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Thanks to Sarah Bills at Vestas for today’s blog post!

Last year, 12 employees from Vestas, the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines, participated in NWEI’s Sustainable Systems at Work discussion course. The group was so inspired by the program that they decided to apply the concepts discussed throughout the eight-week course to a project within their own company. After identifying several areas for possible action, they decided on one key project to reduce waste.

Each Vestas turbine tower section travels from the factory to the wind farm site by way of train, truck, boat, or any combination of the three. Blue tarps stamped with the Vestas logo cap each end of the tower sections to prevent dirt and debris from blowing into the tower section during transport.

Tower sections leaving the factory in Pueblo, Colo.

With two tarps per section, four sections per turbine, an average of 55 turbines per project and with more than 20 projects on the books for 2012, Vestas was looking at a lot of scrapped tarp. When the employees aimed to reduce the amount of landfill space taken up by these tarps, the “Blue Tarp Project” was born.

The first and most important step for the team was figuring out how to make the tarps reusable. The current design required the tarp to be cut to fit the tower section onto transportation equipment. Once at the wind farm site, the tarp was cut again to remove it. The team worked with the tarp supplier to create a design that allowed the tarp to be installed and removed without damage. Once removed from the towers, the tarps could be returned in supply containers already scheduled to return to the factory.

Vestas “blue tarp bags” upcycled from used tarp material.

Previous to the redesign, tarps might find their way to area farmers who would use them to cover hay bales or farm equipment. More often, the wind farm sites paid to have the tarps sent to the landfill. The project team rescued some of these tarps by sending them to local upcycler, LooptWorks, which created and manufactured “blue tarp bags” for each employee at the Vestas North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon.  Employees received a bag on their first workday in the new headquarters. (In fact, the new building itself is an upcycled item – a former Meier & Frank warehouse transformed into a beautiful office space designed to obtain LEED Platinum certification later this year.)

On top of the positive environmental impact, reusing the tarps will increase cost savings with each reuse — a win for Vestas, their clients, and the environment.


Today’s blog post is from Marsha Rakestraw, Director of Online Communications and Education Resources at the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). To learn more about IHE, visit their website at To read more from Marsha and others, visit the Humane Connection blog at Thanks Marsha, Zoe and everyone at IHE for all your work for a better world!

Recently I came across this quote: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” (John Lubbock)

It reminded me of the powerful story, based on a West African folktale, that Mary Pat Champeau, director of education, shares every summer at IHE’s student residency. Here’s one version of the story:

There was once an elderly and wise gentleman who lived in a village. He would often spend his days sitting in the shade of a big tree in the center of the village, reading books and talking to passersby. One day, a traveler came upon his village and stopped and said, “Old man, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?”
The elderly gentleman looked up at him and replied, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found on your travels.”
The traveler scowled and said, “Old man, I have met people who cheat, steal, and aren’t kind to strangers, and people who don’t look out for one another.”
The elderly gentleman looked up and, with a faint look of sadness in his eyes, said, “Oh my friend, those are the people you will find in my village.” The traveler kicked the dirt under his feet, scoffed, and marched off towards the village.

By and by, as the elderly gentleman continued to enjoy his day, another traveler came walking through the village. Once again, the traveler stopped and asked, “Please kind sir, I have been traveling across the countryside, and I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me what kind of people I will find in your village?”
The elderly gentleman said, “Certainly I can, but first tell me what kind of people you have found in your travels.”
The traveler replied, “I have found people who are kind and welcoming of strangers, people who care for one another, and people who love. These are the people I have met in my travels.”
The elderly gentleman looked up and, with the faintest smile in his eyes, said, “My friend, those are the people you will find in my village.”

The quote and the story are important reminders for us as humane educators and concerned citizens to be mindful of our worldview. Do we mainly see the things in people that annoy or upset us? Do we focus on all the animal and human suffering and planet-wide destruction? Do we fret about all the things we’re not doing? Or, do we see all the good in others and joyfully invite them to make even more compassionate, just, and sustainable choices? Do we celebrate all the positive things changemakers around the world are accomplishing? Do we acknowledge all the good that we ourselves are doing and seek out opportunities to do more?

Part of creating the world we want means keeping alive a vision of that world — not traversing life with rose-colored glasses, but rather maintaining a dual vision: one that sees what is, while seeing what’s possible; one that is aware of what’s good and of what can be better; one that recognizes the role our own biases and experiences play in our own vision of how the world (and others) should be.

As a child, summer meant no school and being outside from sun-up to sun-down. While many of us still must fulfill our obligations even during the summer, it doesn’t mean that we have to stop our love of the summer sun. In today’s internet-minded, high-speed culture, not enough people take the time to just stop and enjoy the simple things. So this summer, we have a proposition for you… 

  • Go outside every day, whether it is for a bike ride, a walk, a run, a hike, or playing with the neighborhood kids.
  • Eat seasonal, local, fresh produce. Enjoy a picnic. Can some tomatoes. Connect with the earth where your food was grown.
  • Take the time to learn and grow from what the earth has to teach. In summer, all of the earth’s glory and bounty surrounds us.
  • Most of all, think of ways that your own life and practices are affecting the earth, and make positive steps to change what needs changing and hold on to what is positive.
  • Know that while summer may be one of the shorter seasons in many regions, its effects can last all year round.

