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NWEI Executive Director, Mike Mercer

NWEI Executive Director, Mike Mercer

Sustainable Business Oregon highlighted NWEI’s 20 years of work with the business community in an article published today. Read below for Andy Giegerich’s reflections on how NWEI has been “bringing businesses back to Earth” since 1993. For the full piece, click here.

A key player in Oregon’s early sustainable business movement is marking its second decade this week.

 

The Northwest Earth Institute, launched by former Stoel Rives LLP attorney Dick Roy and his wife Jeanne, will host its 20th anniversary party May 16th at Portland’s Left Bank Annex. As part of the celebration, the group is unveiling new strategies, including an updated online platform, that Executive Director Mike Mercer believes will move the group to the next level.

 

The Roys formed the group to push air quality and solid waste issues. Since then, it has also worked to improve Portland neighborhoods, through the Neighborhood Sense of Place Program, and formed the Sustainable Investment Institute as a way to train investment advisers on green issues.

 

The new Change for Good effort that’ll launch Thursday aims to “close the gap between the sustainability behavior people want to do and what they actually do,” Mercer said…

“This isn’t a solitary pursuit, it’s a social pursuit,” Mercer said. “We want to make it easy for someone who’s busy to get involved.”…Mercer has led the group since 2006 and participated in its programs since the mid-1990s.

 

“Twenty years ago, people weren’t having this discussion around sustainability,” he said. “It was a small group of change agents, maybe 1 percent or 2 percent of the population. Over the last 20 years, NWEI reached out to the middle part of the population who realized that change is permanent but didn’t know how to get there just yet.”

 

The group has increasingly focused on the higher education sector, such as faculty members who are incorporating sustainability tenets in their teaching and projects. About half of the group’s 10,000 members are in the higher education realm.

 

“Four years ago, it was zero” percent, Mercer said. “That’s in recognition of faculty members and institutions saying, we need to educate students for a different future, not just in renewable energy but in terms of dealing with the planet.”

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.”

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 350.org‘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 @ mikanter@comcast.net
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!


 
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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.
The Loveland Garden Club in Omaha, NE hosts NWEI's Choices for Sustainable Living

The Loveland Garden Club in Omaha, NE hosts NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living

At NWEI, we believe the solution to many of the Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change: each of us contributes to a world of impact. Over the last 20 years, NWEI has helped 142,000 people from around the world make small steps that lead to big changes for our planet.

Today we are calling upon you, our partners, volunteers and course organizers, as well as those new to NWEI, to help us reach 145,000 participants in NWEI’s sustainability focused discussion courses by June 30, 2013. That’s 3,000 people in three months – ambitious, but attainable with your help. If you’ve been considering organizing a course, please take the first step today. We’re here to help you get started too – call us at 503-227-2807 or email contact@nwei.org.
With your help to engage 3,000 participants this Spring, 145,000 citizens over the course of twenty years will have been motivated to take action in their own lives and inspire the people around them. 145,000 citizens taking action, like those in Durham, North Carolina, Cleveland, Ohio, the Columbia Gorge here in Oregon, and Jefferson County, Washington, is no small feat.
Thank you for stepping up today to help reach our goal—3,000 people, 3 months, let’s do it!
Third Fork Creek, recently adopted by NWEI Partner South Durham Green Neighbors after a Discovering A Sense of Place discussion course

Third Fork Creek, recently adopted by NWEI Partner South Durham Green Neighbors after a Discovering A Sense of Place discussion course

We recently heard from South Durham Green Neighbor Founding Steering Committee Member and NWEI Liaison Mark Bruhn, who told us that a recent Northwest Earth Institute Discovering A Sense of Place discussion course had resulted in SDGN adoping a local stream, Third Fork Creek. South Durham Green Neighbors, a partner organization of Northwest Earth Institute, is an all-volunteer community group organized in July 2010  to inspire individuals in Durham County (North Carolina) to take responsibility for Earth via small group dialogue and discussion groups. Since 2010, SDGN has sponsored more than 20 small group discussion courses using the Northwest Earth Institute model in local libraries, faith centers and work places with more than 150 participants.

“We have adopted a nearby stream, Third Fork Creek, and are organizing creek clean up events 2-4 times a year in coordination with the city of Durham, as well as performing stream monitoring and water quality testing.  This grew out of our experiences in the Discovering a Sense of Place course,” says Mark Bruhn.  SDGN is also using the NWEI inspired watershed course developed by the University of Washington and is adapting the water course for the Durham area, entitled “Knowing Our Local Watersheds,” to be offered in North Carolina this Spring.

