You are currently browsing Kerry Lyles’s articles.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Below is a guest post from NWEI Board Member Eric Park – in honor of NWEI’s forthcoming 20th Anniversary and the launch of our new website and online platform next week. Enjoy!

This quote is often a source of inspiration for organizations like NWEI, committed to working towards creating positive change in the world. However, while this quote is inspiring, it doesn’t offer any insight into how to “spark” this change.

NWEI has spent the last twenty years, working to spark change. As we move forward into our twenty-first year, we will be launching a new online platform to extend the reach of the organization. But more importantly, we will move forward with a deeper understanding of the importance of mastering the art of the “aha” moment in order to accelerate the pace of change towards a more sustainable future.

We believe the key spark for behavior change is the “aha!” moment. We’ve all experienced “aha!” moments, from eyebrow raising to life-changing; moments when we discover something new about the world or ourselves that inspire us to make a change. NWEI has worked to understand the conditions necessary for individuals and small groups to have “aha!” moments, knowing that this is the spark for individual and collective change.

But sparking these “Aha” moments isn’t easy. When is the last time you actually changed your mind about something, or resolved yourself to make a small or significant change in the way you were doing things? Turns out for many, this doesn’t happen very often.

What we do know, is that most people who participate in an NWEI discussion courses or our annual Ecochallenge event do make a change. And we believe it’s because these activities engage people in a social process of learning, action, or story-telling that creates the conditions for them to have “Aha” moments.

As we launch our new on-line platform, we hope to encourage more people to participate in activities that trigger more personal “Aha” moments, because while we know change is hard, we also know that change is inevitable. And we’re committed to accelerating this change by becoming masters of art the “Aha” moment.

With our on-line platform, we hope it will be easier for you to share your “aha” moments and make it easier for you and others to create the conditions for your circle of family, friend, or co-workers to have theirs.


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.)



Image 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

p070621Last month we featured Betty Shelley, long-time NWEI volunteer and waste reduction expert on our blog. Betty and her husband Jon generate only one can of garbage per year. Yep, per YEAR. Applaudable, and for the rest of us, seemingly impossible, right? I signed up for Betty’s “Less is More: Getting to One Can of Garbage Per Year” class to find out just how she does it, and how I could reduce my family’s garbage.

We’re no strangers to the 3 R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — but are hard-pressed to keep our family’s garbage to one can per month. I signed up for the class hoping to learn some new “tricks” from Betty, but after participating, I’m finding the biggest benefit to attending the class was that it inspired me to take a deeper look at some of the issues, and reignited my motivation.

The class featured a video demonstrating how a landfill works. Like many people I suppose, I hadn’t given any thought to how a landfill works, and I had no idea that landfills are engineered to prevent their contents from decomposing. So those biodegradable dog poop bags I’ve been buying? They are, like everything else at the landfill, sealed off from water and air, lingering in perpetuity. Hmmm.

The class also called upon participants to do a waste audit of their household trash. My small family: two adults, a baby, a dog, a cat, and three chickens, has two problem areas revealed by the waste audit: packaging and poop. It seems that all snack foods, even the healthy or organic options, come in non-recyclable packaging. For instance, the items of convenience that make it easier to get through a busy day, like Lara Bars and Cheerios for the baby, are often in non-recyclable packaging. The poop problem is probably familiar to anyone with pets and babies. While we cloth diaper 90% of the time, disposable diapers are handy for traveling and at night. But they also generate a lot of trash! And the pets add to the problem between needing to maintain our good-neighbor status by picking up after our dog, and dealing with the litter box.

The Less is More class inspired me to do some additional research, and while an animal septic tank is out of the question here in Portland because of clay soil, it’s good to know that there are other options. I’ll also be skipping the biodegradable bags, because given where they are going to end up, it seems like a better option to reuse a plastic newspaper bag and at least give the bag a final use.

My “Less is More” wake up call has been the need to really consider my options and weight the benefits of convenience with the reality of waste disposal. While the garbage truck takes our trash “away”, it stays with us far too long (some things probably forever!) to justify taking the convenient route all of the time.  I don’t think we’ll approach the one can per year mark, but every little bit helps, so I’m keeping that in mind!