And, if by the end of the glorious summer season, you still feel the urge to continue this lifestyle, join our Ecochallenge in October and make your summer changes last all year round.

Happy Summer, everyone!

NWEI partner Simplicity Matters Earth Institute in Maryland continues to foster momentum and discussion around climate change while promoting NWEI courses.  

During the recent event “Connect the Dots,” Lore Rosenthal and her colleagues at Simplicity Matters Earth Institute (SMEI) helped folks connect the dots among climate change, extreme weather and energy production by holding a discussion and demonstration at a local coal-fired power plant. SMEI used the momentum from this event to encourage folks to participate in NWEI’s Powering a Bright Future discussion course.

It’s one thing to talk about and imagine the complexities of climate change, but it’s another to have conversations on the ground with the issue staring you right in the face…

In what creative ways are you introducing sustainability issues or engaging folks in NWEI discussion courses? We’d like to know!

For those of you attending the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Phoenix this year, make sure to meet up with our Director of Outreach and Technology Rob Nathan! Rob will be attending the GA Wednesday, June 20th through Saturday, June 23rd. If you’d like to set up a time to meet with Rob while he’s there, call him at 503.227.2807 or email him at Rob is excited to hear about what’s going on with your congregation, as well as to tell you about some of the exciting happenings at NWEI right now.

While you’re there, make sure to visit NWEI partner Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth’s booth (#209) in the exhibit hall. UUMFE is also facilitating a workshop on Immigration and Environmental Justice:

Immigration & Environmental Justice

UUMFE’s own GA workshop.
Friday, June 22, 9:00-10:15 am at Phoenix Convention Center, 121 AB.

Panelists Rev. Earl W. Koteen, Amy Petré Hill, Lara Helfer, and Linda Herrera will discuss how environmental degradation (polluted air, land, and water; ocean acidification; severe storms and droughts; mass extinctions; melting glaciers) disproportionally impacts disadvantaged communities and contributes to migration and injustice. Find out how your congregation and state advocacy network may work with environmental justice organizations and coalitions addressing these issues.

We hope to see you there!

Our friends at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recently released their annual review of higher education sustainability, revealing skyrocketing support for green jobs training; an increased focus on creating food-secure communities; new efforts toward accessibility and affordability; and more energy-related and green building efforts than ever before.

Since 2006, AASHE has produced an annual review of higher education sustainability efforts over the previous year. These publications are comprised of news stories and resources captured in the weekly AASHE Bulletin e-newsletter. The goal of the report is to serve as a standard reference for who is doing what to advance sustainability in higher education.

“AASHE is pleased to present this important publication to our members each year – and to the wider public through our e-book version. It is exciting to chart the rapid growth of the campus sustainability movement through stories and data collected in the Bulletin,” said AASHE’s Director of Resources and Publications, Judy Walton. “This year we were especially pleased to see the growth in accessibility and affordability efforts, as well as green jobs training and creating food secure communities. We hope our readers enjoy the stories, interviews, case studies, synopses and trends that we’ve collected in this issue.”

Specifically, an analysis of 2011 stories shows:

  • The number of Bulletin stories dealing with higher education access and affordability increased from three in 2009 and four in 2010 to 36 in 2011.
  • Nearly 60 percent of all new programs or training opportunities focused on training students for renewable energy and green careers, with $543 million recorded toward the effort.
  • 284 energy-related initiatives were announced (including 97 new or planned solar installations and 34 completed or planned campus energy overhauls). This represents a 28 percent increase from 2010.
  • Food security efforts on higher education campuses made up the largest percentage of the Bulletin’s “Public Engagement” (33 percent) and “Dining Services” (64 percent) categories. Together with “Funding” and “Grounds” categories, these four categories yielded 79 food security initiatives.
  • 2011 saw increased synergies between community colleges and their local communities to address access to an affordable college education that results in strong job prospects and low student debt.
  • With 191 environmentally friendly building stories, there were more green building efforts on campus reported in the AASHE Bulletin in 2011 than ever before.
  • Solar energy research projects were the most widely reported item in the Bulletin’s “Research” category, with nearly $1.8 million in total investment.

The final section of the review takes a look at “what’s next,” profiling innovative campus-community partnerships toward resilient, secure, sustainable communities.

An e-book version of the “2011 Higher Education Sustainability Review” will be available to AASHE members and non-members through Amazon Kindle this month.

Today’s blog post is written by guest blogger Sylvia Reynolds.

Cities Save Money When They Save the Environment.

America’s homeowners are discovering they save hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars when they take aggressive steps to reduce their consumption of gas and electricity, conserve and recycle water, and restore natural vegetation in their yards. Now, many cash-strapped cities are learning to stretch their budgets with similar “go-green” initiatives. You may save property taxes and protect essential city services when you persuade local government officials to preserve and protect the hometown environment.

