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Free Goods

Free Goods

My wife and I spent New Year’s Day at the Harvard Club of New York City and had the opportunity to observe how one small slice of society treats free goods. By free goods, I mean physical goods which have value but often have no price tags for the individual user. Clean air is a common example, as is clean water.

Conservatives have called Harvard  the “Kremlin on the Charles,” and the university’s people have led on “liberal” causes like civil rights, Vietnam and corporate civic responsibility.  It therefore seemed reasonable that the club and its members and guests would display good practices in the “liberal” cause of energy conservation.

My hopes were dashed. Bathrooms were shared and accessible off the club hallways, with doors open when the bathrooms were not in use. I consistently saw lights and powerful ventilators left on in empty bathrooms, and I once cut off hot water someone had left running full blast into an unmanned sink. Probing further, I asked the gracious room service women about the policies for changing sheets and towels for guests who stay two nights or more. I learned that some guests want their sheets changed every day and use a towel only once before tossing it into a communal dirty laundry bag.  The club guest does not pay any more per night no matter how much hot water he might use unnecessarily, and he does not pay anything more for daily fresh sheets and towels.

Perhaps the club itself would have good conservation measures. but no. Several of the staff told me that the club has no recycling policy; papers, plastics and other waste are lumped together and taken away by the club’s disposal service. Doormen left doors to the street open to chilly December air.

There was one bright spot. The club’s New Year’s Eve party was a gala, formal affair that we walked into shortly after midnight. There was much leftover food and alcohol on tables abandoned as celebrants danced and otherwise greeted the New Year. One of the club staff distributed paper bags to bystanders for them to salvage fresh pastries from the piles of unconsumed food the Crimsons left behind.


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