In just over two months, we will host our 20th Anniversary Celebration here in Portland, Oregon. We know that the NWEI community spreads far beyond our hometown in Portland, and that there are people from across North America who will be celebrating with us in spirit. We have another way for you to get involved in the Celebration if you can’t attend in person too.

We are inviting donations to support members of our community who are “living lightly” and may not be able to afford a full-price ticket to the celebration. Students, full-time volunteers and those who are pursuing part-time work for example, will be able to attend our celebration thanks to the generosity of the NWEI community. We are collecting $60 donations, which will support two people attending the celebration at half-price, or one person attending with a full “scholarship.”

We will recognize all of the donors who sponsor a Living Lightly ticket at our 20th Anniversary Celebration and thank you for considering this opportunity to be involved in the event even if you can’t attend in person.  To make a tax-deductible Living Lightly ticket donation click on “Get Tickets” on the event website, or call me (Kerry) or Liz at 503-227-2807. Thank you for being part of NWEI’s celebration of 20 years of connection, reflection and action!

20th Celebration postcard change photo

And if you’re interested in applying for a Living Lightly ticket, please fill out this quick formWe will be in touch with people who are interested in Living Lightly tickets in April.

It’s hard to believe, but NWEI’s 20th Anniversary is just around the corner. One short year from now NWEI will turn 20, and in preparation for our 20th Anniversary we’re creating a map that will “pin” locations where NWEI courses have taken place over time. Whether you participated in 1993 or just last week, in one course or all 11, we invite you to “pin” your location on our Alumni Map.

Click here to complete a very short web form, and we’ll use your City/State/Zip Code information to create a pin on our NWEI Alumni Map.

Thanks for helping us demonstrate the reach of NWEI’s programs and our impact across North America! As an incentive to create your Alumni “pin” on the map we have a couple of swell raffle prizes that everyone who completes the form will be eligible to win–including a free pair of KEEN shoes and a KEEN bag.

And check out the map here!

One of NWEI’s long time volunteers, Betty Shelley, will be offering a “Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact” class beginning Tuesday February 7th – hosted at the NWEI office in Portland. Alarmingly, since 1900 the US population has tripled but use of materials has increased 17-fold (from David Wann’s Simple Prosperity). If you would like to reduce your waste and lessen your impact on the planet, this class is for you! Below is information from Betty regarding the class:

I will be offering my three-session “Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact” class this winter at the Northwest Earth Institute office beginning Tuesday, February 7th from 6:30 to 8:30pm.  The class will deal with solid waste, aka 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 my techniques and share your own.

*To sign up for the class, either email or call no later than January 31st. The number of participants needed is a minimum of eight and a maximum of twelve. The class will be cancelled if fewer than eight sign up.  The $25 fee (cash only) is due in full at the first meeting.

Please share this with anyone you know who is interested in making a commitment to reducing their impact.

Betty Shelley      503-244-8044

“It was great to talk to other people about their efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. Just going to the class made me feel great and inspired to take more action.”  Barbara

“Even knowing as much as I know, I still learned quite a bit that I take and use at home and in my business.”  Lane’

“The activities and lecture portions were just short enough to keep people interested. The small tips had the best impact for me.”  Jessica

Download the class flyer here: BettyShelleyWasteReductionClass

The Northwest Earth Institute is seeking an experienced development associate to join its team. This 15 hour a week position will provide key coordination and support of NWEI’s fundraising efforts in the areas of annual giving, campaign support, database management and miscellaneous department support. The Development Associate reports to the Development Director.

Please see the complete job description for more details and application instructions: NWEI Dev Assoc Job Description.

Happy New Year! We are excited to bring you another edition of our EarthMatters newsletter. The Winter 2012 EarthMatters feature article, by Sarah van Gelder and Doug Pibel of YES! Magazine, lays out a plan for creating an economy that builds real prosperity without undermining the natural systems that we all rely on. Inside you’ll also find a wonderful Knowing Your Place piece, “Thinking like Aldo Leopold” and the latest news from the NWEI community and partners.


I can’t think of a better time to pursue a life that’s simpler, richer and more fulfilling than right now.

Year-round NWEI helps you to experience the “Aha!” moments that change the way you live, work, create and consume. NWEI’s work to spark the conversations that create change, through our discussion courses and the EcoChallenge, wouldn’t be possible without your support.

