You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2013.

The Ashland, Oregon Food Co-op‘s Voluntary Simplicity Team is hosting NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity course in the Co-op Community Classroom. The response from the community was double what was expected!

The course began just last week on January 23rd and will run through March 13th. Last week, group participants explored the Meaning of Simplicity, and will consider Living More with Less during tonight’s meeting. Thanks to the Co-op’s Voluntary Simplicity Team for hosting: Mary Shaw, Education Coordinator, Stuart Green, Sustainability Committee Chair, Pam Lucas and Deborah Theos, who are with the Outreach Board Committee. While this is the first Northwest Earth Institute course offered by the Co-op, the team plans to offer the NWEI discussion courses seasonally going forward.



Students participate in NWEI's Choices for Sustainable Living course at Xing Wei College in Shanghai

Students participate in NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living course at Xing Wei College in Shanghai

This week we heard from Xing Wei College professor John Wilkinson who is teaching an English Seminar course with a focus on sustainability in Shanghai, China. Professor Wilkinson is using Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living course, which marks the first ever NWEI course in China.

Professor Wilkinson noted, “Our theme for the spring classes is Sustainability, so we are using the NWEI Choices for Sustainable Living readings in our freshman English seminar course…The students seem very excited about the ideas presented, and are eager to engage in discussion of the readings, as well as on-campus activities to promote sustainable living. Our first work project, inspired by the week 3 readings on food, is to help get the organic garden ready for spring planting. This will involve promoting composting food and leaf waste, and breaking ground to increase the size of the garden. At the final community meeting of the entire college, our students will present their project results, as well as explain how interested students can help out in the future.”

Professor Wilkinson and students prepare to compost leaves for the new organic garden on campus

Professor Wilkinson and students prepare to compost leaves for the new organic garden on campus

Several students shared the following reflections after participating in Session One of Choices for Sustainable Living:

“In the past several days, we learned the first session, A Call to Sustainability, with our professors. I am shocked by the reality of where we are and what we are faced with: global warming, climate change, poverty… The articles show us different perspectives, even divergent views, which promote us to come up with our own ideas about the meaning and vision of sustainability…It’s time for us to take responsibility on our shoulders…We can make a big difference together.” – John Wang, student

“Inspired by Michael Pollan, we are now planning to plant a garden in our campus. So we are trying to reduce the whole community’s carbon footprint.” – Mars Li, student

Of course, we should bother to take actions to do something about climate change. It is a good idea and easy for us to plant gardens to grow some–even just a little –of your own food as Pollan says. It will make a great difference to the world if every individual becomes an actor to plant a garden…For example, just taking our first step without thinking too much, trusting our vision, taking care of ourselves. All of this advice is useful for me to take my ideas into practice to help the world…We must realize that everyone should try to respond to the call to sustainability to fight against the global environmental crisis and protect our environment.” – Gavin Wang, student

Thanks to Professor Wilkinson and his students for sharing their experiences with the NWEI community!

NWEI Executive Director Mike Mercer plants a tree in Tualatin, OR on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

NWEI Executive Director Mike Mercer plants a tree in Tualatin, OR on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

For the first time in its 20 year history, Northwest Earth Institute has designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of volunteerism and service for NWEI staff. NWEI staffers spent the day with over 40 other volunteers planting trees along the I-5 corridor in a riparian area near Tualatin, Oregon.

Fellow Portland area non-profit Friends of Trees, which restores green spaces and natural areas in the Portland metro region by planting native trees, recruited a number of local volunteers with the help of Hands on Greater Portland. The trees and shrubs volunteers planted will help diversify the ecosystem and create a better habitat for native salmon.

NWEI staff planted 57 shrubs and helped to thin out a number of black berry root systems, which are considered an invasive species.

NWEI Director of Outreach and Technology Rob Nathan said, “I was inspired that so many people sacrificed their mornings and did something for our natural and human community on their day off. After just a few hours, the whole area seemed transformed. It is a perfect example of how a lot of people making small changes can make a huge impact.”

