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NWEI’s Executive Director Mike Mercer’s guest opinion piece, We Can Reconcile Moral Values and Self-Interest to Encourage Sustainability,  was featured in yesterday’s Oregonian. Read below for Mike’s perspective on reconciling values and self-interest in pursuit of a more sustainable community.

Our sustainability “tent” can be broadly defined as all the people who have decided to do something large or small about the environment. It’s growing, but it still only covers a small segment of the population. If we really are to achieve a thriving, sustainable future, the sustainability tent has to be large enough to include the diverse perspectives found among our citizenry.


Most folks on the street, if asked, would describe a sustainability advocate as urban, spiritual, politically liberal and intellectual. If this view is accurate, we have two approaches: Try to convert all those who don’t fit this profile to think like an advocate, or find a path to meet people where they are, appealing to the values they hold most dear — the well-being of ourselves, family and friends.


Let’s step back and define the real problem pushing us away from a prosperous future for all: We simply consume too much stuff, much of our waste is toxic and the biosphere that enables life can’t keep up with the pace of human progress. As consumers, we determine the success of advancements in technology, policy and market forces. The majority of citizens understand that we should change our ways.


A 2010 study conducted by Yale University highlighted the “say-do gap,” the gap between what we say we should do and what we actually do. The study examined a wide range of “sustainability” behaviors and the gap between beliefs and actions. For example: 76 percent of the respondents said that it is important that we walk or bike more regularly instead of driving, yet only 15 percent said they do. It is important to use reusable shopping bags, 81 percent said, yet only 33 percent do.


On the surface, this study suggests that for a significant majority, guilt or education is not enough to elicit a change in behavior. A significant reason is because we have too much on our plates; other priorities take precedence. So then, how do we help citizens care enough to overcome barriers and change behaviors toward a sustainable future? One successful approach is to help them link the change to the values that matter most to them. At the NW Earth Institute, we take two proven approaches to closing the say-do gap. First, we use the power of fun, shared learning, shared discovery and support. Second, we encourage citizens to reflect on their values (current and evolving), not ours, and consider why thriving human and non-human communities might matter to them.


There really is room for both altruistic and self-interest values to achieve a future that includes clean water, healthy air and material possessions to meet our needs. On the surface, self-interest and community values don’t appear to be great bedfellows, but actually, they co-exist within many aspects of our lives. For some, eating local and organic food is primarily a choice for better health, but this choice also has the side benefits of building stronger local economies, reducing greenhouse gases, cleaner waterways and better outcomes for those involved in food production. I started riding my bike in 1989 because I couldn’t afford a second car and I wanted to maintain good health and look the way I did … yes, a bit of vanity! My reasons for riding today are much broader, but they didn’t start that way.


If we really are to achieve the broad-scale change necessary for a thriving, sustainable future, I am for making the tent as big as possible with room for those open to change, without prescribing the values motivating that change.

To read Mike’s guest column online, click here.


Transition-Challenge-LogoDuring the month of May 2013, thousands of landscapes and homes will be transformed, retrofitted and revitalized as part of the Transition Challenge, hosted by Transition US. Thousands of people will take to the streets, the garden, schoolyard, home, apartment and city hall to take actions big and small. Participants will grow food, conserve water, save energy and build community.

Our partners at Transition US say it well: “Amidst a dizzying array of crises and mounting despair, together we will bring the hope of transition and show what we are capable of with our heads, hearts and hands aligned in action. It’s time for action, rooted in a shared vision and voice.”

If you would like to join this Challenge, you can create a project and register your action by clicking here.

NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

Oregon Culinary Institute Chef Instructor Ramona Lisa White has begun what is now an ongoing commitment to using the NWEI course books Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability in her ongoing culinary arts classes. “The students really responded positively to the readings,” says Ramona. At least 45 students have already completed her first course using the NWEI course books, and her second course began this week. Student Michael Gent noted “I thought the readings were helpful. I have noticed my general attitude regarding (food) ethics have changed over the course of the class.”

At NWEI, we believe the solution to many of Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change: by taking action in our own lives and inspiring the people around us, each of us contributes to a world of impact. Over the last 20 years, NWEI has helped more than 140,000 people from around the world make small steps that lead to big changes for our planet. Thanks to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Northwest Earth Institute is pleased to offer 1,000 free discussion course books to Portland-area students during the 2012-2013 school year. Oregon Culinary Institute has been one of the most active participants in the Spirit Mountain Community Fund Grant.

More than 300 colleges and universities throughout North America have successfully used NWEI course books in a wide range of academic disciplines and institutional settings. The student-led curriculum encourages critical thinking and active learning, and helps students find “Aha!” moments about the way they live, work, create and consume.

