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For anyone that has had the privilege of naming something important to them – be it a coffee shop, book or even a first child – the task of coming up with the perfect name can seem like nothing short of writers block to the Nth degree. It often involves some deep soul searching, reading up, and seeking counsel from close loved ones on the significance of certain names in order to find just the right one to encapsulate all that seemingly indescribable intention and potential.

Which is why we’re so happy to announce our new “Help Us Name Our Newest Course” Contest, wherein we would like to ask the NWEI community to offer their best, most creative ideas on what to name our newest course that will be focused on Personal  and Environmental Health.

We can’t give too much away (see our previous post- Healthy YOU, Healthy Planet), but as you can imagine, it will take a closer look at how the health of our many environments (whether household, local, nation or global) directly affect one’s own health. Its arrival has been very highly anticipated, and we’re looking to decide on a name by this coming Friday, so let’s hear what you’ve got!!!

Here’s what to do…

  • Leave a comment below (or on our Facebook page) with your best new course title ideas, and you’ll be entered in a raffle to receive TEN FREE COPIES OF THE NEW COURSE to help you organize an NWEI discussion group!!!
  • Second and Third Prize drawings will be given a Burgerville Gift Card!
  • All entries must be submitted by Friday at 9 AM sharp.
  • Just to help you get the ball rolling, some of our ideas have revolved around the following phrases: collective health, beyond prescriptions, environmental health and you, sustaining health, remedies, pathways, etc.

We look forward to hearing what you come up with!


By Mike Mercer, Executive Director of the Northwest Earth Institute

This article was originally published as an opinion piece in The Oregonian, June 08, 2010.

It’s bad. It’s really bad.

Whether the number of gallons spewing daily from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is 500,000 or 1 million, the impact is and will be horrendous. The Coast Guard estimates that it is collecting 42,000 gallons of oil residue per day. So what isn’t collected is simply pollution left to foul our planet, hurting people, animals and plants.

Given the magnitude of this disaster, we’ve heard a number of leaders and authors proclaim that it might provide the motivation citizens need to make personal lifestyle changes to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Certainly large-scale generosity has followed other major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia and the recent earthquake in Haiti. So what can we expect from citizens in response to this massive oil spill?

Not much, actually. From experience and behavior-change research, we know an event like this will have little effect on personal consumption. Unless the damage is perceived as an immediate crisis affecting us within our homes, the vast majority of Americans will be frustrated at the occurrence but will do little in the way of productive action. Furthermore, we only have so much capacity for worry. So unless you live right on the Gulf Coast or make your living from its natural resources, a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico just doesn’t measure up to unpaid mortgages, college tuition or tutoring for the kids.

That said, people can and will change behaviors given the right conditions. Having engaged over 120,000 people in the process of inspired action, we see people making personal change on behalf of self-interest and the environment on a regular basis. Here is what we need: Follow up our dissatisfaction with the current conditions with images of a positive vision for the future in which we can see ourselves. Citizens then need a range of options for change without feeling dictated to or appearing too sacrificial. Finally, like with most effective behavior-change efforts, a support group of family or peers helps to normalize new behaviors, provides supportive reminders and offers a sense of accountability to one another. Perhaps by focusing on what really matters to Americans — a high quality of life including the basics in food and shelter, strong relationships with others, rewarding experiences and good health, we’ll drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and other dwindling resources.

Guest Contribution by Rob Dietz

Article originally published in the Rob’s blog The Daly News on May 09, 2010. The Daly News is the blog of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE). Click the following link to take a look at their position statement.

Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, the explosive online video (now also expanded into a book), provides an entertaining explanation of a glaring economic flaw.  The Story of Stuff takes a look at the economy’s linear system that runs from extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal. As Annie says, “… you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.” You especially can’t grow the size of that linear system indefinitely. But that’s the misguided aim of current economic goals and policies. Misguided as it is, however, we know why politicians and economists push economic growth and consumer spending. As soon as we slow down our shopping and buy less stuff, the economy spirals into a recession. That’s when we start hearing about and experiencing real problems – problems like people losing their jobs, their homes, and even their ability to take care of basic needs.

