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Interested in bringing those who live near and dear to you together to start a neighborhood group?

Join Transition PDX tonight for a panel discussion on the many approaches to building stronger communities!

Neighbors as Communities:Starting Neighborhood Groups

The panel will be comprised of the Ainsworth Street Collective, The Sellwood Connection, Jeanne Roy from the Center for Earth Leadership and Transition Sunnyside.

“The panel will be followed by discussion of how we might adapt any or all of these approaches in our neighborhoods.   Join us in learning how to build community and have a good time while doing it!” – Transition PDX

Meeting this evening, March 31 @ St. Francis Dining Hall, 1182 SE Pine St., Portland, OR

More about Transition PDX…

“The mission of TransitionPDX is to inspire, to encourage, to network, to support and train the communities and neighborhoods of the Portland metro area as they consider, adopt, adapt and implement the transition model in order to establish Transition Initiatives.

How would such a city look? Fostering a resilient community is about developing a community that can thrive despite the challenges brought to it by changing climate conditions and the consequences of depleting energy resources.

One of the notable things about the Transition Initiative is the hope that it brings to people. Despite the very real challenges that the future is likely to bring, the enthusiasm in the room at gatherings and meetings can be quite palpable.”


Ever wondered what actually goes on in that brown stuff that everything grows from and sits on?  I know I’ve heard many mind-boggling statistics about the number of microorganisms in a teaspoon of dirt.  But it’s always been just that–mind-boggling, and hard to conceptualize.  Well Dirt! the movie is a chance to learn all the dirty secrets about dirt, our relationship with it, and what exactly it does.  In Portland, there will be a screening at the Baghdad on April 1st at 7pm ($5/$3 students), which will be benefiting Jefferson Young Women’s Academy Service Learning Program (you get to learn about dirt and help out a good cause!).  If you’re looking for another reason, this movie just might be the final bit of motivation you need to get started on your garden.  If you don’t live in the Portland area, you can find out when a screening will be happening near you by checking out Dirt!’s events section.

A couple weeks back, we completed the first step in a branding process for NWEI.  What we found out in talking with our stakeholders was both reaffirming and somewhat disappointing.  We sure felt great when some 90 percent of respondents said they would “Definitely” recommend us to others, or when 94 percent rated quality as “Excellent” or “Good” (72 percent said Excellent).  When asked to describe us, some familiar phrases came out such as “Challenging people to be better environmental stewards.” Or “Increasing knowledge regarding our relationship to the earth.”  Perhaps we should just be done with this branding process and rest on our laurels with a touch of smugness.

Satisfied we are not!  What we didn’t see as much of as we would have liked were the words and descriptions of an “action” outcome.  We know it happens.  Our Impact Evaluation survey completed by participants each quarter tells us the NWEI process drives awareness, a sense of personal responsibility and new and strengthened actions from eating habits, to curbing consumption, energy use and civic action.  However we were disappointed that “action” wasn’t more top of mind in the descriptors people used to describe us.

So what is the process that drives this action?  We decided to go to the masters, you know, the folks that encourage us to consume ever more stuff, especially the stuff we don’t need, but think it would be cool to have.  The masters?  Who spends more on research to understand how you think about products and what it takes to get you to switch brands?  The marketing community.  So here’s the formula we adapted from the pros:  C=(DxVxFSxS)>RA.  Hold on, it ain’t some funky form of algebra.  It is however a process with an outcome and barrier for bookends.  Here’s how it works.

C – Change to a new or expanded set of desired behaviors.

D – Dissatisfaction. Without a problem or need to address, little effort will be expended in changing behaviors.  You know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Unfortunately, we in the environmental community used the dissatisfaction frame almost exclusively for years to spur change.  The foundation for change may have been laid, but little action on the citizen front resulted.  Dissatisfaction is a start, but more is needed.

V – Vision. The more recent sustainability effort has provided a positive vision for going forward, offering hope and empowerment for citizens, business and the many other communities who have up till now stood on the sidelines.  It’s not perfect and not fully developed yet, but what is clear is that an emerging vision is framed much more around what we should start doing rather than a focus on what we should stop doing – subtle, but key.

