Saluting Mark Haubner, a dedicated volunteer in the season of giving

In their golden years, many retirees fill their time with volunteer work. Mark Haubner of Aquebogue has taken that approach to extraordinary lengths. He dedicates his days to 10 nonprofit organizations, all of which focus on protecting the North Fork environment. He has served as president of the North Fork Environmental Council, co-chair of the Town of Riverhead Environmental Advisory Committee and a member of Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality — to name just a few of the roles Mr. Haubner has played. He is extremely passionate and tenacious about the work he’s doing and the impact it’s having. 

“I’m a big picture person,” he said. “We need more environmental awareness in Riverhead and Southold. Other towns on the South Fork have been doing sustainability much longer than we have on the North Fork. Let’s talk about methane, water flow and trees. It’s up to us to pick out and prioritize the things that need to be taken care of.” 

Mr. Haubner feels he didn’t decide to be an uber-volunteer, but that it was his calling. He’s been recycling newspapers since he was 11 years old. His mother, aunt and uncle were the inspiration for what he’s involved with now, he said. They made him very conscious of the impact we have on the world. “This stuff called me,” he said. “What I feel I’ve been tasked with is to focus on making people eco-literate. We need to know about our planet.” 

The tireless Mr. Haubner, who joked “200!” when asked his age, comes across as a passionate advocate who is on a mission to educate the public about how all of the Earth’s natural systems are intertwined and how the solutions to the ecological problems facing the North Fork are intertwined with each other. 

“It’s all circular,” he said. “We need to focus on zero-waste here. We’re starting to see people participate in the food scraps programs in Southold and Riverhead. Everybody eats food, so this is a relatively easy problem to solve. Recently, the Long Island Organics Council and the Long Island Regional Planning Commission had nine solid waste management company managers in one room to focus on getting us to zero-waste.” 

Mr. Haubner said that the way we handle our garbage right now is “old tech.” He noted that 40% of our solid waste is trucked to Pennsylvania and Ohio. The other 60%, he said, is burned. “That adds up to five pounds of garbage per North Forker per day — and that doesn’t work anymore.” 

With the North Fork fresh off an Election Day that will put several new faces into public office, Mr. Haubner said the education process starts all over again. “We have to work with the new people on eco-literacy.”

Always focusing on the big picture, Mr. Haubner urges all homeowners to capture rainwater in barrels, and he’s pushing to make all surfaces in public parking lots, streets and sidewalks permeable to reduce flooding. “Incorporating into our buildings positive, nature-based solutions will cost us 50% less and improve our groundwater runoff,” he said.

“They say if you’re not slightly alarmed at the global situation, you just aren’t paying attention. Throwing one’s hands up in the air is not part of my family history, and [poet] David Orr said it right: ‘Hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.’ The more hours I spend working on all of these programs and projects during the day, the less I lie awake at night.”

What does his family think of his serial volunteering? “That I’m nuts!” Mr. Haubner laughed. “They’re my focus group at home. I get instant feedback with what I’m doing. We need to start with small behavioral changes, find people who are willing to adopt a new way of protecting our environment. Once you get 25% of the population to do it, that’s the tipping point.”