Finding empty soda cans and other trash near the creek

Finding empty soda cans and other trash near the creek

Mark Bruhn and his family carry out the trash they picked up

Mark Bruhn and his family carry out the trash they picked up

imagesKory Goldberg, an instructor in the Humanities Department at Champlain Regional College Saint-Lambert in Quebec, Canada, discovered the Northwest Earth Institute in 2009 when planning for a Green Living course. Since 2010 Kory has been engaging students in NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living curriculum, with 66 students participating last year. “Students enjoy the diversity of the texts,” says Kory. Since he began using the texts in class, nearly 300 students have participated in the Choices for Sustainable Living small group discussion process developed by the Northwest Earth Institute.

Professor Goldberg offers the following on his experience of using the NWEI resources in his classroom: “The organization and selection of readings in Choices for Sustainable Living provides an excellent range of topics concerning the human relationship with the environment.

The vast majority of the students in my “Green Living” classes have raved about the relevance of the readings and discussions in their own lives. Many have claimed that Choices for Sustainable Living has not only helped them think deeply about the environment for the first time in their lives, but that it has empowered them to make realistic changes in their day-to-day living.

From the standpoint of a college teacher instructing first-year undergrads, the book has helped me introduce the work of great intellectuals, scholars, and activists to my students in ways that are neither onerous nor dull. My compliments and appreciation to the helpful staff at NWEI.” 

Thanks to Kory and Champlain College Saint-Lambert for continuing to engage students in shared discovery and participatory learning via the NWEI course books!

imagesSince 2004, Starbucks’s Partners for Sustainable Living employee group has offered over 40 Northwest Earth Institute discussion courses in the Seattle, WA corporate office, most recently completing Menu for the Future. Most of the NWEI courses have been offered as a voluntary lunch hour offering for employees, hosted by the Partners for Sustainable Living group. PSL has some 400 members, most of which have participated in NWEI courses. The PSL Leadership Team has completed at least seven NWEI courses over the years. Approximately 10% of all employees at the Seattle corporate office have gone through at least one NWEI discussion course. One PSL member notes that “the discussion courses from NWEI have always been popular,” and cites an increased sense of community as one of the benefits of participation.

Former PSL member and Starbucks employee Tim Nuse says “There were lots of questions from partners about what they could do and how to work for corporate social responsibility. We piloted two Northwest Earth Institute groups and there were 15-20 people in the first discussion groups…Partners for Sustainable Living became a grassroots, employee driven venue for making change.” Thanks to Starbucks employees for creating organizational change through shared learning and shared action, and for using the Northwest Earth Institute resources along the way.

“NWEI courses complement Starbucks commitment to sustainability by enriching internal discussions and giving participants a clear understanding of their direct role in the conservation of natural resources. As a result, these individuals are better equipped to assess environmental issues and embrace innovative solutions in the workplace and in their personal lives. We highly recommend NWEI programs to organizations that believe in driving change from the inside-out.” Ben Packard, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, Starbucks

                                                                                                        

imagesThis week we are happy to share a guest post from Mary Shaw who works at the Ashland, Oregon Food Co-op, where participants recently completed NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course. Participants shared a variety of reflections upon completion of the course, with one participant noting “I am thinking more deeply and intentionally.  It’s helping me be accountable to get rid of things I’m no longer using.” Another course participant mentioned that “the Voluntary Simplicity group has prompted me to consider and eliminate internal and external clutter in my life…When making purchases I now ask myself is this a need or a want?” Thanks to the Ashland Food Co-op for sharing these reflections with us!

Simplicity can be viewed as a practice to create a more purposeful way of life in a complex, consumptive society.  To simplify is to reduce what you have to the essentials; to streamline and to clarify.  

Participants in the Co-op’s first offering of the Voluntary Simplicity discussion course are making life changes one step at a time. Weekly readings and discussions are followed by an action plan which helps participants commit to change. For example, one of the action plans with the theme “Intentional Living” prompted some participants to do the following: cook 5 good meals during the week; check email only three times a day instead of every 30 minutes; and take regular walks.  Part of each session is then spent sharing the successes, challenges, and inspiration experienced while implementing these commitments. Some of the participants will be starting a new group in April.  If you are interested in joining them, contact Mary Shaw at 541-482-2237 ex 261.

“Voluntary Simplicity has made me realize there are too many of us wanting too much from the planet and there are choices we can make to lessen these demands.”- Voluntary Simplicity course participant, Ashland Food Co-op

 

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.

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.

 

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

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

Storfront_Winter_WEB

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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