemingly unrelated issues and topics. For our fashion guru, I showed HII’s participation in a fashion show for 10 Days of Climate Action.

▶ Human Impacts Institutes Ten Days of Climate Action: The Friendly Society Berlin Fashion Show – YouTube.

For a deeper comparison between air quality in Shanghai and in New York City, I showed our film with the NYC Oil Addicts on Asthma in NYC.

Energy, Asthma and Oil Addiction – YouTube.

And for the two participants that had organized a flash mob the previous week involving the whole store breaking out in a dance to Pharrell’s “Happy”, I showed a flash mob video focusing on recycling.

▶ Recycling a bottle, flashmob style! [HQ] – YouTube.

Another common value we share is our love of food that is healthy for our bodies and the environment. The Lexicon of Sustainability photos were a perfect intersection between the core values at Whole Foods and our goals here at HII. The exhibit uses beautiful photos to tell a story and feature real people working on the issues that matter to them. The motto of the Lexicon of Sustainability is “Your words can change the world.” At HII and Whole Foods, we also believe that creating an inclusive and diverse environment for change is essential. That is why we aim to create environments that are simultaneously inviting, fun, unique, informal, and educational. I certainly hope all of those words could be used to describe the workshop. I can’t wait to work with such an amazing group of people again.

By LeAnne Harvey, Community Relations Manager for Human Impacts Institute

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Decoding Labels for Health – Green your Clean!

Isa Restaurant, 348 Wythe Ave

Isa Restaurant, 348 Wythe Ave

You never know what you’ll find in Brooklyn at any given time, but if you had happened to be at the Isa restaurant at 348 Wythe Ave in Williamsburg and walked upstairs at 6:30pm on April 27th, a surprising scene would have awaited you. It was the Human Impacts Institute’s “Decoding Cleaning Labels for Health” workshop, funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant Program.

The room upstairs at Isa

The room upstairs at Isa

With guest speaker Ogonnaya Dotson-Newman, Director of Environmental Health at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Tara DePorte of the Human Impacts Institute, attendees learned about the toxic effects of all the seemingly benign cleaning products that most of us have in our homes. Audience members were asked to list all of the products that they use in their homes, and think about which ones they considered essential and which they thought were probably toxic.

After learning how to “decode” the eco-friendly labels that many corporations use for their packaging, the audience played the “Name that Sin” game on the Sins of Greenwashing website to test their newfound knowledge. The results were surprising: even after learning all about the different tactics and strategies used by companies to make their products seem green and eco-friendly, the game was still very difficult. The harsh truth is that marketing strategies have made us believe that we need 10 different products to clean, when in reality, some soap and/or vinegar would suffice.


Human Impacts Tip Sheet – Green your Clean!

The presentation also raised awareness of the shady marketing tactics used by chemical manufacturing companies. Not only are the images deceptive, but also chemical companies omit many of the toxic chemicals in their label’s list of ingredients. The difficulties of being an informed consumer these days are especially clear when it comes to the cleaning products that many of us use every day in our homes.

The USDA certified organic logo

The USDA certified organic logo

In order to be safe, we suggest:

1. Survey all of the cleaning products in your home.

2. Determine if you need all of those products, which ones can you can dispose of/substitute?

3.Check the LABELS! The EWG and GreenerChoices databases provide reliable, detailed ratings for most products.

4. Safely dispose of toxic, unhealthy cleaning products.

5. Purchase safer alternatives or make Homemade Cleaning Products.

For more information and DIY cleaning recipes, check out the extended presentation and our tip sheets, which are available in English and Spanish.

Green your clean! Take action for your health, community, and environment.

We hope to see everyone at the next workshop on Non-Toxic Cleaning, later on this fall!

Tip Sheet - Learn more and DIY!

Tip Sheet – Learn more and DIY!

By Rose Bowen, Environmental Leadership Intern, and Camila Montes de Oca, Environmental Services Intern

Posted in Business and Environment, Collaborative Partnerships, Consumer Choice, Environmental Education, Participatory Research | Leave a comment

Human Impacts celebrate Earth Day with Brunch and Crafts

Earth Day Brunch at Isa Restaurant

Earth Day Brunch at Isa Restaurant

On Saturday, April 19th, 2014, the Human Impacts Institute partnered with the stunning Isa Restaurant in North Brooklyn to host an arts and crafts session in anticipation of Earth Day.