What a dilemma! The planet can’t sustain our pattern of consumption, but people get steamrolled in the economy when consumption slows down. The solution is to figure out how to structure the economy so that people can meet their needs without trashing the planet. But restructuring the economy is no simple task. Even gathering the will to take a shot at it is difficult. Read the rest of this entry »

Before moving to Portland last fall, I always considered my home base to be in Central Oregon. Having been raised in Sisters, the quaint little western-style town set amidst a wilderness paradise, I was understandably anxious about moving to the “big city.” Yet, I soon discovered that people refer to PDX as more of a big little city, and I couldn’t agree more. Never would I have imagined such a strong sense of community that exists in its neighborhoods, nor the serendipitous encounters with old and new friends on their streets.

In the following piece, Rick Seifert describes the pleasure he derives from belonging to the Hillsdale neighborhood and how “local morality” plays a large role in his experiences. If you’ve yet to develop an intimate relationship with your surroundings and to accept responsibility for them, take a look at our Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course to learn more about the benefits of a bioregional perspective.

Guest Contribution by Rick Seifert

(Article originally published in Rick’s blog on May 15, 2010)

I’ve thought and written a lot about being involved in my community of Hillsdale.

So I was curious what others would write about community as I settled into the chapter of readings devoted to the topic of “Building Local Community” in my “Discovering Sense of Place” course book anthology.

The “group-guided” course is offered by The Northwest Earth Institute and is centered around discussion of shared, stimulating readings.

All the readings were excellent in this chapter, but one essay by the clinical psychologist Mary Pipher provided me with new insights into community.

“Home,” Pipher writes, “doesn’t have to be where you were born or grew up….it does have to be a real place that you have committed to over time. I has to be a place where you have friends and know the names of many people you meet….It’s where when you sit down to talk, you don’t have to discuss Tom Hanks or Benecio del Toro. You have real people in common.”

That’s what Hillsdale, a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, has become for me, and I’ve lived here “only” 20 years.
Pipher continues, “Communities are about accountability, about what we can and should do for each other. People who live together have something that is fragile and easily destroyed by a lack of civility. Behavior matters. Protocol is important. Relationships are not disposable. People are careful what they say in real communities because they will live with their words until the day they die.”

Because of this need for community civility, Pipher adds, “We behave better with people and places we will see again and again.”

Bad behavior, like “road rage” and war, happens between strangers who will not meet again.

And so Pipher says, “All morality, like politics, is local.”

A lot of the connection between neighbors is sharing our stories and our space, she notes. What is our shared history? What are our civic events and celebrations? What are our public spaces — trails and parks, plazas and markets ?

Pipher writes, “Those communal places are needed now more than ever.”

And increasingly, with the lure of “virtual worlds” and fabricated “television” neighbors, we have to consciously make our communities and commit to them.

Rick Seifert is a longtime Hillsdale resident and activist. This post was reprinted by permission from his blog at

By Susan Wulfekuhler

Spring weekends often find me indulging in one of my favorite pastimes, stalking the wild nettle.  Stinging nettle thrives in the lush, moist forests of the Pacific Northwest where I love to hike as spring unfolds.  Looking for nettles on the greening forest floor sharpens my attention.  Picking and eating nettles, I feel my slow winter energy begin to stir with nettle’s signature spring “wake-up” call.  Nettle brings a quickening in body and soul.

As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed more patches of my blue-green medicinal ally being taken over by Himalayan blackberry, an invasive non-native introduced as a food plant in the 1800s.  The blackberry thrives in the same disturbed, moist soil favored by nettle.  Over time, I’ve noticed that left to its own devices, blackberry always wins.  It is a master of abundance, a model of resilience.

A few years ago, growing tired of unsuccessfully ripping the blackberry out of my special nettle patches and struggling through a difficult time personally, I decided this plant had much to teach me about creating abundance.  I spent a summer “apprenticing” myself to blackberry, listening to it and observing it through the growing season.  This is what I learned from blackberry about developing resilience and thriving in times of change:

  1. Spread your seeds by providing food for others.
  2. Provide delicious food for a diversity of beings.
  3. Use more than one pathway to create abundance.
  4. Look for a vacuum (niche) and fill it.
  5. Go for the light.
  6. Be tough.
  7. Persevere.
  8. Stay firmly rooted in the earth.
  9. Adapt to changing conditions.
  10. Protect your creations–be thorny when you need to.

If you’d like an opportunity to connect more deeply with Earth and the Universe, check out the Northwest Earth Institute’s Reconnecting with Earth course and create a group in your community.

Susan Wulfekuhler lives in Corvallis, Oregon.

April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. NWEI will be hosting an Earth Day Celebration, at our Southeast Portland office– and new and old friends are invited to join us for food, drink, celebration and conversation.