NWEI staffers Amanda Green, Rob Nathan, Liz Zavodsky and Mike Mercer get ready to volunteer on MLK Jr. Day

NWEI staffers Amanda Green, Rob Nathan, Liz Zavodsky and Mike Mercer get ready to volunteer on MLK Jr. Day

Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Annette Hinkle with the Sag Harbor Express newspaper in New York recently interviewed Northwest Earth Institute course organizer Maryann Calendrille, who will lead a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course at Canio’s Cultural Café in Sag Harbor beginning in late January. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

How would you define Voluntary Simplicity and the goals of the program?

…It calls for an intentional choice about how we’re using resources, how we’re consuming things and how we’re spending our time.

What’s the basis of the program and how does it work?

It’s based on a book by Duane Elgin that came out in 1981 and was re-released in 2010 — that’s where the phrase “Voluntary Simplicity” comes from. It’s moving toward a way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. It addresses the many aspects of our life — personal, public, work life — and how we’re now really called upon to make conscious choices.

The concept is any community group can come together — say 8 to 12 people — and it’s a shared responsibility to move the course forward. Each participant volunteers to facilitate for one night during the five weeks. It’s a very democratic structure. There’s no hierarchy, no experts. We learn from the readings and they ask high quality questions. There are action plans, suggested ways of putting theory into practice. I found it thoughtful and high quality material.

What are some of the wider issues you expect to address in the workshop?

In terms of helping to develop awareness about choices we make, one of the goals for this movement is to create greater equality all over the planet. We consume more fuel and food than anywhere… If we’re buying strawberries in January in the Northeast, where were they grown and how did they get here? What’s the cost? Is it healthy? Or a $2 pair of socks from China — what were the costs of making them? How does my choice here perpetuate a system that leaves other people at risk?

Another goal is to connect with others who are making changes and figure out what we can do in our corner of the world. We may not be able to do everything we want, but we can become more aware and see where we can make a shift. This is voluntary. It’s not compulsory. You do within reason what’s possible and seems manageable.

…We really need to be living more mindfully to create a sustainable future…

On a local level, is part of the simplicity focus just finding ways to reconnect personally with others in the community?

…I think a lot of people are feeling stressed out by the constant call to be connected either on line, or available 24/7 via cellphone. I think people are exhausted by it and are missing the one-on-one conversations. There are pockets of people saying this is unhealthy, this is not progressive in any way and we need to create some new ways of being together.

To read the full interview, click here.

EnoughIsEnough_Final_LoRes-200x300This week we are happy to share a guest blog post by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, coauthors of Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.

Growth.  That’s the front-runner among strategies for improving society.  Never-ending economic growth is the universal plan emanating from classrooms, boardrooms, and press rooms.  If you stop for a second and listen, you can hear a professor, a pundit, or a politician prescribing economic growth as the pill to cure any ill.  Climate change?  Don’t worry—all we need to do is grow the economy and we’ll have the money to capture carbon emissions or re-engineer the climate.  Poverty?  Sit tight—all we need to do is grow the economy, and a rising tide will lift all boats to a mansion in the hills.

The only trouble is that the “cure” has become more of a curse.  We’ve had decades of economic growth in nations around the world, but some of our most profound social and environmental problems continue to intensify.  During the age of growth we’ve witnessed the loss of climate stability, the loss of biological diversity, and the loss of social cohesion.  At the same time, surveys indicate that all the additional production and consumption is failing to make us any happier.

It’s time to try a new strategy—the strategy of enough.  Suppose that instead of chasing after more stuff, more jobs, more consumption, and more income, we aimed for enough stuff, enough jobs, enough consumption, and enough income.  What if enough took the place of more as the organizing principle for the economy?

The policy and behavioral changes needed to make such a shift will undoubtedly be difficult to implement, but in contrast to infinite economic growth, they’re possible.  Unlike more, enough doesn’t attempt to circumvent the laws of physics.