We had an array of creative, adorable crafts inspired by Earth Day. They included colorful necklaces, painted flowers and trees, and made bottle cap ladybugs. All of the crafts were selected to highlight the beauty of nature, raise awareness of Earth Day, and promote the recycling and reuse of materials.

We had a blast making the crafts and enjoyed a positively delicious brunch!

By Camila Montes de Oca, Environmental Services Intern, Human Impacts Institute

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Human Impacts Gearing Up to Bring Oysters to Brooklyn!

Excited Workshop Participants with Finished Oyster Cages

Excited Workshop Participants with Finished Oyster Cages

In April of 2014,  I attended a workshop on oyster gardening for educators hosted by the Billion Oyster Project and the Harbor School. The Sunday morning event was held in a workshop space in Staten Island. In attendance were mostly elementary and middle school teachers, hailing from different boroughs, including Staten Island.

 The Billion Oyster Project aims to restore one billion oysters in New York’s Harbor in the future with goals of education and to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Oyster’s posses fascinating qualities of purifying water, stabilizing shoreline, and preventing erosion on our valuable coastlines. For these reasons the BOP seeks to use oysters as a form of resilience and protection from natural disasters and occurrences associated with climate change, as well as a way to treat sewage contaminated water in our estuary.

Understanding Oyster Ecosystems

Understanding Oyster Ecosystems

 The BOP hosts’ workshops like the one I attended to inspire schools, children, organizations such as ours, and interested civilians to become a part of cleaning up our waterways and protecting our water surrounded city.

 To start off the day we enjoyed a PowerPoint presentation on oyster restoration. We learned about the processes of raising oysters in a nursery, hatching, and eventually installing the oysters out in the water. We then built our own oyster cages! Because of time constraints we didn’t talk specifically about the technical aspects of installing our own oyster gardens, but we all received a very useful Oyster Gardening Manual that illustrates everything there is to know about maintaining oyster gardens in New York City.

Human Impacts Institute's Oyster Cage..Coming to a Park Near You!

Human Impacts Institute’s Oyster Cage..Coming to a Park Near You!

Coming up this summer the Human Impacts Institute will be installing our very own oyster garden in East River State Park. I look forward to sharing all of the knowledge I gained this weekend in implementing HII’s oyster garden.NEIWPCC-logo

Many thanks to HEP/NEIWPCC for supporting this program.

By Anna Marr, Environmental Education Intern, Human Impacts Institute 2014

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Taking a closer look at “Pura Vida”: Human Impacts in Costa Rica

Tess Clark in Costa Rica

Tess Clark in Costa Rica

After a week of intensive job shadowing and cultural exchange, the State Department’s  Economic Empowerment Fellows convened this March for four days of hands-on learning in one of the world’s most economically and socially dynamic nations: Costa Rica.

Fellows from Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the United States joined the program staff from UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute in San Jose this past March. Over the course of four days, the 12 US fellows and Latin American counterparts were immersed in group activities from touring the Coopedota Cooperative, a sustainable member-run coffee cooperative in Santa Maria, Costa Rica; to peacemaking seminars at the University for Peace. The Human Impacts Institute was represented by staff member Tess Clark, with hopes of exploring environmental possibilities for economic empowerment and expansion.

With the added benefit of several local Costa Rican fellows to personally explain the domestic economy and social experience, this nation proved to be an interesting setting for a program centered on economic empowerment and social entrepreneurship.  From the national motto of “Pura Vida” to a reputation for world-renowned eco-tourism, it may or may not be surprising to know that Costa Rica is one of the highest scoring countries on the Happy Planet Index, a system that ranks countries by looking at life expectancy, ecological footprint, and experienced well-being. Costa Rica is also one of the leading nations in protected land, with 25% of the total geographic area under some kind of protected status. But perhaps counterintuitively, Costa Rica ranks far lower in Energy Equity according to the World Energy Council, which pertains to the the accessibility and affordability of energy across the population. This is because, as our Costa Rican fellows reminded us, Costa Rica is still dealing with the pressure of development, including a growing industrial sector and a large population of urban and rural poor. Poignantly, Costa Rica’s Tárcoles River is one of the most polluted in Central America.

