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La Crosse, Wisconsin - Bridge crossing the Mississippi River

La Crosse, Wisconsin – Bridge crossing the Mississippi River

Northwest Earth Institute is happy to announce that registration is now open for our 2013 Biannual Conference: Cultivating A Community of Leaders, to be held at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Please visit our conference site by clicking here to get more information about the event, and to get your early bird discount on registration. Conference highlights include workshops on leadership, leadership skill development, community organizing, land ethics and more.

We hope to see you there July 18-21st! This will be a terrific opportunity to gather with other NWEI course participants, community organizers, volunteers and community leaders in the spirit of sustainability leadership and change for good. We will also celebrate NWEI’s 20th birthday! If you have any additional questions please do not hesitate to contact us directly at (503) 227-2807.


Cover Hungry for Change front onlyLast semester the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois (which has been offering NWEI courses since 2008) offered Northwest Earth Institute’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course to a diverse group of students and staff. Rory Klick, Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Department Chair, taught the course and had great things to say about the ongoing collaboration between College of Lake County and the Northwest Earth Institute. “The new curriculum was great,” said Rory. “The students loved the readings, and we had some wonderful discussions.  I ran the course as a half-semester class for 8 weeks (2 hours each week so 1 credit hour), and we added a field trip to a local organic farm and then did our final exam as a “sustainable food potluck” in addition to the 6 units of the workbook.”

The course had a mix of traditional students, four staff members and two instructors from the College’s culinary program as well as a Philosophy professor. “It was a great mix of folks,” she says. “The articles really captured people…For example, the article about inhumane treatment of tomato picking laborers in Florida really got to my students; some were ready to go down there themselves!  The class session turned into an incredible discussion about labor practices for migrant workers in the US, and what we do or don’t want to acknowledge about how our produce got to our tables…As I teacher I know that these are the sparks I want to set alight in my students.  The NWEI curriculum helped provide the tinder to foster those sparks.”

Professor Klick plans on offering another round of Hungry for Change this Fall and plans on reaching out to the culinary program instructors to see if they would like to co-list the course for their students.

HEART Logo - Large

Below is a guest blog post from former NWEI staffer, Daniella Dennenberg, who now is the Portland Program Director for HEART, whose mission is to foster compassion and respect for all living beings and the environment by educating youth and teachers in humane education. One way she takes action on behalf of the environment is through a personal practice of letter writing to legislators or individuals in decision-making roles, as well as sharing this practice with students. She urges the NWEI community to remember the power of continuing the conversations started in discussion courses via letter writing.

I’ve been writing to legislators and individuals in decision-making roles since high school (for over twenty years). I believe it is one of the most powerful and effective means of using my voice as an engaged citizen. Some of the very first letters I wrote back then were to large companies like Procter and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive who (continue to) test household and personal care products on thousands of animals a year…

 As a humane educator with Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), it is my responsibility to empower young people with tools to affect change on their communities. Students often feel disempowered or disheartened when they learn about animal cruelty, environmental destruction or human rights abuses. Over the years HEART students have written hundreds of letters to everyone from the president of the United States to the heads of large corporations. Whether asking for better laws to protect the environment, or for companies to stop using sweatshops, letters have always been a premiere form of advocacy that can be done for the cost of a piece of paper, pencil and a stamp. Or these days, even a simple email…

While (so far) President Obama hasn’t personally responded to any of the letters sent by our students, the higher-ups in major companies like Wal-Mart and Hershey’s have taken the time to write back thanking students for their input and applauding them for being engaged citizens. Through letter writing, students learn that they have a voice that can be used to make the world better for others...

My hope is that as environmental advocates, you incorporate letter writing into your repertoire of tools and use it as a means of creating sustainable change. Start conversations about the issues that matter most to you!

Letter writing is a great follow up action to any of NWEI’s 12 discussion courses.

*HEART recently did a piece about letter writing as well:


Save the Date! July 18-21st, 2013 is the Northwest Earth Institute’s Biannual Conference: Cultivating A Community of Leaders, to be held at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse. Highlights include:
  • Workshops on leadership, leadership skill review, and a “Work on Purpose” workshop by Echoing Green, with exercises to unleash your talent to solve the world’s biggest problems.
  • A workshop on Land Ethics Leadership byThe Aldo Leopold Foundation.
  • Richard Kyte, Director of the D.B.Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership and Professor of Philosophy at Viterbo University will offer the keynote address on Servant Leadership and the Common Good.
Join us as we bring together NWEI partners, community organizers, faculty and students to explore the powerful relationship between leadership and change. What does it mean to be a leader in sustainability? How can we transform our personal networks into communities of change?
*Registration will open February 15th. Early bird discounts available. We hope you can join us! Visit this link to stay up to date on conference and registration info: 
2013 Biannual Conference Flyer

NWEI’s Winter edition of EarthMatters newsletter is here! Read on for a retrospective history of NWEI in honor of our forthcoming 20th Anniversary, NWEI’s bi-annual conference on Cultivating a Community of Leaders to be held in July, and more. Click here to download. Enjoy!

