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Save the date! The Northwest Earth Institute is turning 20 years old next year! Please join us in celebrating NWEI’s 20th Anniversary next May 16th, 2013 at Left Bank Annex in NE Portland. We’ll be in touch with more details as the event nears. In the meantime, thank you for being part of NWEI’s community!


Photo of Pat McGovern’s one week, non-recyclable trash output

Pat McGovern, a New Hampshire Localvore and blogger about the Localvore Movement in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont recently told NWEI she decided to continue her waste reduction NWEI EcoChallenge. “It was a good consciousness raiser,” she said.  Pat shared this list of helpful tips she has been implementing in her efforts to reduce waste:

  • Plastic bags and small glass jars can go in your shopping bags for buying in bulk (tamari, peanut butter, walnuts, coffee, granola, sesame seeds, corn meal, flour, spices, dish detergent).
  • Use cloth napkins at home and don’t buy bottled water or soda. Rely on a stainless steel water bottle when away from home.
  • Don’t buy plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Use glass storage containers for leftovers.
  • Don’t buy food or beverages in cans (and avoid the BPA to boot).
  • Bring your own container for leftovers when dining out.
  • If possible, purchase milk from a local dairy that uses returnable bottles.
  • #5 plastic can go to Preserve Products for making toothbrushes, razor handles, etc. (Many grocery stores have a drop off station).
  • Consider composting worms to compost your vegetable peels, egg shells, toilet tissue tubes, cardboard cracker/cookie boxes, and restaurant napkins.

Pat notes, “A focus on local foods has definitely reduced my trash – I eat mostly whole foods – thus waste is mostly compostable. I have not yet solved the problem of plastic wrap around cheese or tofu, the plastic bags from bread, tortillas and English muffins (I bring them to the community garden for folks to carry their harvests home, but that only postpones their trip to the waste stream) or what to do with milk bottle caps and tortilla chip bags. I have started an album on my facebook page showing creative ways to keep trash out of the waste stream. I am also becoming more aware that trash reduction starts at the point of purchase!

I think the EcoChallenge is a great idea to activate folks and am looking forward to working with Barbara Duncan and NWEI’s partner organization Catamount Earth Institute in Vermont to organize EcoChallenges here in the Upper Valley.”

Pat also notes that foil tea bag non-recyclable wrappers were a source of trouble during her EcoChallenge (Pat enjoys Ginger Tea). A recent trip to the farmers market however allowed her to discover local ginger root.  “I am now making my own ginger root tea. No waste!” Click here for her ginger tea recipe.

Thanks for your inspiration, Pat!

The holiday season is upon us again.  On the one hand, there are family traditions, favorite holiday songs and time spent with friends and family. Alternately, there is the pressure to bestow gifts upon friends and family, commercial pressure, busy stores and holiday crowds to contend with (not to mention the myriad food choices, many of which are not sustainable!).

It doesn’t have to be this way though–we can opt out of commercialized, materialistic holidays and commit to a simplified holiday season. There are many ways to instill voluntary simplicity in your celebrations, and in the process take back some of your precious time, money and energy (not to mention lessening your impact on our environment). We recently found this article with a few tips on putting a green spin on your holiday season:

“No time of the year is more emotional than the holiday season, whether you’re bursting with the joy of baking and caroling or overwhelmed with the stress of shopping and wrapping. But even with all those other factors weighing on your mind, it’s possible to put a green spin on your holidays; simple tips and easy substitutions mean you can come through this season of indulgence without leaving a massive carbon footprint.

Start with your gift list, where going green can mean anything from simply buying fewer gifts (the too-cluttered shelves at your giftee’s house will thank you, we promise) to finding Fair Trade alternatives to holiday classics. Look for recycled paper goods, like cards and wrapping, or get creative and make your own versions of both. Green your Christmas dinner with seasonal, local ingredients and organic turkeys, and stock your bar with organic bubbly and other green cocktails. Then look for green greens for your home by choosing fresh wreaths and pesticide-free trees trimmed with energy-slashing LED lights. Put the money you saved on your electric bill toward a donation to environmental charities and let your greenbacks support green projects.

But most importantly, keep in mind that the holidays are not about the gifts, the errands, the trimmings; they’re about celebrating with your family and friends and appreciating the blessings in your life. We happen to think Mother Earth is one of those blessings, so put these tips to work to help keep it that way…”

For more ideas on greening this holiday season, click here.
Also, keep in mind that NWEI offers gift memberships, as you embark on your simplified holidays season.

