You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2011.

NWEI is searching for a dynamic, proactive, self-starter to lead our Outreach efforts.

The new position, Director of Outreach and Technology, is an integral position for NWEI.  As having “Technology” in the title suggests, in addition to finding a candidate who is comfortable with new and existing outreach, we’re looking for someone with who has skills to work our database (Salesforce), update our website (Plone is our CMS) and generally knows their way around a computer (PC based office).

The ideal candidate will have experience with outreach, as well as interest in sustainability issues and a personal commitment to living lightly on the planet.  We are a small team, and are looking for another team-player to join us here at our office in inner Southeast Portland.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in the job, please send a cover letter, resume and short writing sample to NWEI by emailing contact@nwei.org with “Director of Outreach” in the subject line. The application deadline is Thursday, May 5th, 2011 at 5pm.

For a complete job description, click here. 

Firstly, for those of you who have come along for the journey of Oil and Our Lifestyles:  A Month of Action, we thank you whole-heartedly.  Today marks the close of a month dedicated to taking action– with oil and our lifestyles in mind.  We’ve journeyed together exploring driving less, walking and biking more, alternative transportation options, carpooling, home energy use, unplugging appliances and getting more efficient, how to broaden our reach, cultivating community, plastics and food… WOW!

One thing that has emerged for me is how oil pervades almost every element of my life and choices.  Every day there are points where I can influence the system– whether it is the food I eat, the transportation I take or the packaging I use or avoid.   Another lesson for me is that while my own individual actions matter immensely, I can’t act in isolation if I want to see broad systemic change.  I need to ‘broaden my reach,’ as NWEI staffer Lacy Cagle reminded us earlier in the month.  I need to insert my feedback more often and I need to engage others as often as I can.

Today’s proposed action is:  Reconnect with your commitment.

Similar to our action for Earth Day, today is about reminding yourself what it is you most care about and why it is so important to continue acting with Earth in mind.  If you are like me, this month has hopefully given you some new ideas or shown you where you could be doing more.  Hopefully it has reminded you of all the ways in which you can take action.

Today and over the weekend as April comes to a close, take a deep breath and look back on what new sustainable habits you have tried this month.  What has resonated most with you?  What do you want to take with you from this month?  How can your commitment to sustainable lifestyle choices be strengthened going forward?

May your commitment to live lightly be strengthened today as we close our month of action.  And again, we thank you for journeying with the Northwest Earth Institute as we continue to be the Change.

Today’s proposed action is: advocate for a food issue you care about. Write a letter, call a representative, meet with your legislator, or engage your community– and make your voice heard!

As we near the end of the month, we hope that our Month of Action inspired you to take on at least a few personal eco-challenges, and today we turn to the “next step” of advocating for change.  In a world that can feel overwhelming at times, making your voice heard can be incredibly empowering. Today we encourage you to pick an issue–or issues!–that matter to you, and take the next step to become an advocate for change.
Whether your personal issue of choice is school food offerings, food access for all, GMOs, or organics, today is the day to take a few minutes and advocate for change.  For more ideas on how to get started with letter writing advocacy or contacting your legislator, the California Food Policy Advocates is an excellent resource (and the info can easily be extrapolated to your state too). Another way to get involved in your local food system is to find out if your area has a food policy council.

Let us know what you choose to speak up about too!

Today’s proposed action is: Eat lower on the food chain today–by eating a vegetarian or vegan diet over the course of the day.  And consider making it a weekly tradition!

Today we turn to an issue that never ceases to spark debate, the impact of the meat industry. The following table via Lloyd Alter of Treehugger is a good visual of the fact that meat products are more intensive to produce.

With “roughly twenty-five times more energy required to produce one calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for human consumption” there is reason to consider at least a partially vegetarian diet.

For those who are already eating a completely vegetarian diet, the next step perhaps is eliminating dairy part of the time.