Oregon Culinary Institute student Tom Kelch reflected that “whether the readings were sad or uplifting didn’t matter because I learned things I never  thought about before.” Emelio Sansone noted that “each reading served very valuable lessons and I am making a great deal of effort to apply them to my life whenever possible.” Other students in Ramona’s class cited the NWEI readings as “eye opening” and “useful not only in our career life but in our personal lives too.”

indexNWEI partner organization Catamount Earth Institute  just wrapped up a two week EcoChallenge, inspired by NWEI’s annual EcoChallenge held each October. For the past two weeks, leading up to today’s Earth Day, participants with Catamount Earth Institute in Vermont have formally challenged themselves to change at least one habit for the good of the Earth. Many participating maintained a blog about their adventures in taking action to address Food, Energy, Transportation, Trash and Water issues. Click here to browse stories of change.

The Catamount Earth Institute EcoChallengers are meeting today, on Earth Day, in Norwich, Vermont for a celebratory potluck and an exchange of challenges and solutions.

Happy Earth Day to all in NWEI’s broader community!

In just one month we will launch our fancy new website and *brand new* online discussion course platform. Having spent the better part of a year in the design and development phases, we are very excited to move on to the LAUNCH phase!

Today we want to share a couple sneak peek screen shots and an invitation to find out more by participating in our Sneak Peek Webinar.

We look forward to showing off the entire website and course platform on May 16th, until then check out this sneak peek! (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)




For those in the Portland area, please join other NWEI volunteers and staffers at the  Do the Math Tour Documentary Premiere and Panel Discussion, to be held Sunday, April 21st at 6pm at the Ecotrust building, 721 NW 9th Ave., Portland. NWEI Executive Director Mike Mercer will be talking about NWEI’s work as part of the panel discussion. Below is an invitation from Mike Rosen, who is organizing the showing.
What better way to spend Earth Day Eve than at the Portland premiere of‘s documentary on the Do the Math Tour?  Doors open at 5:30 pm, at Ecotrust (located at 721 NW 9th Avenue, 2nd floor).  Join us for a 1 hour panel discussion at 6pm with local leaders to learn about their efforts to combat Global Warming.  From 5:30 to 6 and from 8 to 9 you can browse our information tables.  At 7 pm we will have the Portland premiere of the Do the Math Tour documentary.  After the film our panel will reconvene for further discussion. The $3 charge covers the cost of the venue.  Anyone needing free tickets should contact Mike Rosen @ we feature a guest post from Angela Hamilton, Education and Student Programs Coordinator at Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, NWEI volunteer and member of the planning committee for our 20th Anniversary Celebration.

By Angela Hamilton

Like many of you, I have my own personal story of change inspired by NWEI’s discussion courses and EcoChallenge. I was introduced to NWEI in 2008 during my first class in the Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s program at Portland State University. The professor integrated a discussion course as a group assignment and brought in a guest speaker from the Earth Institute to speak to our class. I dreamed of becoming part of a curriculum committee for one of the discussion courses, and ventured to volunteer with NWEI. Instead of planning life-changing programs with a committee of like-minded folks, I found myself instead doing data entry, a much less “sexy” volunteer job, for which I had the right skills. What, you might ask, kept me around for the five years since?

Spending time in the NWEI office, I noticed two things that keep me connected to NWEI and its meaningful work. First, I learned how far NWEI’s influence stretches. Before volunteering, I knew that NWEI was a cool Portland nonprofit that had put together some amazing materials that I couldn’t wait to utilize in my future educational opportunities. But I had NO idea how many people had used the discussion courses to create change in their communities — thousands upon thousands of people in neighborhoods, universities, churches, and organizations across the world are taking action and creating change because of the Earth Institute! I became excited to support such an important organization working to bring forth a thriving future. Second, I realized that the organization is supported by a community. I watched as people came into the office and were welcomed as old friends. Because of the heart and commitment of the staff and board, NWEI brings meaning and community into people’s lives–locally, nationally, and internationally.

Over the past five years, I have deepened my relationship with NWEI by convening a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course, tabling for NWEI at the Portland Earth Day festival, attending the 2011 North American Gathering in Port Townsend, serving as a liaison at Portland State University for integrating the discussion courses into curricular and co-curricular learning, and promoting the courses via the nonprofit that I co-founded, Earth Wisdom AllianceWhen Mike called me in January 2012 to ask if I would be interested in joining a committee to work on the Change for Good campaign leading up to the 20th Anniversary Celebration, I was honored to be invited to increase my commitment to NWEI.