Their message was clear: while prosperous, Costa Rica has a ways to go in terms of long-term sustainability and in terms of arriving at a just society. Not to be excluded, other fellows can say the same about their respective cities and locales. Get in touch with “Pura Vida” in this video by Patrick Pierson>> Pureza. Espiritu. Vida.

By Tess Clark, Human Impacts Institute’s Development Manager

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Human Impacts Supporting GOALs for Girls in Science

“A civil engineer,” is what a bright-eyed, high school sophomore said to me as we were settling into the education wing at the Intrepid Museum. I had asked her if she had any idea what she wanted to be when she got older and her surety surprised me. We were there for a GOALS for Girls mentorship day, an afternoon for young girls interested in STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and math—fields to speak with women working professionals. The workshop was held at the back of the museum, overlooking the Hudson River. It was pouring the rain outside but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the enthusiasm in the room. I felt lucky to have chosen a seat beside the aspiring engineer when we started the day. Our first activity was a challenge; which table could build the strongest bridge using toothpicks, marshmallows, and gumdrops. My new “mentee” took the lead on construction and I learned that triangles are the strongest shape, and the difference between suspension and truss bridges. Our bridge was able to hold the 55 cents required, but our table decided to test its limits with two cars made out of doughnuts.

Our "Bridge" Experiment

Our “Bridge” Experiment

GOALs (Greater Opportunities Advancing Leadership in Science) for Girls is a free, 6-week summer camp held at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum for 8th and 9th grade girls in New York City Schools. It was started out of a need to increase curiosity and proficiency in STEAM fields and inspire more women to consider a STEM career path. The statistics of women in STEM fields are not ones to brag about. Only 1 in 7 engineers is female and women hold just 27% of computer science jobs. But GOALS is hoping to change these numbers, by showing young girls how promising a career in STEM can be.

We heard from Diane Fresquez, a food and arts journalist who spoke about her new book, A Taste of Molecules. Diane followed a group of obsessive scientists who are trying to understand the intricacies of flavor for over a year. Her book shows that science doesn’t just take place in laboratories but can be found in kitchens and breweries, helping to draw the connection to chemistry in everyday life. She showed that science can be personal to our lives and helped to evoke a deeper curiosity and allure to the STEM fields.


Diane's Inspirational Words on Food Science

Diane’s Inspirational Words on Food Science

The rest of the day was spent mingling and networking. I sat at a table while the young girls came around to learn about my work at the Human Impacts Institute (HII). It was truly a pleasure to talk with so many girls about their specific interests, and how they can be directly applied to environmental issues we face today. I hope they were able to come away with a greater understanding of climate and environmental science.

An Encouraging Post-It Note

An Encouraging Post-It Note

My favorite part of the event was getting an email the next day from one of my mentees. After attending this event, I have come away with a greater appreciation of the role of a mentor and how necessary they are to helping girls pursue careers in the sciences. In an industry dominated by men, it can sometimes be intimidating to confidently walk into a profession as a minority. But having strong, intelligent women there to support you, can make all the difference.

GOALs for Girls Mentors 2014

GOALs for Girls Mentors 2014

By LeAnne Harvey, Human Impacts Institute’s Community Relations Manager

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Stop Baggin’ NYC

City Hall NY, NYOn March 26, 2014, the Human Impacts Institute crew attended a rally at City Hall in Manhattan, where Council Members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin introduced a bill that is intended to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags. The legislation would impose a10 cent fee for every plastic or paper bag distributed at retail and grocery stores in New York City.

Plastic bags are a huge problem in New York City. On average, New Yorkers use 5.2 billion plastic bags per year, which requires an annual $10 million in city funds to transport the bags to landfills. Since the bags are not biodegradable, they continue to accumulate in the landfills; leaving less and less space for the city’s other waste. If the bags do not go to the landfills, they clog storm drains, become entangled in our trees/plants, or float through our streets, like ghosts of pollution.

This form of legislation is not groundbreaking; cities like Los Angles, Seattle and Washington D.C. have already passes similar legislation. In addition, Rwanda, Kenya and Bangladesh have successfully implemented bans on plastic bags.