You may have heard of the Meatless Mondays movement, made popular most recently by Oprah.  Check out the website for more on the health and environmental benefits of moderating meat consumption, as well as recipes to try.

And let us know how your Meatless Wednesday goes today!

Continuing along the path of sustainable eating, we turn our attention to the processing and packaging of food.  Over the course of the last century, the food we eat has taken on many new forms. Food has shown up in the stores in increasing layers of packaging with more and more energy used to both process and package what we eat.

Today’s proposed action is: Consume only unprocessed foods today in order to cut down on the energy used to process and package;  and, similar to what you focused on a few weeks ago when we addressed plastics: avoid items that are heavily packaged.

The issues surrounding processed foods are two-fold: processed foods are more resource-intensive to manufacture, and they are sold to us in more layers of packaging. Think about a typical frozen dinner, even an organic relatively healthy meal will generally be packaged in plastic and then inside a plastic-coated paper box.  In addition to being healthier for you, unprocessed foods are more often available in bulk, which means less packaging (or none if you bring your own containers).

Currently, Americans spend 90% of their food budget on processed foods! Today, we propose getting back to basics with the foods we eat–and eating simply, for the health benefits and for the planet!

This is the final week of our Month of Action, and we’ve saved one of the most interesting, and complicated, issues for last: food.   Three years ago the NWEI community started talking about and acting on sustainable food issues, with our Menu for the Future program. Since then the conversation has moved into the mainstream media– with movies like Food, Inc.Ingredients, and Fresh calling attention to the realities of our industrial food systems.

The food systems that we depend on are inextricably linked to fossil fuel consumption. From beginning to end, our food system uses energy–every step from growing practices (generation of fertilizers and pesticides, for example), to food storage, to transporting edibles depends on fuel. And right now, 85% of the energy used in the United States is generated by fossil fuels. While we’re hopeful that alternative fuel sources will be part of the solution (think hybrid trucks transporting goods) and that organic farming will play a role (organic farming practices eliminate the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides, which currently account for 40% of the energy used in the food system!), we’re also of the mind that we, as consumers, have a very big role to play in making the shift to a lower impact food system.

This week we’ll propose actions you can take in order to eat a “low energy diet”  (and don’t worry we’re not talking about a “diet” in the traditional sacrificial sense of the word).  Over the course of the next few days, we’ll focus on ways you can act, eat and garden your way toward a more sustainable food future.

Today’s action is: Vote with your food dollars.

We encourage you to adopt the mindset of “voting with your food dollars” when you grocery shop and eat out.  Casting your vote for local foods is a simple way to immediately support a lower-impact food system. The math is simple: the fewer miles your meals travel to you, the less fuel required.  If you make a trip to a grocer or restaurant today focus on local options–and if you’re unsure which options are local, ask!

If you’re not shopping or eating out today, consider doing some research on locally owned grocery stores, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in your area, and local farmers markets, so you’re prepared the next time you need to go shopping.

This is also the perfect time to plant a spring garden–and come summer you’ll be eating super locally.

And if you’re already eating a locally focused diet, then consider taking the next step and becoming an advocate for change. Reach out to a friend or family member to encourage them!

Today marks the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, with an estimated 1 billion people likely participating – making it perhaps the largest secular civic event in the world (wow!).  This week, during Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we have turned our focus to community and culture, and how we can be agents of change in our respective circles of influence. What better day than today to reflect on our wider community of Earth?

Chief Seattle said it well when he said, “The earth does not belong to humans, humans belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Humans did not weave the web of life, they are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Today is a day to remember these interconnections.  Take time throughout the day to simply notice the many things outside of your physical body that are essential for your survival – and feel gratitude for these things. 

Today’s proposed action is:   Make a list of  some of the key actions you’ve taken this month to address oil and your lifestyle.  Pick one of these actions that you’ve taken this month and dedicate yourself to doing that one action indefinitely going forward.

(*If you’re just joining us here on NWEI’s blog, scroll below for a host of simple actions you can take and read on to see what others have been committing to during this month of action). 