Last month from October 1-15th 1,188 EcoChallengers and 179 teams took on EcoChallenges related to energy efficiency, water conservation, sustainable food options, alternative transportation and trash reduction, with 49 EcoChallengers raising $20,000 (all of which will go to support NWEI’s sustainability programs). Teams participating included corporate teams, higher education teams, faith organizations, families and community groups. We were thrilled to have The Standard, Portland General Electric, Energy Trust, 200 Market Building, Catlin Gabel School, Portland Community College, Davis Wright Tremaine and Portland Center Stage amongst the teams participating in this annual event.  98% of participants plan to continue their EcoChallenge activities.

Here are some quotes from 2012 EcoChallengers highlighting their favorite part of the Challenge. Thanks to all who participated last month!

“My favorite part was that in less than two
weeks my challenge became a habit.”

“Knowing that making small changes in our daily
routines can have a significant positive impact.”

“It always helps me realize how much it improves
my life to become more sustainable. Not only
does it improve the world around me but oft en
I save money, eat healthier, and help the local

“Teaching my family to conserve.”

“Feeling a sense of community responsibility
when I thought about my actions each day.”

“Raising my consciousness – I thought about
the challenge throughout each day.”

“I liked having a daily emphasis on trying to
do something new that’s good for the earth.”

“I thought about it everyday, leading up to
and during the challenge. I think my behavior
has changed and doubt I will slip backwards.”

“Learning how to identify and incorporate
green’ living into my life. It made me aware
of my surroundings and how I can help as an

Recently, a Northwest Earth Institute Voluntary Simplicity discussion group formed in upstate New York. One participant, Jillian, blogged about her experience on her Village Homestead Blog. Here is an excerpt of what she had to say:

Jeff and I are participating in a discussion class about Voluntary Simplicity…We meet every Sunday afternoon for an hour. I love the format of the discussion courses – they are a few weeks long; there are short, meaningful readings each week; and there are relevant questions for us to ponder and discuss.

Voluntary Simplicity is the name of the course. I think of it more as Voluntary Intentional Living. Nothing is simple. Some things are intentional.

In a lot of ways, we are living a simple/intentional life…We live a simpler life because I make much of our own food, we create much of our own entertainment, and we make a deliberate effort to infuse meaning into our every day lives. The chickens are admired and thanked every day for the eggs they give us; cleaning their coop is never a chore for me – I do it because I love being outside with them in the morning and I respect the “work” they do…

All things considered, we do live a simple life. But there is always more to be done, isn’t there? I have a few things to do in the kitchen to simplify a bit more. I need to do a better job of re-purposing containers, re-purposing left overs, and choosing ingredients that have a smaller footprint, both carbon and egotistical. I got out of practice during our move, and I haven’t gotten back into the habit since. Less plastic hitting the recycling bin, more reusable cloth bags for the bulk bins. Less tea from the store, more tea from our garden. Less wine with dinner, more water from our well. Less coffee and oil from places far away. More vegetables from close to home.

…But, by and large, we are happy and satisfied. We are living life the way we want. We make our own rules. Our own schedule. Our own To Do List. Our own priorities. We are truly living.

For the full post, click here.

With the election behind us, we here at NWEI are wondering what lies ahead in terms of the policies shaping or thwarting environmental protection. We found this article by Kieran Suckling, who shares five things the Obama Administration could focus on to move the United States forward. Read below for excerpts:

Few things distract our nation like the selection of its leader. But while we were obsessing over polls, swing states and Paul Ryan’s workout photos, the calculus that determines the future of life on Earth only got grimmer.

