Helen Bielak - Manager, Environmental Stewardship
At the Office of Environmental Stewardship, one of Helen Bielak's current projects is working with Institution Recycling Network, a cooperative that works largely with educational and health care institutions, helping them manage their recycling and reuse efforts.
As Manager, Surplus Reuse Program, Bielak acts as a matchmaker of sorts, learning about items available for reuse and finding channels for linking them with recipients on campus, in the Morningside neighborhood and in other parts of the world. The Surplus Reuse Program is a centralized resource in Columbia's growing effort to keep as much material as possible out of landfills.
Bielak's career in facilities management -- both in private industry and at Columbia University - has been its own course in sustainability. Over the years she's integrated countless principles and practices, applying them in her current position.
Bielak came to Columbia in 1999, as Building Operations Manager for the University Residence Halls department. Her pioneering work with the University's "greening" began shortly thereafter, with the renovation of the East Campus townhouses.
Her objective was to help create a design to expedite room turn-over for conference housing. Renovations included motion sensors for lighting, Energy Star appliances, and water-flow controls. Carpets were replaced with tile, new furniture had less upholstery, bathroom tile was replaced by groutless plastic composite sheets, cleanable paint finishes, and sheet vinyl to preserve plaster board from frequent damage.
All this translated to more efficient cleaning and elimination of need for harsh cleaning chemicals - to say nothing of energy savings and significantly more healthful paint and adhesives.
In the intervening years, as Manager of Custodial Services for Columbia University Facilities, Bielak always looked out for new cleaning products and equipment, especially for low-maintenance materials that cut down on toxicity. The same has been true for residence hall materials such as flooring, walls, appliances and plumbing supplies in common areas and bathrooms.
Over the years, training has been a significant part of her work. Most recently she has been introducing new employees to environmental stewardship efforts at Columbia as a presenter in Human Resources' Learning and Development orientation program. This fall she has done similar programs for the Medical, Dental and Public Health Schools on the Columbia University Medical School campus, and for Arts and Sciences, Student Services, SEAS, Columbia College, International Studies, Columbia Business and Law Schools, and the RA Training Program - all on the Morningside campus.
Bielak and Catherine Resler, Recycling and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs Manager, have also been working on environmental audits with personnel at Columbia University Press, Studebaker, and CUMC residence halls.
Under Facilities' auspices, Bielak worked on the organization of Dumpster Days, in which faculty and staff was encouraged to clean their work places, with emphasis on recycling. In recent years, Dumpster Days have evolved into Give & Go Green, a collaborative effort among Eco-Reps, Housing & Dining, and Facilities, with huge amounts of donations going to local agencies rather than into landfills.
Bielak's initial experience in facilities and property management was in Class A commercial real estate and high-traffic health clubs in Manhattan.