We don’t have to ‘should’ ourselves into making lifelong changes – whether big or small.  We can instead shift towards the life we most want to be living because we are called to act in service of Life from a place of gratitude and from a place of understanding our interconnectedness with that which is beyond ourselves.  In this way we can slowly shift our awareness and actions to serving Life at large – and every day is an opportunity to practice this understanding and intention.

Every action we take impacts a greater web of community.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Our way of walking on the Earth has a great influence…The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps.”  Today and always, may we take mindful steps – remembering that every gesture of simplicity, sustainability and kindness truly makes a difference.

*Stay tuned next week as we dive into our final week of Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, where we’ll be exploring sustainable and local food choices – join us!

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we have turned our focus to community and culture, and how we can be agents of change in our respective circles of influence.

So far this month we’ve addressed the importance of taking action at home and work and looked at changes we can make in how we transport ourselves and how we eat.  We’ve looked at what we can do about plastics, a by-product of our dependence on oil, and considered how to broaden our reach beyond personal lifestyle choices to now influencing our immediate communities.

Today we bring our focus to what you can do in your immediate community to positively impact both others and the environment where you live.  Beyond signing petitions and pressuring our elected leaders to enact changes we wish to see, we must also turn our attention to the immediate circles of living communities of which we are a part.

As Grace Lee Boggs says, “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.”

Today’s proposed action is: Look after where you live.  Take one action today to serve your local community or neighborhood. 

If you’re not sure where to start, find out what one environmental justice issue in your community is, or one environmental issue that is particularly relevant where you live.  Find out what your local government is doing about the issue and contact them with questions or feedback or to ask how to get involved.  Another way to look after where you live is to find out what local organizations are doing to address environmental issues and get involved that way.  Is there a local action-oriented campaign you could join?

To learn more about how your state has been affected by fossil fuel extraction, for example, take a look at this state by state map of the impacts of fossil fuel accidents in the US from 1968-2011: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/fossilfuelmap.html.  If you live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky or Texas, your states have been hit hardest. 

Today we acknowledge the anniversary of the Gulf Coast oil spill and Deepwater Horizon disaster which killed 11 oil rig workers and released 60,000 barrels of oil a day for four months into the Gulf, adversely affecting marshes, coastline and wildlife from the Louisiana bayou to the Florida Panhandle and threatening the economic livelihood of thousands in that region.  A few facts about last year’s spill, from Oceana (an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans):

  • Number 1 largest accidental oil spill in history.
  • 200 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 straight days.
  • The Gulf of Mexico spill is more than 18 times the size of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez, previously the nation’s largest oil spill.
  • 6124 dead birds, 609 dead sea turtles, and 115 dead mammals have been collected in the Gulf, many of whose deaths have been directly attributed to oil.

Today’s proposed action is:  Sign a petition urging congress to reconsider offshore drilling legislation, and to instead focus on cleaner energy solutions and clean oceans.  Urge congress to support bills that shift subsidies from oil and gas to renewable technology such as offshore wind, and bills that prevent new oil and gas leasing in our oceans. 

For more information on the effects of last year’s spill and to further consider what is happening in the Gulf today, watch this 4 minute video on the science of last year’s spill, where one year after the largest oil spill in the history of the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are trying to determine the long-term ecological effects.


This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we have turned our focus to community and culture, and how we can be agents of change in our respective circles of influence.

Today we’ll take a look at the status of renewable energy in the US and consider actions to support renewable energy.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010, renewable energy provided 8.2 quadrillion BTUs of primary energy production in the United States, roughly 11% of our total production of 74.9 quads.  Biomass/biofuels accounted for 51.98% of renewable energy production, with hydropower accounting for 30.66%, wind accounting for 11.29%, geothermal for 4.68% and solar for 1.38%.

The good news is that the EIA reported  that wind energy increased by 28% last year, with biomass/biofuels increasing by 10% and solar and geothermal increasing by 4% each.  Also good news:  last Tuesday Governor Gerry Brown signed legislation requiring California utilities to obtain 33% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. The current requirement is 20%.