The climate crisis is deepening, rare plants and animals are vanishing at an accelerating clip, and politicians — well supported by the polluter class — are freshly emboldened to chip away at laws that protect our water, air, environment and wildlife…

Obama has a chance to salvage his legacy (and ours) in his second term. Here are the five places to start:

1. Address climate change and ocean acidification. There’s no crisis bigger than the one that’s rapidly transforming the world’s climate and oceans. We need to fix this, and fast. 2012 is on track to become the warmest year on record; some 40,000 temperature records have been shattered in the United States this year, while Arctic sea ice has melted to a record low…

2. Stem the extinction crisis. Plants and animals around the globe are going extinct at an astonishing rate, up to 10,000 times faster than normal in some cases. Unfortunately federal agencies in charge of saving endangered species have yet to respond on a scale that meets the speed and magnitude of this massive loss. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service need to work aggressively to protect the backlog of species that federal scientists say need protection denied to them so far…

3. Keep politics out of the Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental laws. If you’re glad that grizzly bears, wolves, bald eagles and peregrine falcons are still around, you can thank the Endangered Species Act. If you like breathing air and drinking water that won’t make you sick, you can thank the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. These laws have built an enviable record of success over the past four decades — but there’s a growing movement in Congress to cripple them…

4. Safeguard our public lands, wild places and the Arctic. There are nearly 650 million acres of federal land in the United States — places like national parks, wildlife refuges and national forests. In the face of urban sprawl, habitat loss, population growth and a consumption-driven economy, these publicly owned lands are crucial refugia for wild animals and plants and are a life-sustaining resource for clean water, air and biodiversity. They’re also a target for profit-driven companies that want to mine, graze, log, bulldoze and drill them into oblivion…

5. Embrace a newer, cleaner energy. Fossil fuels are a huge part of what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place, whether it’s pollution from coal that’s altering our planet’s climate or spilled oil that badly damaged the Gulf of Mexico. It’s time to end our addiction to an antiquated system saddling us with staggering problems and heartaches for years to come. We need to end the billions of dollars of federal subsidies to these polluting industries, call off dangerous schemes like the Keystone XL pipeline, admit that natural gas is not a safe or renewable resource and say out loud, again and again, that clean coal is an oxymoron.

It’s time to reinvent our energy future by focusing on renewable sources of energy, including solar, geothermal and wind. Yes, these come with complications, and we’ve got to be smart about how we make the shift, but it can and must be done. There’s a smarter, saner way to move ahead, and that path is open to us. All we need now is the courage and political will to step onto it.

For the full article, click here.

From now until January 1st, Whole Foods on Fremont and 15th in NE Portland will be supporting NWEI as one of its wooden nickel non-profit donation recipients. When you bring your own grocery bags to the store, you will receive a nickel back for each bag.  You have the option to take that nickel off your bill or better yet receive a wooden nickel and donate it to a local non-profit.  There is a box located at the front of the store to collect these wood nickels and they really do add up!

Please bring your own bags and shop at Whole Foods Fremont this Fall. The store is at 3535 NE 15th in Portland. Your 5 cents donated to NWEI via wooden nickel donations will go a long way in helping NWEI continue to offer valuable sustainability programs.

Thanks for your support!

This semester students at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan are taking a Food Quest course led by Professor Tara Deubel. One of Professor Deubel’s key texts is the Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course book from the Northwest Earth Institute. Read below for excerpts from an article just published about the students’ learning process:

In all its capacities, food has long played a role in human social and cultural systems. The consumption and preparation of food defines nations, unites traditions, builds families. And as the world has continued to develop and change, so too does the food industry and various food-philosophy movements.

The Food Quest, an anthropology course at Oakland University explores the ways in which humans produce, consume and relate to food in a global, cross-cultural perspective.

“Understanding the human relationship to food illuminates the relationship we have with our larger environment,” said Tara Deubel, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology. “From a global perspective, we need to address why people continue to die of hunger and malnutrition in 2012 when adequate food resources exist.”

“Locally, we need to ask similar questions about why many residents of Detroit are unable to access healthy food on a daily basis in an area now considered to be a “food desert” due to its lack of food resources,” Dr. Deubel continued. “It is critical to re-examine the local and global systems we have put in place and advocate more sustainable alternatives that encourage smaller-scale, local food production and more healthy eating habits.”

The course covers a wide range of topics including changes in human eating patterns, the globalization of the food industry, transnational food politics, debates concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the organic and local food movements, malnutrition and hunger in developing countries, food rituals and eating disorders…

As they learn about the local and global impact of the food industry, several students have developed passions for the local and organic food movements.

“I would like to see the concept of urban gardening spread throughout Detroit and for more people to get involved and to start eating real food, not processed food from the gas stations and little grocers,” said Katherine VanBelle, a senior student majoring in Environmental Sciences. “I found it sad to hear that some city kids think food comes from a gas station. I feel that it’s reasons like this that make us one of the unhealthiest cities in America.”

For the full article, click here.

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