Stop landscaping. Start land-managing.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website offers excellent advice and guidance for homeowners and city planners. Although the EPA’s professional environmentalists develop all the details in their save-the-earth strategies, just two fundamental principles inform almost all of their suggestions: First, reduce stress on the soil and water supply by restoring indigenous plants and trees; second, preserve existing green belts and recover derelict properties for productive use. Five simple steps launch your city’s earth-saving, cost-saving initiative:

Stop run-off. Recycle gray water. Collect rain water.  If current climate and water-use trends continue, water will become the nation’s scarcest, most precious resource. The more your city can do to manage water wisely today, the better prepared you will be in the future. Your city probably loses millions of gallons of rainwater because grass-covered parkways naturally shed water and are sloped to send rain into storm drains. Creating curbside flower beds will curtail wasteful run-off and beautify the entire city. More importantly, holding rain water in the soil will reduce the need for irrigation.

Trees. More trees. Still more trees.  During hot, humid summer weather, many urban areas experience heat inversions—cold air in the upper atmosphere holds much warmer air close to the ground, sustaining higher-than-average temperatures and trapping smog. Trees reduce ambient temperatures and foster temperature equilibrium in the atmosphere. The result: you and your neighbors reduce your cooling costs and enjoy cleaner, fresher air. Of course, trees require no maintenance; they reduce your city’s payroll costs and free skilled city workers for more important infrastructure projects.

Plant strategically and save.  The sun shines brightest on south-facing walls and roofs. Therefore, plant rows of deciduous trees along buildings’ south walls. During the summer, the trees’ thick foliage will cut cooling costs at least 20 percent; in the winter, bare trees will allow sunlight to cut heating costs. Similarly, trees strategically planted around big parking lots and other paved areas will reduce summertime “heat island” effects, making commercial and civic spaces far more hospitable. Because winter-storm winds assault your city from the northwest, plant coniferous trees along the north and west sides of houses, businesses and city buildings to reduce heating costs up to 30 percent.

Reclaim land for community gardens.  Take an inspired idea from once woeful city managers in Detroit: Stuck with entire neighborhoods of abandoned homes, they cleared and recovered the land, restoring and replenishing it for community gardens. Their initiative not only solved problems with crime and vandalism but also brought supplies of fresh produce back into the inner city after major grocery chains pulled-out. Detroit residents now may claim up to half-an-acre for vegetable crops, berries and orchards. In a ten-square-mile area, only a few garden plots remain unclaimed, and local farmers’ markets are thriving.

Go wild.  Although your city’s beautifully manicured lawns grace your parks and adorn your civic buildings, they suck-up water, require constant maintenance with power equipment, and consume lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Up to five percent of urban air pollution comes from use of gasoline-powered landscape maintenance equipment, and lawns release water instead of retaining it. Moreover, petro-chemical soil additives pollute the ground water and poison birds and fish. You will save thousands in maintenance and fuel costs, conserve water and substantially reduce pollution when you plow-under the grass and replace it with indigenous meadow-grass or wild flowers that require nothing more than nature provides.

In 1805, British poet laureate William Wordsworth wrote, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Homeowners and city managers who embrace Wordsworth’s doctrine are discovering that Nature, in fact, quite handsomely rewards hearts that love and care for her. In one Midwestern city, eco-friendly initiatives saved enough money to save a firehouse from closure and a dozen firefighters from unemployment.

Sylvia Reynolds writes for several higher ed blogs.  To read more about masters programs in public administration click here.

There are some great opportunities coming up for folks in the Portland area to engage with each other and with sustainability issues. Please consider joining us for these opportunities!

Join a Menu for the Future Discussion Group – This Saturday
6 Saturdays, June – mid-July, PSU, Smith Union Room 323
There are still available spaces. Register now! Portland State University’s Food Action Collective and Portland Farmers’ Market will offer Menu for the Future starting with an introductory session and an opportunity to buy your book on Saturday May 26th from 12 – 1pm. The course will run for 6 consecutive Saturdays. Not only will this be a fun way to meet new folks, you’ll also be able to stroll through the PSU Portland Farmers Market before or after the discussion! Please contact for more information or to register.

Join a Powering a Bright Future Discussion Group
Two Thursdays, June 21st and 28th, OMCC Think Tank
We will be hosting our new two-session course on energy at our office building (Olympic Mills Commerce Center) on Thursday June 21st and Thursday June 28th from 5:30 – 6:30pm. We hope that you’re interested in joining! Please email for more details and to order your electronic copy of Powering a Bright Future for $10. You must pre-register for this course.

“Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact,” presented by Betty Shelley
Tuesdays, June 12th – June 26th, NWEI Office
If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to take the “Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact” class, now is your chance! This class comes highly recommended by two NWEI staffers who both agreed that participating was a wonderfully educational and rewarding experience. The course is held on three consecutive Tuesdays beginning June 12th from 6:30 to 8:30. The class will deal with solid waste, a.k.a. garbage, but will also touch on reducing water, energy, and other resource use. The format is interactive with the goal of engaging participants through discussion and assignments to explore their actions and behaviors, and learn ways to make lasting changes. Learn new techniques and share your own. Please contact Betty Shelley no later than June 8th. See the official class announcement for more details. 503-244-8044

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