Today’s proposed action is: Encourage your elected officials to consider a similar bill if they have not already done so, and express your support for a National Renewable Energy Standard. (*Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico just introduced a national bill that would require utilities to generate 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025).

Also, if you have not done so already, speak with your local utility company about renewable energy options you can sign up for. 

For more information on both energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, you can visit the US Department of Energy’s website:  http://www.eere.energy.gov/

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we turn our focus to community and culture, and how we can be agents of change in our respective circles of influence.

This week marks both the anniversary of the Gulf Coast oil spill on April 20th as well as Earth Day on April 22nd.  In light of these important days, we invite you to create and/or deepen community around the issues you care about.  As one Month of Action participant wrote, “we all need support in changing old habits!”

To start the week, we are highlighting some of the efforts underway through this Month of Action.  Many of you shared with us your goals and reasons for participation.  Here is a sampling of what some of your fellow Month of Action community members are doing:
  • A Portland, OR participant purchased a new bike and is riding to work at least twice a week this month
  • In Westminster, CO a participant is driving less, walking and biking more, and blogging about the process to raise awareness
  • In Maryland a participant is not using heat for the month, and has committed to drying all laundry on a clothesline
  • In Corvallis, OR a participant is buying less plastic packaged foods at the grocery store and is eating more local foods
  • In Cincinnati, OH a participant has committed to exploring electronic free entertainment, increasing carpooling, and learning about eating local wild edible plants
  • A group of Hewlett Packard employees in Oregon will be doing NWEI’s oil spill focused course, Just Below the Surface, this week

As you know, here at NWEI we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and through our EcoChallenge.  So today we’re challenging each of you to consider ways to create and/or deepen community around the issues you care most about.

Today’s proposed action is: Organize a small group to discuss the oil spill anniversary and what it means for us moving forward as a community and culture.  Consider using NWEI’s Just Below the Surface discussion guide as a tool for gathering co-workers, friends or neighbors for an hour of reflection and action consideration. 

Whether or not you are able to organize a discussion group, share your concerns as well as what you are doing about them with your community more often this week.  Consider sharing Month of Action NWEI blog posts that have inspired you with your online social networks.  Raise awareness through taking time to connect with your immediate circles of influence about the issues that matter most to you right now. 

All this week, we’ve been focusing on reducing our use of plastics as part of our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action.

We’ve talked about plastic bottles, those pesky plastic bags, and phthalates.

Well, today, we”re going to focus on reducing our packaging waste. According to EcoLife, containers and packaging make up over 30% of the average American’s trash bin, most of which is not recycled. And that packaging represents wasted resources such as petrochemicals, trees, chemicals, water as well as transport emissions – the heavier the product, the more greenhouse gas emissions emitted.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use.

Today’s proposed action is:  Consciously reduce the amount of products you buy that have excessive amounts of packaging.

How to reduce packaging waste

  • Look for unpackaged consumer goods: Many companies have put in a lot of effort to reduce their packaging to zero. When the option is available, take it!
  • Bring your own containers: Whether you’ll need a water refill while at the park or are looking for ways to take your restaurant leftovers home, you can reduce packaging waste by bringing your own reusable containers like glass water bottles, stainless steel coffee mugs, and collapsible food containers.
  • Select products in refillable containers: Some personal care products and food items can be purchased in refillable containers like glass jars and reusable plastic bottles.
  • Buy in bulk: Real bulk items are those in a single large container (refillable is even better) that holds many individual servings. Don’t confuse bulk with many individually-wrapped items bundled together in one large palette, though.
  • Look for recycled packaging: Wrappers and boxes made from post-consumer recycled materials are definitely better than virgin-made packages, though this option should come only after you’ve looked for ways to reduce your packaging waste.
  • Choose lightweight packaging: Minimal packaging is always the best and can significantly reduce the materials needed for packaging, the fuel needed to transport an item, and the energy needed to make it. Aluminum beer cans made with 12% less metal saved Coors 637 tons of aluminum.
  • Seek out biodegradable packaging: This type of packaging is usually made of some sort of corn-based plastic that can be broken in a commercial composting facility (not your backyard compost pile) that reaches very high temperatures under just the right conditions.