NWEI’s “Earth Day Happy Hour” will start at 4:30pm on Thursday, April 22nd.  Stop in after work and you’ll have the chance to find out more about NWEI and our small-group discussion courses, as well as fuel up for the hard work ahead in the sustainability arena with some snacks and Rogue Brewery beer.

All are welcome–if you have no idea what NWEI is all about, stop by and find out.  If you’re a long time volunteer- we’d love to see you on the 22nd too! And everyone else in between–stop in, say hi, and find out how you can take action this year towards a sustainable future!

What: Earth Day Celebration @ NWEI

Where: NWEI’s office, 107 SE Washington Street, Suite 235 (2nd floor, northeast corner), Portland, Oregon

When: April 22, 2010, 4:30pm-6:30pm

Who: All who are involved in or interested in creating a healthy, vibrant, sustainable future

NWEI will also be taking part in two other events on Earth Day:

  • Earth Day Celebration at the Portland Community College Cascade Campus- open to the public and we encourage you to swing by our table in the afternoon to find out more about the many ways that NWEI discussions courses can help you build a richer community and attain a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • “Green Bag” event at the downtown Duncan Building- employees from the three Federal agencies (BLM, USFS and the Corp of Engineers) are invited to listen to speaker Jeanne Roy presentation on “The Path to Zero Waste”, visit with various exhibitors and focus on individual actions people can take to improve our environment.

Denis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day, shares his thoughts on “Earth Days past and present, environmental politics, corporate responsibility, and individual green behavior.” He is interviewed by Carsten Henningsen, long time supporter of NWEI and co-founder of Portfolio 21 (global mutual fund investing for a sustainable future and NWEI business partner).

Below is an excerpt from the interview that touches on the importance of individual behavior change and the type of actions that NWEI encourages through its course books and discussions. Click here for the full interview.

Be sure to swing by and visit our table at Portland Community College during the afternoon on Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary!

Carsten Henningsen: Environmental awareness has magnified exponentially over the past 40 years. To this end, many people have embraced “the low hanging fruit” i.e., bringing their own bags to the grocery stores, replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, etc. While good intentioned, it seems like too little, too late. As we enter in the second decade of the 21st century, what guidance should Earth Day bring to the general public?

Denis Hayes: I agree with your general point, but I will use it to close the loop back to your very first question, rather than to criticize personal behavioral changes.

Fairly profound behavioral changes will be necessary to build a sustainable society—and for the most part these changes will be very good things for us. More physical exertion and healthier food will help combat our epidemic of obesity, for example. Even the little actions that can be seen as mostly symbolic help tie people to value systems. That’s why every religion uses them! Catholic women are supposed to cover their heads when they enter the church whereas Catholic men are supposed to take off their hats. The French l’affaire du voile over head scarves for Moslem women has been rocking that country for 15 years! Symbols can seem silly but they can be emotionally powerful. And even trivial actions, multiplied by six billion people, can make a huge collective difference.

On the policy front, we acted first on the “low-hanging fruit.” That was common sensical. It is much easier to arouse people when their children are being poisoned than it is about two lines crossing on a graph at some point in the future, even if the latter will lead to disastrous results for the planet. But now the lines on some of those charts have converged.

My hope for Earth Day, at this juncture in history, is that-through the employment of social networking, instamobs, tweets, mobile apps, and whatever the next digital connectors turn out to be, the 175 nations participating in Earth Day 2010 will make important strides toward creating a true global consciousness. We need to care passionately about the well-being of people around the world. And we need to cherish and protect all of the interrelated web of life on our home planet.”

Ever wonder if minimal character usage on social mediums will rule the world of personal interactions in the future?

Well, let’s hope not because having a deep conversation on the daily, rather than one consisting of small talk, is being hypothesized by Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, to bring about a happier life. Take a look at the full NY Times article and Dr. Mehl’s study, which was published in the Journal of Psychological Science.

“By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world,” Dr. Mehl said. “And interpersonally, as you find this meaning, you bond with your interactive partner, and we know that interpersonal connection and integration is a core fundamental foundation of happiness.”

If you’re interested in hosting a gathering with your friends, loved ones and/or coworkers in order to further explore values, attitudes, and actions through discussion, give us a call at 503.227.2807 or shoot us an email at contact[at] to speak with someone about how NWEI’s discussion courses can help you “get deep” and move towards a more sustainable and enriching future for us all!!!

Interested in bringing those who live near and dear to you together to start a neighborhood group?