During the Voluntary Simplicity course that I convened, one of the participants quit her second job as a result of reassessing what she wanted more of and needed less of in her life. Witnessing this and hearing the other stories of individuals, groups, and organizations that are using NWEI’s courses to do amazing things —to make sustainable magic— in this world where change is sometimes challenging, my inspiration is renewed. I can’t wait to see NWEI’s powerful new platform for cultivating communities of leaders, which will launch at the 20th Anniversary Celebration.

I hope you’ll join me on May 16th at the Celebration, I promise you a night of fun and inspiration!

buy tix image

imagesAs many of you know, NWEI founders Dick and Jeanne Roy went on to found another non-profit based in Portland: The Center for Earth Leadership. NWEI founder Jeanne Roy shared the following invitation for NWEI community members: Please join the Center for Earth Leadership for an evening event celebrating Earth in honor of Earth Day on Friday, April 19th from 7:30-9pm. The event will be held at the First Unitarian Church, SW 12th and Salmon St., Portland. Set aside this special time to celebrate our remarkable planet. Although damaged by excess development, Earth continues to nourish and sustain us.  The program includes instrumental and vocal performances, meditative singing, and poetry.

For details click here.  RSVP to 503-244-0026 or

CELL study abroad students participate in an NWEI discussion course in Iceland - Spring, 2013

CELL study abroad students participate in an NWEI discussion course in Iceland – Spring, 2013

For over six years, NWEI has been working with the Center for Ecological Living and Learning to offer quality discussion based curriculum for students studying abroad throughout the world. CELL offers four study abroad programs for college students who want to focus on fostering sustainability through community. CELL students wrote a series of letters to NWEI staff in 2006 urging NWEI to consider expanding its work into higher education settings, and the students’ letters prompted NWEI to embark on a new strategic direction, with NWEI discussion courses on campuses now comprising some 40% of our course offerings! Below are some reflections from CELL Director Dave Oakes, as well as from some of the students having participated in NWEI discussion courses.

In 2007, The Center for Ecological Living and Learning (CELL) pilot tested four NWEI discussion courses as part of its college semester program in Iceland focused on a theme of “sustainability through community.” The NWEI materials dovetailed beautifully with CELL’s experiential, service-learning curriculum and were embraced enthusiastically by all CELL students. Today, we use the NWEI discussion courses in our field programs in Central America, Iceland, East Africa and the Middle East. CELL instructors model the facilitation of the first session and then students take turns in pairs facilitating most NWEI sessions.  

What do CELL students say about these materials? One student shared that “the NWEI materials made us realize the power of “simplicity” and the impact that one person can have.Other students shared that the NWEI courses provide a balance of the right amount of information, with a balanced array of viewpoints. Below are several reflections from students having participated in NWEI discussion courses via their study abroad experience with CELL.

Students in Iceland, 2013

Students in Iceland, 2013

“As a discussion facilitator, it was great to have such quality
discussion materials designed to facilitate “discussions” as opposed to
“lectures.” The materials spurred introspective reflection and group
probing of issues.

“Use of the NWEI materials enabled us to see how “we” (our group)
are a piece of a larger sustainability discussion group – part of the NWEI’s
initiative to spur global discussion on sustainability.

“Having students teaching/facilitating the material was why this program worked so well.  When we took it upon ourselves to learn and teach the information, our class became a much more valuable tool than information being lectured at us.”

Thanks to CELL and all the students over the years who have participated in NWEI programs abroad!

More than 300 colleges and universities worldwide have successfully used NWEI’s discussion course books to strengthen academic communities and foster learning about sustainability, both in and out of the classroom. This short video will tell you more about our work on campus.

NWEI courses are sparking shared learning, shared stories, and shared action in a wide variety of campus-based settings—from first-year to graduate level classes, with community-based learning initiatives, in residence halls and learning communities, as professional development for faculty and staff, and in other campus-wide programs. Find out more in this NWEI on Campus video and on our website at

20th Celebration postcard change photoNorthwest Earth Institute is excited to announce our nominees for The Change for Good Award, which will be given to an organization who in their own right has integrated sustainability principles into the core of their operations and, working in partnership with NWEI, has helped make our surrounding community a healthier, more sustainable place to live. The following five organizations have worked closely with NWEI over the years in engaging students, community members and employees in sustainability discussion and action.