Winter 2013 Earthmatters-image_Page_1


NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink

NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink

Last week Portland’s Oregonian newspaper shared the following story on NWEI volunteers Betty and Jon Shelley via OregonLive. Read on to learn more about how the Shelleys have managed to reduce their trash output to one can of garbage in 16 months! For the full story, click here.

Taking 16 months to fill one 35-gallon can with trash is the best the Shelleys have done so far in reducing their waste.

They wrote no blog chronicling a year of sudden, anti-garbage inspiration with panicked Styrofoam-meat-tray-crinkly-cereal-box-liner moments. Instead, their effort to cut back on waste started slowly more than 20 years ago with the question: Where is “away” when something is thrown away?

That led to habits Jon Shelley says now come as naturally as breathing, making their feat not much trouble at all. But how does someone else get to that point?

A recycling information specialist at Metro, Betty Shelley heard that question enough she decided to teach a three-part class on reducing waste. In “Less is more: Getting to one can of garbage a year,” she details her many habits and explains how, most importantly, she carefully considers what she brings home, asking, Where will it go when it’s used up, served its purpose or breaks? Because while recycling matters, reducing consumption reigns.

The Shelleys don’t have curbside service of any kind for trash, recycling or compost. She estimates they save $400 annually on garbage alone. Recycling goes to Far West Fibers. Vegetable peels get composted in the backyard. They eat meat as something other than a main course roughly three times a week, and what few bones exist (she usually buys skinless boneless chicken breasts) go in a bag in the freezer…So now, every six months a neighbor composts the bones in exchange for cookies.

Buying in bulk reduces waste

Buying in bulk reduces waste

In her tidy Southwest Portland kitchen, Betty Shelley has an organized system under the sink. A paper grocery bag marked 11/13/12, the most recent starting date, holds the garbage, which is neatly flattened and will eventually get packed tight as a brick. Another paper bag contains paper recycling. A smaller bag contains ferrous metal such as steel and iron. And another contains nonferrous metal such as aluminum.

No more paper towels
Because they buy staples such as rice, honey, syrup, quinoa, oats, corn meal and beans in bulk, they don’t have much packaging to recycle. The Shelleys’ first big change was to stop using disposable paper napkins, towels and plates. Betty tells those in her class they can use cloth napkins multiple times before washing them with other items so they don’t require a separate load.

“We gradually noticed our garbage was less and less and we found other options for things you would throw away,” she says. So they dropped to monthly garbage service. In 2006, they got it down to one can a year.

Not only did they curate what they took in, but they also found creative ways to purge: rubber bands from produce went to a nearby elementary school and candle ends to Scrap, a Portland environmental nonprofit…

The Shelleys continually assess how they can go greener. They reused the pipes from a rooftop solar water heating system as deck fencing. Slate stones unearthed from their backyard are now pathways around the house and cemented to the foundation as decorative trim…Her latest habit: She carries a takeout container in the car for leftovers.

And a favorite point is this: “People don’t realize they’re role models for others. They think someone big and important has to be a role model — a celebrity or intellectual.”

For the full article and tips for reducing waste, click here.

Today we are excited to share a guest blog post from a former Peace Corps volunteer and current NWEI discussion course organizer who now lives in Traverse City, Michigan. Cheryl, who wrote the post below, recently convened two of Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion courses in her community.

“Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life…”

from “Theology After Google” by Philip Clayton

As a very new Peace Corps volunteer, I attended a community planning meeting in the town of 5,000 that I was assigned to.  As people brainstormed community needs, one woman said, “What this town needs is more leaders.” Did she mean what I thought she meant? –That leaders were something to be imported, like books, computers or construction equipment?

Yes, she did.  I wasn’t really one to speak up at that point in my life, especially in a room full of people I didn’t know, in a language I could barely manage.  But I was so taken aback that I managed to splutter, “But YOU are the leaders!”

I feel the same way when I hear someone say, “I wish someone would lead a group on sustainability, or energy or voluntary simplicity.”  YOU are the leaders! It’s really easy to lead a discussion group based on the NWEI discussion guides.  Just gather a few people, order the books, do the readings and talk! If you need more guidance on how to publicize the meeting, or any other aspect of hosting a group, the NWEI staff will help you.  Real people actually read and answer your emails!

indexI just hosted two groups in Northern Michigan based on the Global Warming:  Changing Course discussion course book. One group filled with 11 people after only one email was sent out and the other group was over-subscribed with 17 people.  Of course, my primary audience was Unitarian Universalists as they are very inclined to be socially aware and active.  (If you’re convening a group in your community, be sure to let the UU churches know.  You’ll likely find interested participants there.)

People were very engaged in the discussions and we shared fears about climate change, doubts about our own ability to make a difference, but also hope.  The groups are coalescing around action.

Be the person who convenes a conversation that will change lives!  The NWEI discussion guides are perfectly suited to help you make it happen.


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