Join Transition PDX tonight for a panel discussion on the many approaches to building stronger communities!

Neighbors as Communities:Starting Neighborhood Groups

The panel will be comprised of the Ainsworth Street Collective, The Sellwood Connection, Jeanne Roy from the Center for Earth Leadership and Transition Sunnyside.

“The panel will be followed by discussion of how we might adapt any or all of these approaches in our neighborhoods.   Join us in learning how to build community and have a good time while doing it!” – Transition PDX

Meeting this evening, March 31 @ St. Francis Dining Hall, 1182 SE Pine St., Portland, OR

More about Transition PDX…

“The mission of TransitionPDX is to inspire, to encourage, to network, to support and train the communities and neighborhoods of the Portland metro area as they consider, adopt, adapt and implement the transition model in order to establish Transition Initiatives.

How would such a city look? Fostering a resilient community is about developing a community that can thrive despite the challenges brought to it by changing climate conditions and the consequences of depleting energy resources.

One of the notable things about the Transition Initiative is the hope that it brings to people. Despite the very real challenges that the future is likely to bring, the enthusiasm in the room at gatherings and meetings can be quite palpable.”

For those of you who want to know more about NWEI’s innovative sustainability programs and are free during the lunch hour (12-1) this coming Thursday, come stop by our new office location at the historic Olympic Mills building for an Introductory Session. Our new address is:

107 SE Washington Street, Portland, OR 97214

Feel free to come check out our new office space (suite #235) just before noon and then we can all walk down to the Think Tank Conference Room where we will discuss two new course opportunities open to the public.

Menu for the Future & Choices for Sustainable Living

  • Courses will meet separately after the Intro Session, occurring weekly during the lunch hour
  • Cost is $20 for course materials, which will be available at the first meeting
  • For more info email or give us a call at 503.227.2807

My reaction to the sunny day that has presented itself today can be summarized by the simple, yet profound, slogan of the Oregon Country Fair:

“Yes, yes, yes!”

Finally, spring is upon us! Yes to the longer sun kissed afternoons, yes to the budding tear drop-shaped magnolias, and yes to the sudden wafts of floral aromas that come and go all too quickly as we pass by on our hurried way.

It took only a few walks around my historic Brooklyn Neighborhood, noticing these sudden changes in my surroundings, to rush home the other evening and begin to toil the soil in great anticipation of beginning my first garden. What is that infamous Gandhi quote? “To forget how to dig the Earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” One must not forget oneself, so let’s get diggin!

According to the article written by Wendell Berry entitled “The Pleasures of Eating” that is featured in NWEI’s Menu for the Future course book, the first of seven steps that one can take in order to fully understand and enact responsible eating is as follows:

1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

So rip up that lawn or get a plot in a community garden so you can reap the rewards of a free summer lunch, and be sure let us know more about your spring garden plans by leaving us some comments below.

What steps are you taking right now to prepare your garden for a summer flourishing? If it so happens that due to unfortunate circumstances you are not planning to harvest deliciously organic veggies this summer, then let us know what signs of spring you’ve noticed lately!

Are the bustling farmers markets and the farmers tans of neighboring gardeners making you interested in exploring the connection between food and sustainability?

Be sure to check out our Menu for the Future discussion course. 

What would it mean if we all viewed the world, and our place, through the lense of a bioregional perspective? Would it mean describing distant locations solely by geographical landmarks, much in the way the native people must have? Or might we all be struck with the strong inclination to suddenly take up yodeling?

No one can say what that world would look like for sure, but in the following piece, Rick Seifert touches on these notions in a very heartfelt article that encourages us to develop such a perspective. He describes how NWEI’s Discovering a Sense of Place discussion course led him and a small group of friends to contemplate what it would mean if we truly considered the benefits of consciously developing an intimate relationship with our place. Enjoy!

Guest Contribution by Rick Seifert

(Article originally published in Rick’s blog and in The Southwest Community Connection, Mar 1, 2010)

Today’s trenchant question asks whether words interfere with our understanding of where we are – with our sense of place?

The query is prompted by the group-guided course I’m taking through the Northwest Earth Institute. Its title, appropriately enough, is “A Sense of Place.” The eight-session course with its carefully selected readings invites us, its 10 enrollees, to become intimate with where we live.

A recent required reading urged us to stay put. To resist the restlessness that afflicts so many Americans.

Another assigned article called on us to recognize, explore and celebrate our bioregion, a place that defies and transcends political boundaries.