Intel – As the number one purchaser of renewable energy credits in the US since 2008 (according to the EPA) and a strategic investor in renewable energy start-up companies, Intel is helping lead the development of the clean energy industry. Intel supports employee-initiated grassroots efforts, including the Intel Employee Sustainability Network (IESN), a chartered employee group. IESN, in place at Intel since 2004, provides employee networking, volunteering, and educational opportunities that align with Intel’s corporate environmental focus areas. The group’s activities have included Northwest Earth Institute discussion courses delivered at multiple Intel sites around the world, with more than 400 Intel employees having participated in NWEI discussion courses over the years.

imagesThe local (Oregon based) contingent of Intel employees are worthy of special recognition for their efforts, both internally and externally. In 2011, 35 Intel volunteers took the NWEI discussion course program into 20 local high schools, engaging over 400 high school students in the Greater Portland area. Using NWEI’s Just Below the Surface discussion course, Intel volunteers mentored high school students and facilitated dialog and critical thinking around the use of energy.

imagesNW Natural – NW Natural is committed to reducing fossil fuel impact on local and global environments. Through promoting more efficient energy use and environmental stewardship, NW Natural is doing its part to limit carbon emissions and slow or stop the greenhouse effect—a proven factor in global climate change. Since at least 2007, NW Natural has been engaging employees in NWEI discussion courses. They have also been an active participant in and sponsor of NWEI’s EcoChallenge with employees committing to sustainability actions each Fall. Their paperless billing campaign donates significant funds to local nonprofits, including NWEI, and encourages customers to go paperless. NW Natural also funded an employee to serve as a consultant for NWEI in 2008. NW Natural is committed to offsetting 100 percent of the CO2 associated with natural gas heating use for the next five years.

imagesPortland Community College – Since at least 2008, hundreds of students have participated in NWEI courses in a variety of classes. SPARC, which promotes sustainability throughout the curriculum, has actively connected faculty with NWEI resources and PCC faculty have organized ongoing NWEI discussion courses for faculty and staff. PCC Student Government has also hosted several NWEI courses on sustainability topics. From environmentally sound operating practices to a curriculum that supports sustainability, PCC demonstrates sustainability leadership. The Rock Creek Campus vermicomposting system creates a closed loop that takes pre-consumer cafeteria scrap, composts it and uses it in the garden to grow food to serve again in the cafeteria; the Sylvania Learning Garden is beginning to create a similar system. PCC has developed programs in renewable energy systems, alternative fuels, solar voltaic manufacturing and sustainable building. PCC Sylvania Campus President Linda Gerber is a member of NWEI’s Board of Directors, providing valuable input about NWEI’s ongoing collaboration with campuses.

indexThe Standard – The story of sustainability at The Standard begins with a handful of employees who had a vision for the company’s future. They had participated in Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course, and it led them to form The Standard’s first Green Team with a few like-minded employees. Since then the Green Team has nearly 100 members, is guided by an executive-sponsored steering committee and is behind significant changes at The Standard, including powering the Tanasbourne Campus in Hillsboro, Oregon by Clean Wind renewable energy and solar panels, their newest building on the Tanasbourne Campus is LEED Gold-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council and is 34 percent more efficient than a conventional building, and the downtown Portland Standard Plaza building is also LEED Gold-certified and is Energy Star rated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The NWEI courses have been an integral part of The Standard’s ongoing Green Team activities, and The Standard has also been an active participant and sponsor of our EcoChallenge each Fall.

indexUnitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth – UUMFE has been connecting and inspiring Unitarian Universalist communities across North America to work for for environmental justice, spiritual renewal and shared reverence for Earth since 2005. Since building a partnership with Northwest Earth Institute in 2007, UUMFE has been able to engage over 1,000 members of UU fellowships throughout North America in NWEI discussion courses. In 2011 and 2012, Nancy King Smith, UUMFE Board Member, was able to organize over 20 NWEI discussion courses in Cleveland, Ohiocontributing to the creation of more local and sustainable food systems. In the past two years, UUMFE has brought Earth justice education and action campaigns to their members and congregations (NWEI serving as a primary delivery model) and created an advocacy coalition for environmental justice issues in collaboration with other Unitarian Universalist (UU) partners. UUMFE has been able to collect stories of success from their UU congregations, particularly around Earth Day.

Congrats to our nominees, and thanks to each organization for their continued partnership with NWEI as well as their work to create a more sustainable future! Stay tuned to find out which organization won the first ever Change for Good Award! We’ll announce the winner at our 20th Anniversary Celebration and then here on our blog.

NWEI is celebrating 20 years of shared discovery, shared story and shared action – and we’re calling on you, our supporters both new and old, to help us reach 3,000 more participants before June 30th. We’re aiming to have 145,000 participants connecting, reflecting and taking action by June, and need your help!
One way you can help us reach this goal is to organize a Menu for the Future discussion course, using the newly revised and updated version of this course book, available on Earth Day. The updated Menu for the Future discussion course helps you explore the connection between food choices and sustainability with new authors, including Wes Jackson of The Land Institute, Alexandra Zissu, Gary Paul Nabhan and Robert Gottlieb.
Find out more about our new Menu for the Future here,and join us in celebrating Earth Day 2013 and NWEI’s 20th Anniversary by organizing a discussion course in your community.

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