Coalition Members Show Support for Bag ChargesAlthough it is evident that plastic bags plague our beautiful city and are very costly in the long run, there are still organizations that oppose the efforts of this legislation. Representatives of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) were present at the rally today to inform attendees of how this legislation would “incentivize shoppers to carry out less sustainable options”- the less sustainable option that they were referring to was the use of reusable bags. This legislation undoubtedly worries industries associated with petroleum by-products; however, it is necessary to ensure that we can preserve our environment for future generations.

 The Human Impacts Institute is working closely with our Bag It NYC coalition partners to raise awareness of the pressing need to deter consumers from using plastic bags. This legislation benefits the environment and promotes conscious consumerism.

Show your support for Bag It NYC and reduce the number of plastic bags on New York City streets, trees, and waterways! As City Council Member Stephen Levin of Brooklyn said, “Do more. Consume less.”

By Camila Montes de Oca, Environmental Services Intern, HII

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Human Impacts Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Returns to Central America

Tess and Alexandra in Co-Working Space in Panama City

Tess and Alexandra in Co-Working Space in Panama City

For the second time in two years, the Human Impacts Institute (HII) was selected to participate in the State Department’s Professional Fellows Economic Empowerment Program.  Coordinated by the University of Connecticut’s Global Training and Development Institute, the program is set up as a two-way exchange in which a Latin American professional and a US professional counterpart spend time in both the United States and Central America collaborating on a new project, job-shadowing, and engaging in professional development activities.  With an emphasis on social entrepreneurship, the program allows both fellows to explore the idea of economic growth with added social benefits.

In October 2013, HII had the opportunity to meet and work with Panamanian small business owner and entrepreneur Alexandra Chen, the founder and creative Director of CRUSH. Alexandra designs bathing suits, iPad cases, and other accessories using hand-crafted molas, a traditional art form of Panamanian indigenous groups known for their colorful patterns. Deeply committed to socially conscious, sustainable business models, Alex works with local artists to cut and craft unique bikini tops, bandeaus, and accessories of which no two are exactly alike.

Example of Bathing Suit from Crush

Example of Bathing Suit from Crush

During her time in the States, Alex paired up with HII Development Manager Tess Clark to explore the connections between innovation in the social sector as well as the private sector. Focusing on core questions like “how do we inspire action?”, both fellows were able to think critically and creatively about the goals of their respective groups.

While the Human Impacts Institute and Alexandra’s CRUSH provide fundamentally different products, both are working with similar problems in different fields. As an entrepreneur, Alex has struggled to find a supportive, forward-thinking environment that welcomes new businesses and fosters start up ideas. While Panama City has a thriving economy replete with multinationals, financial institutions, and tech start-ups, Alexandra has noticed that many young Panamanians don’t take the initial steps to participate in the local economy as entrepreneurs.  Consequently, she wants to address this need by providing free community “cooking ideas” meetings, in which young people share their ideas for start-ups while sharing a meal. This model is intended to create an intimate and culturally relevant support system for other Panamanians trying to start a business.

Alex at Work in Panama

Alex at Work in Panama

Despite her good intentions, Alex has encountered a particular “mind-set” challenge– one that the Human Impacts Institute also faces. The challenge involves individual action: how does one person make a difference? At HII, we constantly hear that environmental problems are too big for individuals to make a difference– whether we’re talking about climate change, development, resource depletion, and many others.

Alex sees similar thinking in her community, especially in other young people. The individual action needed involves starting a business, nonprofit, or community initiative, but Alex sees little evidence that young people in Panama City believe these opportunities are feasible options.

Both Tess and Alex work with stakeholders that are in need of inspiration and engagement in the relevant issue, be it business or climate. And both are faced with the challenge of creating ways to get those stakeholders inspired, whether it’s through art, education, or in Alex’s case, cooking food and sharing a meal.

In March of 2014, the second cohort of the exchange took place as U.S. Fellows traveled to Latin America to continue the work begun in October. Through the job shadowing process, it was clear that there is a need in Panama for a truly community based initiative on economic empowerment. Together, Alex and Tess visited coworking spaces, met other hopeful entrepreneurs, and carried out the day-to-day activities at CRUSH.

As an environmentalist and community advocate, Tess felt that the rationale for Alexandra’s unique project was reinforced again and again. In the future, Tess hopes to continue working with Alex on her “Cooking Ideas” program and learning from the unique built and living environment in Panama.


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