The course also asks us to consider the slippery concept of ownership of place. Do we own the land? As we know, Native Americans found the whole idea alien, literally beyond comprehension. The European settlers and their ancestors have based much of the economy, and many of our burdens, on private ownership of land. The notion defines our values, our legal system and our lives.

Native peoples would no doubt be amused that much of our “ownership” is now “underwater,” submerged in debt accumulated in a frenzy of consumption and greed.

I’ve concluded that so much of what determines our conception, and misconception, of where we live has to do with names. “Where are you from?” I’m asked in my travels. “Portland, Oregon,” I say without giving my answer much thought.

Do I know what I’m saying? Have I been honest? Or is this simply a cursory, but readily understandable shorthand for a foreigner?

My answer conjures up in the listener some media image of Portland. Bikes, coffee, bridges, rain, perhaps the iconic profile of Mount Hood on a clear day.

And what does my answer mean to me? Portland is a proper noun with a multitude of associations. I can’t begin to put into words all the things Portland means. Nor can my fellow Portlanders.

Limited by words and labels, is it possible to express our sense of place? Read the rest of this entry »

Is sustainable consumption relevant to your organizational goals?

Is your organization in a position to affect change industry wide?

How might you lead by example?

For a non-profit like NWEI that develops sustainability education course books intended to Inspire people to take responsibility for Earth, these questions might seem a bit redundant. However, these are only a few of the many questions that helped stimulate discussion among the NWEI staff every Wednesday during the lunch hour, over the course of five weeks, as we participated in our own newest course Sustainable Systems at Work.

It was truly inspiring to see an organization whose entire existence is based upon the concept of sustainability, walk away with so many great initiatives. Imagine what results would come from an organization taking the course that has yet to fully embrace the importance of sustainability!

Our valuable take-aways from the course included, but were not limited to:

  • Creating a comprehensive power-saving strategy implemented among staff and office, as well as delivering suggestions for the entire building.
  • Initiating two NWEI discussion courses within our building and among tenants, with the aspiration of creating an Olympic Mills Building Green Team in the future.
  • Evaluating all forms of natural and human capital necessary to run NWEI, and assessed how to responsibly account for those resources. One example: we made plans to plant trees on a regular basis, as a staff, in order to offset the paper needed to produce our course books, and also simply to have a fun outing as a staff!
  • Integrating a carbon footprint calculator into our website, with the future plan of evaluating the average impact of our course books (from the tree to your doorstep) in hopes of encouraging participants to purchase offsets for that footprint.
  • Making plans to create a roof-top garden

As a new member to the NWEI team, I was at first surprised by the concept of taking our own course, and then I quickly became thrilled by the idea. The discussion course got our wonderful, intelligent staff talking, and most importantly, helped to further develop our action plan in order to advance organizational change towards a more sustainable future.

What better way to lead than by example, right? Be the change!

As I enter the Exhibit Hall, my eyes quickly sweep across the room bustling with well-established leaders and organizations within the Northwest’s sustainability community. I’m attending theGreen Professionals Conference here in Portland and can’t help but notice that the majority of the people in the room are exactly that: Professionals in their respective fields. Thankfully, I notice that among these experienced participants stand a few wannabe sustainability gurus such as myself, all similarly wide-eyed and bewildered by the fountains of wisdom which surround us.

Not to worry, though. My business cards read: Intern @ NWEI. Although printed on flimsy paper and cut out by yours truly earlier this morning, they nevertheless seem to be the golden key to opening the door to conversation with any one of these high-profile individuals. Three hours later, I exit the Exhibit Hall bursting with confidence, assured that my new position at the Northwest Earth Institute has me working with some of the most influential Change Agents in the Pacific Northwest.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ryan, and I couldn’t be happier to be a new member of the NWEI team. We’re a non-profit that, since 1993, has developed innovative discussion materials with the purpose of educating people on how to live more sustainably and toward a more enriching future. The courses deliver direct and tangible guidance on how to do so, and can be utilized anywhere that provides a comfy seat and circle of forward-thinking, change-oriented people.

The intention of this blog is to compliment the discussion course process. It will be a clearing house of information for anyone who is interested in taking the courses, or for those who already have and want to continue to connect and engage with what’s happening at NWEI. We will communicate any and every development: new courses offered or updated; local NWEI and assorted green events; and relevant sustainability news that supports our mission-

Inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth.

Thanks for reading, and therefore, dedicating your time and brainpower to the acceleration of this revolution.

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