As we reflect on the past year, and a year of inspiring stories of positive action relayed by our participants, we also give thanks for the donors who support our work. As a nonprofit, we rely on the support of the people for whom our work resonates. Perhaps you were inspired by a discussion course—recently or years ago– to take action to simplify your life. Maybe participating in the EcoChallenge launched a lasting new behavior to save water or energy, or choose more sustainable food options. Or, you might be one of the thousands of people each year who take part in a discussion course and find the inspiration to make changes at home or in your community to reduce your impact. Whatever your “NWEI story”, you are a valued member of our community. And, your support as a donor will go directly toward our efforts to create a simpler, richer, more sustainable future for us and generations to come.

Make your gift today knowing that your donation will be invested wisely. NWEI is a nonprofit with a strong volunteer base and small staff, and we work year-round to ensure that we’re having the greatest impact possible.

Every dollar truly does count. Thank you for your generosity today. On behalf of NWEI’s entire staff and Board of Directors, we wish you happy, healthy, joyful holidays.

A guest post by Duncan Berry

Duncan Berry has spent most of his life as a designer turned business man at the intersection of values based businesses like the global organic cotton movement. He is currently a partner in Ecosystem Services LLC whose business incubator is the coastal temperate forests of North America where he labors happily to strike a lasting balance between human communities and the natural systems of which they are an inextricable part.

I have had 2 questions on my mind ever since I spent 30 days in seclusion with the systems thinker and deep ecologist Joanna Macy 4 years ago.

What does it mean to be indigenous?

Can one become so in a single lifetime by living in deep relationship with a place?

 My wife and I live on the edge of a continent, where 5000 miles of open ocean meets the buckled, young lands of Oregon’s coastline. We are the minority in this majority of wildness and we spend as much time as we can out under the sky working, exploring, feeding ourselves and occasionally slowing down long enough to lose our sense of separation in this wild place.

Read the rest of this entry »

With the holiday season upon us, I wanted to remind you that NWEI course books and memberships make wonderful gifts. Share the gift of simplicity with your loved ones, and wrap up a copy of NWEI’s newly revised Voluntary Simplicity book. Or, provide your friends and family with the information and inspiration to pursue sustainable food choices with a copy of our newest book, Hungry for Change.

To share NWEI’s mission and message with your dear ones year-round, an NWEI gift membership makes a perfect present. For $30 you can purchase a gift membership for a friend or family member, or for $45 purchase a gift membership package, which comes with the NWEI book of your choice (shipping is on us!).

Simplify your shopping and support NWEI in the process by ordering NWEI books and memberships for everyone on your list who’s interested in creating a life that’s simpler, richer and better!

To order gift membership packages (memberships+ a book) please call us at 503-227-2807 and reference the holiday gift membership package. Gift memberships and books can always be ordered separately on our website too: for gift memberships click here, and to order course books click here.

 Happy Holidays!

A rain barrel installed as part of my personal EcoChallenge

This was a record year for our EcoChallenge. A total of 1533 individuals participated–more than 3 times the total from the previous two years combined! As always, we were amazed and inspired by the stories of change, and thought we’d share a few of the insights we enjoyed this year:

  • In his challenge to spend less time in front of the computer, college student Benjamin Guy found that “screens just seem to occupy so much of our livelihood. We need to be able to maintain a certain amount of distance so that we can appreciate the things around us instead of images of those things.”
  • EcoChallenger Susan Joseph Rack found an unexpected insight in her transition to CFL light bulbs: “Some time ago, I noticed a pang of impatience when I turned on a light and the CFL bulb hesitated a second before going on. Now I hardly notice it. I find that that brief hesitation slowed me down a bit, has taught me that rushing is not necessary. A simple blessing from a CFL bulb.”
  • And new bike commuter Greg Karpicus discovered that “there is a big difference between preaching about going green and actually following through. One makes you sweatier but it is so much more rewarding.”

We are particularly grateful for the incredible participation by Multnomah County employees – in all, 565 individuals from 50 different Multnomah County teams took on the EcoChallenge!