Imagine an economy that can meet people’s needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.  Imagine an economy founded on fairness instead of foolishness.  Imagine taking action to begin the transition.  One thing’s for certain: the changes will only materialize when we achieve widespread recognition that enough is enough.

For more information on this book, click here.

We are gearing up  to celebrate our 20 Year Anniversary this year. Our Anniversary Celebration will be Thursday, May 16th from 6-9pm at the LeftBank Annex in Portland. 

We will present two awards in honor of  20 years promoting leadership and sustainability.  The Change for Good Award  will be awarded to a business or organization that has worked to promote sustainability and provide leadership to other organizations, as well as standing out as an organizational leader. We will also present the Dick and Jeanne Roy Earth Leadership Award to an individual, in honor of NWEI founders Dick and Jeanne Roy. This award will be presented to a person who has worked tirelessly to enhance the environment, and whose work in the sustainability field has inspired others to take action. We look forward to sharing the inspiring stories of the nominees and celebrating with you throughout the year and at May’s event.

You can stay up to date with Anniversary party details at We hope you can join us on May 16th to celebrate 20 years of change for good!


Sustainable-Food-WordsOur friends at The Food Tank recently shared the following 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013. We think the NWEI community should join in! As we start the new year, many of us will be working to improve health and effect new changes in our food system. The Food Tank proposes that a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system. As Food Tank co-founder Danielle Nierenberg says, “We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!”

Here are The Food Tank’s 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013:

1. Growing the Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
2. Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their communities.
3. Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.
4. Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.
5. Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.
6. Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.
7. Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.
8. Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.
9. Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.
10. Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.
11. Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.
12. Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.
13. Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

And a 14th: If you haven’t already, organize Menu for the Future or Hungry for Change this Winter and join in educating and inspiring people to act!

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability - one of NWEI's 12 course books

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability – one of NWEI’s 12 course books

For educators in the Portland area, we’ve got an exciting opportunity for the 2012-2013 school year. Thanks to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, a charitable foundation of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, we are pleased to offer 1,000 of our discussion course books for FREE to students in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties!

If you’ve never used them, Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion course books are an effective tool for teaching sustainability through a process of shared discovery, personal reflection and positive action. In fact, more than 190 colleges and universities throughout North America have successfully used NWEI course books in a wide range of academic disciplines and institutional settings.

Here at NWEI we see lasting change as being possible, social and fun. Our student-led curriculum promotes this kind of change by encouraging critical thinking and active learning, and by helping students find “Aha!” moments about the way they live, work, create and consume.

Here is what some other local educators have to say about NWEI discussion course books:

“Portland Community College has benefited greatly from our partnership with Northwest Earth Institute. The materials are well designed and appropriate at the college level. The discussions lead to a meaningful examination of the choices we make every day that affect our environment and its complex network of people, plants, animals and natural resources. The discussions also encourage participants to articulate their own philosophy about the purpose of humankind as it exists on planet earth.”

-Linda Gerber, President, Sylvania Campus, Portland Community College

“At Pacific, I offered Discovering a Sense of Place in my section of First Year Seminar last year, a course required of all incoming freshmen. Our section focused on the Experience of Community and Place and the NWEI course has been instrumental in orienting the students to this bioregion. The students teach the course in groups, fostering classroom community and bringing in their unique perspectives. The reception last year was overwhelmingly positive. I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings.”  

-Lara Vestas, Assistant Professor, English, Pacific University

The basic guidelines to participate:

  • You may select any of our 12 discussion course topics.
  • The books must be used for students in Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington counties.
  • The books must be for new users or used in classes not recently using NWEI discussion course books.
  • In order to receive the books, we request that the instructor respond to a few evaluative questions at the end of the quarter provided by NWEI. We want to see these books actually used in the classroom and not just distributed to students with no discussion in class or with their peers. We also request that you share feedback from the students, which would be helpful in our efforts to secure future grants.

If you’d like to learn more or apply for some free discussion course books, call NWEI’s Director of Curriculum, Lacy Cagle, at 503.227.2807 or email at

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