Brook Sarson

brook sarsonBrook Sarson is the co-owner and CEO of CatchingH2O/H2OME, a rainwater catchment and greywater recycling company in San Diego. She graduated from University of the Pacific with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. Also, Brook earned her Permaculture Certificate in 2008. Her company CatchingH2O/H2OME has saved water in our often drought-ridden region and has helped people become more water resilient. In this spotlight, learn more about water harvesting and read about Brook’s journey in starting her business, her favorite part of her job, and advice for students.

For those who don’t know, could you explain what water harvesting is?

“Water harvesting is catching rainwater from roofs, streets, or landscapes and using it as a resource. In our case, we are using it for landscaping but you could also use it for inside uses. Greywater harvesting is using water from your laundry machines, showers, and sinks (except for your kitchen sink) and recycling it so you can use it again in your landscape.”

Where did you get the inspiration for your company?

“I’ve always felt connected to water. I grew up in the Sierras, where there were always water issues. When I started my company, we were in the middle of a really big drought and having lived through many droughts, I couldn’t understand why nobody felt empowered to do anything about it.”

“I had traveled to Australia and been all over the southwest. There, I had seen people catching rainwater and using greywater. There was nothing like that here in San Diego. I wanted to feel empowered in my home to have water resilience and I wanted other people to have that empowerment as well. I started a business and I realized I had to learn how to do it myself in order to help people understand what their resources were.”

What skills or knowledge was most helpful to you when starting your own business?

“That’s a great question and I would say that I didn’t necessarily know all the answers to that until many years after I started. I have an Electrical Engineering degree and I ended up with a double degree in Math as well. The grit and determination of completing that program and learning to solve problems was very helpful. Also, learning about systems helped me because the work that I do is all about bigger-scale systems. It’s about how water interacts with soil, how water and soil interact with plant roots, how people interact with their landscapes, how communities interact with each other, and how water interacts with communities. It’s problem-solving at a systems-level that has helped me most understand how to approach the problems that I’m facing when working in my business.”

What is your favorite part of your job?

“I would say one of my favorite parts of my job is getting to travel all over town, be invited into people’s homes, and talk with all different types of people across the political and socioeconomic spectrum. When I meet with clients, they are sharing their showering habits with me and showing me the amazing plants growing in their yard. I feel like I really get to have a finger on the pulse of all of the different things my community cares about. I’m not just going to one genre of person’s house, it’s everyone from Poway to La Jolla to City Heights. They are calling because they care about water, or saving water, or saving money, or being green. I really enjoy being connected to that deeper understanding of what my community cares about.”

Other than water harvesting, you also have your permaculture certificate. Could you tell us more about permaculture?

“Yes, permaculture is a systems approach to design that was developed in the 1970s in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. I came to permaculture through knowing that I wanted to do water harvesting. I also knew that Brad Lancaster was one of the premier people working in this field and he was out in Arizona, so I found a permaculture class that he was involved in teaching. Permaculture blew my mind! A lot of what goes into the design process in permaculture is observing natural patterns and mimicking them. It’s not just landscape, but it’s also human interactions, businesses, communities, organizations, small home landscapes, large farm landscapes, and any scale you can imagine. I found it really helpful for me in understanding that I’m not working in a void. It brought to light a lot more aspects of what was involved and what I was trying to teach to people.”

What advice do you have for students who want to make positive change for the environment?

“Number one is that famous quote by Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you care about something you should want to live it. Be an example and don’t beat yourself up about not being able to do everything because it’s also the sum of small things that create change. Sometimes even I get overwhelmed when I think about how small of a difference I’m making in comparison to these big issues that we are facing. However, all the small differences add up and when we get groups together, when we do tours, when clients call me five years later stoked and ready for the next thing, I know these positive changes are really rippling through the community and all of that matters.”

“The one other thing I would say is to be humble and learn. Go learn from somebody and learn anything! It doesn’t have to be the subject that you care about doing the most but go be with somebody, learn something, and do something hard because that’s what’s going to build your character and skills.”