We also loved sharing the insights, humor, photos and recipes of our Featured Bloggers – Courtney Carver, Bill Gerlach, Shelly Randall, Stacey Ho, Lauren Savaglio and Kathleen McDade. Visit the Featured Bloggers page to explore their words of wisdom.

This year’s challenge brought home the power of story in helping to shift our individual and collective behaviors toward the future we aspire to. Stories make change more personal, more doable and–in the end–shape our culture and become the norm for how life can be lived. Thank you to all who participated in the EcoChallenge for your inspiring work and I’m looking forward to creating more stories of change with each of you!

If you were not able to join us in the EcoChallenge this year, mark your calendars for October 1-15, for EcoChallenge 2012.


Day three of our North American Gathering took place on Saturday, September 17th. We were honored to have Will Allen join us on Saturday, and thank Shelly Randall for blogging about his keynote speech. 

He came, he saw, he loved our farmers market!

“Genius” farmer Will Allen of Milwaukee, Wis. (he’s only the second farmer to have been awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant), made a very special visit to Port Townsend Saturday to be the keynote speaker on on Day 3 of the Northwest Earth Institute conference.

The “good food revolution” founder‘s schedule was booked: first with an interview on KPTZ and then back-to-back Q&A sessions with a group of 20 young people interested in food activism, then with 65 local farmers—sandwiched around lunch at the Port Townsend Farmers Market. (He had a Bavarian bratwurst, with mayo, in case you’re wondering.)

The 500 people who filled McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Worden to hear his evening talk were delighted to hear Will compliment our beloved market.

“You guys are fortunate to have one of the best farmers markets I’ve seen—and I’ve visited almost every city in America!” Will said to enthusiastic applause.

Click here to visit Shelly’s blog to read the rest of this post. 

Following is another guest post by our conference blogger, Shelly Randall. Visit Shelly’s website at

If not me, then who?

It’s the conference theme and the rhetorical question we are all grappling with at the Northwest Earth Institute’s North American gathering at Fort Worden State Park here in Port Townsend. If we don’t step up to take action, how can we expect others to?

On Day 2, the first full day of the conference, we heard several inspiring stories from leaders who have stepped up to build coalitions around local food, to facilitate local investing opportunities, to create a lifestyle change action guide, and more.

Participants are appreciating the level of detail shared on how to replicate these actions in other communities. “A good mix of pragmatism and idealism,” was one comment. “The best feet-on-the-ground presentation I’ve seen,” was another. Snooze-inducing Powerpoint presentations these are not!

I plan to write detailed posts about the presentations I attended in the weeks to come, especially the success stories from Port Townsend: using NWEI Menu for the Future discussion groups to bring farmers and local-food customers together; and growing community capital with a membership group called LION (Local Investing Opportunities Network).

Right now it’s past midnight, and my head is swimming with “feelings of excitement, interest, intrigue, befuddlement,” as presenter/attendee Kurt Hoelting described it at the end of this long and mind-bending day.

But before I hit the sack, I want to share Kurt’s original and heartfelt response to the question, “If not me, then who?”

“It’s exactly the question that sent me on this journey. And it’s probably the most important question I live with every day, he said at the start of his keynote talk on how he chose to take personal responsibility for his role in global warming.

Kurt, a wilderness guide and meditation teacher who traveled all over the world for business and pleasure, decided to dramatically reduce his carbon footprint by giving up jet and auto travel for one year. He wrote a book about his 2008 adventure called The Circumference of Home: One Man’s Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life.

For that one year he decided to travel only within 100 kilometers of his South Whidbey home, within a circle that encompasses the stunningly beautiful Puget Sound basin. Tonight we enjoyed a slide show of images from his walking, biking and paddling trips, and considered his advice for avoiding despair or denial over the state of the world: “The question is not do we respond, but can we turn it into an adventure?”

Kurt asked us to tell the person sitting next to us the boldest thing we could imagine doing to address the current environmental crisis. Then he urged us to consider actually doing it.

“The invitation I leave you with is to really ‘up the ante.’ To dare one another, in a way, to move in the direction of something bold. Something that begins to match the scale of the challenge we face.”

What’s the boldest action you can imagine taking to move yourself or your community to greater sustainability? Leave a comment if you want to share.

After all, if not you, then who?

Order NWEI Books

Find us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Make a Donation to NWEI

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.