FS – First Steps. Make it easy to start.  You don’t train for a marathon by starting at 26 miles.  First a jog around the block, then run a couple miles and progressively add distance and speed.  Start with what’s achievable.  We all need some immediate wins to spur the larger more difficult efforts to follow.

S – Support. The most effective behavior change programs (drug and alcohol, beginning exercise, weight loss, etc.) involve a supportive network.  Even a “Snuggie” comes in a two person version to keep warm with. Supportive networks help normalize new behaviors, provide accountability and positive reinforcement. How many New Year’s resolutions have you followed through on and only shared with yourself?

RA – Resistance to Action. To succeed in the change process, the steps taking place within the parenthesis must be “Greater Than” our hardwired response to resist a change in behaviors.

Over the next half year or so, we are going to bust our tails to assure our slate of programs does an even better job of driving action on both the personal and organizational fronts.  A healthy human population and planet depend on our doing so.

We want to know what amazing things you’re doing to encourage action-oriented outcomes in the way of affecting positive behavior change!

What have you been dedicating your time to?

What’s your next move?

For those of you who want to know more about NWEI’s innovative sustainability programs and are free during the lunch hour (12-1) this coming Thursday, come stop by our new office location at the historic Olympic Mills building for an Introductory Session. Our new address is:

107 SE Washington Street, Portland, OR 97214

Feel free to come check out our new office space (suite #235) just before noon and then we can all walk down to the Think Tank Conference Room where we will discuss two new course opportunities open to the public.

Menu for the Future & Choices for Sustainable Living

  • Courses will meet separately after the Intro Session, occurring weekly during the lunch hour
  • Cost is $20 for course materials, which will be available at the first meeting
  • For more info email or give us a call at 503.227.2807

The Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge, for those who aren’t familiar with the event, is a fun opportunity to take on an environmental challenge for two weeks. Maybe you’ve been meaning to reduce the amount of trash your family creates, or you’ve been looking for a good reason to experiment with alternative transportation–the EcoChallenge provides a chance to take on the challenge of your choice, with the camaraderie of the NWEI community.  The 2010 EcoChallenge will take place October 1-15, so mark your calendars, and plan to join us in demonstrating the collective power of many people making one sustainable change!

Read on for a 2009 EcoChallenger’s insights from her experience taking on the Sustainable Eating challenge–and upping the ante by deciding to eat only local foods. Emily took on the 100-mile diet last October and learned a lot about sustainable eating in the process. (And don’t be scared off by the intensity of Emily’s challenge– the great thing about the EcoChallenge is participants choose their own personal challenge, and set about achieving it in a way that works for them, and their family. )

Guest Contribution by Emily West

My journey with food awareness began seven years ago.  I wanted to be healthier, so I started with simple things like eating whole grains, more vegetables, fruits, and less red meat.  Slowly, my eyes were opened to the current system of food processing and consumption.

When my son was born, he had many food allergies, including an allergy to preservatives. This motivated me to learn more about the additives, chemicals, and GMOs that are in our food.  This is when we switched to eating mostly organic whole foods in our family.

This past fall I took my food awareness to a new level when I chose a “100 mile diet” for my NWEI EcoChallenge.  Eating locally really aligned with my values, so I decided to make that my personal challenge.  While reading ingredients had become second nature to me, I wasn’t trained to ask where my food was from.

I’ve always enjoyed shopping at farmers markets, but unfortunately those trips became harder to make with small children. Instead, I resorted to seeing how quickly I could get in and out of the grocery store.  I still grabbed organic whole foods, but didn’t pay attention to where they originated.  I hoped my EcoChallenge would teach me new things, and force me to slow down and consider all aspects of the food my family was eating.

During the two-week EcoChallenge I had many “aha” moments.  Read the rest of this entry »

My reaction to the sunny day that has presented itself today can be summarized by the simple, yet profound, slogan of the Oregon Country Fair:

“Yes, yes, yes!”