**HERE’S THE BONUS ACTION OF THE DAY**

  • Contact companies you support with your concerns:  It’s not enough to merely avoid buying products with excessive amounts of packaging. As consumers, we need to communicate our decisions to companies in order to encourage them to significantly reduce the amount of packaging they use for their products.

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we’ve turned our focus to plastics.

Today, it’s all about the phthalates.

According to the Environmental Working Group, phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient. Phthalates are also used as solvents and are nearly ubiquitous in modern society, found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall coverings, lubricants, adhesives, detergents, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo. 

Phthalates are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastics in your daily life.

Today’s proposed action is: Make your house phthalate-free.

Do a thorough sweep of your house — from your children’s toys and cosmetics to food packaging and shampoo — to minimize the phthalates in your house.

Phthalates aren’t often listed in an ingredients section, so here are some ways to identify them in your home:

  1. Read the ingredients. According to the organization Pollution in People, you can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:
    • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
    • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
    • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
    • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).
  2. Be wary of the term “fragrance,” which is used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthalates.
  3. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we’ve turned our focus to plastics.

Yesterday, we talked about the issues surrounding water bottles. Today, we’re focusing on plastic bags.

According to Environment Oregon, there are 100 million tons of plastic trash in the North Pacific concentrated by the ocean’s currents into a toxic soup 1000 miles off our coast where plastic outnumbers plankton 40-to-1.  All this plastic pollution in our oceans poisons, strangles, starves, and suffocates millions of sea turtles, seabirds, whales, and fish every year.

For example, here in Oregon alone, we use 1.7 billion plastic checkout bags every year — that’s 500 per person!  So many of those bags make their way into our ocean, onto our beaches, and into marine ecosystems. These bags are also notorious for clogging up the gears of recycling machines, creating constant mechanical problems at recycling stations.

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use.

Today’s proposed action is: Vow to always bring your own reusable shopping bag whenever you go shopping.

If you’re already doing this, give a reusable bag to a friend or neighbor to double your impact.  My wife and I keep a few canvas bags in our car so that when we make those impromptu grocery shopping trips, we never have to use plastic bags.

Also, contact your local elected officials and urge them to ban the use of plastic bags in your community.  Several states, including Oregon, are currently considering statewide bans on plastic bags. Make your voice heard!

During this week of Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we turn our focus to plastics.

Take a look around — many of the items that we eat, drink, or use in any way come packaged in petroleum plastic. This plastic material is often designed to last forever, yet is commonly used for products that we use just once and then throw away. The effects of this throwaway mentality can be readily witnessed in our landfills and at our beaches that are being overrun with plastic packaging.

As the organization 5 Gyres points out:

“The short-term convenience of using and throwing away plastic products carries a very inconvenient long-term truth. These plastic water bottles, cups, utensils, electronics, toys, and gadgets we dispose of daily are rarely recycled in a closed loop. We currently recover only 5% of the plastics we produce. What happens to the rest of it? Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains “unaccounted for”, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea.”

Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge. So we’re challenging each of you to decrease the amount of plastic you use on a regular basis.

Today’s proposed action is: Reduce one piece of plastic that you use in your daily lives.

If you’re still using disposable water bottles, go get yourself a stainless steel water bottle. If you’ve got friends or family that are using water bottles once and then throwing them away, take this opportunity to talk to them about the long-term impacts of plastics.

Consider contacting your local elected officials and urge them to enact legislation that will decrease the amount of bottled water waste your community creates. This issue in particular is one in which individual communities can make a big difference, so contact your city council and county officials.

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