Finally, spring is upon us! Yes to the longer sun kissed afternoons, yes to the budding tear drop-shaped magnolias, and yes to the sudden wafts of floral aromas that come and go all too quickly as we pass by on our hurried way.

It took only a few walks around my historic Brooklyn Neighborhood, noticing these sudden changes in my surroundings, to rush home the other evening and begin to toil the soil in great anticipation of beginning my first garden. What is that infamous Gandhi quote? “To forget how to dig the Earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” One must not forget oneself, so let’s get diggin!

According to the article written by Wendell Berry entitled “The Pleasures of Eating” that is featured in NWEI’s Menu for the Future course book, the first of seven steps that one can take in order to fully understand and enact responsible eating is as follows:

1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

So rip up that lawn or get a plot in a community garden so you can reap the rewards of a free summer lunch, and be sure let us know more about your spring garden plans by leaving us some comments below.

What steps are you taking right now to prepare your garden for a summer flourishing? If it so happens that due to unfortunate circumstances you are not planning to harvest deliciously organic veggies this summer, then let us know what signs of spring you’ve noticed lately!

Are the bustling farmers markets and the farmers tans of neighboring gardeners making you interested in exploring the connection between food and sustainability?

Be sure to check out our Menu for the Future discussion course. 

What would it mean if we all viewed the world, and our place, through the lense of a bioregional perspective? Would it mean describing distant locations solely by geographical landmarks, much in the way the native people must have? Or might we all be struck with the strong inclination to suddenly take up yodeling?

No one can say what that world would look like for sure, but in the following piece, Rick Seifert touches on these notions in a very heartfelt article that encourages us to develop such a perspective. He describes how NWEI’s Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course led him and a small group of friends to contemplate what it would mean if we truly considered the benefits of consciously developing an intimate relationship with our place. Enjoy!

Guest Contribution by Rick Seifert

(Article originally published in Rick’s blog and in The Southwest Community Connection, Mar 1, 2010)

Today’s trenchant question asks whether words interfere with our understanding of where we are – with our sense of place?

The query is prompted by the group-guided course I’m taking through the Northwest Earth Institute. Its title, appropriately enough, is “A Sense of Place.” The eight-session course with its carefully selected readings invites us, its 10 enrollees, to become intimate with where we live.

A recent required reading urged us to stay put. To resist the restlessness that afflicts so many Americans.

Another assigned article called on us to recognize, explore and celebrate our bioregion, a place that defies and transcends political boundaries.

The course also asks us to consider the slippery concept of ownership of place. Do we own the land? As we know, Native Americans found the whole idea alien, literally beyond comprehension. The European settlers and their ancestors have based much of the economy, and many of our burdens, on private ownership of land. The notion defines our values, our legal system and our lives.

Native peoples would no doubt be amused that much of our “ownership” is now “underwater,” submerged in debt accumulated in a frenzy of consumption and greed.

I’ve concluded that so much of what determines our conception, and misconception, of where we live has to do with names. “Where are you from?” I’m asked in my travels. “Portland, Oregon,” I say without giving my answer much thought.

Do I know what I’m saying? Have I been honest? Or is this simply a cursory, but readily understandable shorthand for a foreigner?

My answer conjures up in the listener some media image of Portland. Bikes, coffee, bridges, rain, perhaps the iconic profile of Mount Hood on a clear day.

And what does my answer mean to me? Portland is a proper noun with a multitude of associations. I can’t begin to put into words all the things Portland means. Nor can my fellow Portlanders.

Limited by words and labels, is it possible to express our sense of place? Read the rest of this entry »

To demonstrate our appreciation to our members for their ongoing support, NWEI is pleased to offer a special promotion this spring–for a limited time, NWEI members will receive 10% off course books!  This promotional offer runs from March 10, 2010-June 10, 2010.  To receive the membership discount, you must be a current member of NWEI (you can become a member or renew your membership when you place your order too).

To place an order and take advantage of the Spring Member Offer, please call us at (503) 227-2807.  Thank you to all of our supporting members for making it possible for us to continue working toward a sustainable future!

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