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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!

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!

The 2012 edition of NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living course book is now available!
Recently the term “sustainability” has become so popularized, it is hard to know what it means anymore. Sustainability is a complex and contested concept, but at its best represents the hope for a healthy, just and bright future for us all. We offer Choices for Sustainable Living as an opportunity to explore sustainability more deeply.
In this substantial revision, the 2012 edition of Choices for Sustainable Living provides updated information and resources on the same topics as the 2009 and 2010 editions — Ecological Principles, Food, Community, Consumption and the Economy, along with a new session on Transportation. Also new in this edition is the Iceberg, a systems thinking exercise that can be used to dive more deeply into issues throughout the course.
In seven sessions, Choices for Sustainable Living helps participants explore the meaning and vision of sustainability from individual, societal and global perspectives. Download the updated course book flyer here.
*Please note we have a limited quantity of the 2010 version of this course book. Please call our office immediately at 503.227.2807 if you would like to order this version.

One of NWEI’s 30 partner organizations, Catamount Earth Institute, is wrapping up their Healthy People, Healthy Planet initiative, celebrating 17 discussion courses completed this Winter and Spring! They ran 12 World of Health groups, 4 Choices for Sustainable Living groups and one Menu for the Future group. CEI is now gearing up to host two programs on lawn chemicals as follow up, providing tangible information and action opportunities for course participants. Follow up offerings will focus on “Creating a Healthy Landscape” and how to have lawns without chemicals.

Catamount Earth Institute director Barbara Duncan says “It was Northwest Earth Institute activists from Port Townsend, Washington that spurred me on to try organizing multiple groups of one program…” There are two more World of Health courses starting in April at the Richards Free Library in Newport, NH and the Canaan Town Library in Canaan, NH. The Catamount Earth Institute focuses outreach in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire.

We recently learned that students at Fukuoka Women’s University in Japan recently participated in NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course as part of an “Exploring Sustainable Living” program (which included a study trip to Australia to learn about sustainable applications underway in other countries). Students participated in the NWEI course during the program in order to more fully consider sustainable lifestyle choices and their implications.

Students shared some of their experiences on their group’s Facebook page and cited several group commitments after learning more about sustainability. Early action choices included not using elevators in the dormitories to save energy, buying less plastic bottles each month, thinking for at least 30 seconds before purchasing something, and discontinuing drinking mineral and bottled water. The students also mentioned how the NWEI course book helped them to begin making more sustainable food choices.

We are excited to hear about this group’s Choices for Sustainable Living experience!



The Northwest Earth Institute is excited to be a part of 21 Acres non-profit school‘s offerings on sustainability and stewardship in 2012!

21 Acres, located in Woodinville, Washington, is dedicated to teaching people how to grow, eat and live sustainably. Its new series of core courses is beginning in February, with continuing education classes focusing on principles of sustainable agriculture, including those related to not only food and food systems, but also home energy and water conservation, tools for local economic development and quality of life improvement.  Future courses feature NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living, Sustainable Systems at Work, as well as health and climate change issues.

If you are in Washington in the Sammamish Valley area, first courses are on Backyard Farming and Food Processing. For more information, call 425-481-1500 or email You can also visit the 21 Acres website.

Can it be true? Is holiday shopping really upon us? As we turn towards the upcoming holiday season, many in the NWEI community are asking how we can shop sustainably and give socially responsible gifts. A recent Choices for Sustainable Living group in Kingston, WA at the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center wrestled with the question and wrote about it in the Kingston Community News. Read on for Naomi Maasberg’s musings on how to make choices for a sustainable future.

It seems like summer is barely over and it’s time to think about holiday shopping.

The holiday gift-buying season will be here soon! This is the time of year that gets some of us to the malls and the stores even more often than we would ever like to be. It was in the midst of that shopping season that a sustainability discussion group at Stillwaters Environmental Center was discussing the topic of “Sustainable Buying.” This is one session of the course, with readings from “Choices for Sustainable Living” by the Northwest Earth Institute.

While it was tempting and we felt motivated after the discussion, most of us in the class did not abandon our Christmas shopping entirely. We did discover some good ideas about how to make purchases count and help to determine the real environmental impact of products we might buy. These would apply no matter what the season, of course!

Any product or service is sustainable if it is made, used and disposed of in such a way that it could continue to be made, used and disposed of indefinitely. This is because it would not be extracting any additional resources from the Earth to do so.

In the production of a product, the natural resources used need to be available from generation to generation; this is what sustainability is all about — making sure future generations will have adequate resources to support them. Also, the waste from a sustainable product must stay within the manufacturing loop and not build up or cause pollution.

Right now, there are very few totally sustainable products in the marketplace, but some are much better than others, of course. As shoppers, there are some things we can look for and things to ask ourselves.

– Do I really need the product? Even if a product is “green,” if you don’t really need it, it’s better not to use up the resources — the greenest product is the one you don’t buy! Often, second-hand things will suffice or be better, and certainly not use up more resources.

– Is it safe to use? Check for toxins that are in so many products. They’re not good for you or the environment.

– Is it durable, well made, of good quality that will last? Inexpensive things that wear out quickly require replacement resources to be used. If you need to use some of Earth’s resources, make them last!

– Is it made from recycled or renewable resources? Are the materials taken in a sustainable way? Are the raw materials used renewable ones, like plants? Or non-renewable, like petroleum? How much of the content is recycled goods? Are the materials organically grown or sustainably harvested? It should have this information on the label.

– How will I dispose of it? Think ahead and look for things that have little packaging, and packaging that can be easily recycled. Then, think ahead to when you or someone else no longer needs this product; how can you dispose of it in a way that will not put it in the landfill? Can it be re-used? Recycled?

– How far was this shipped? We get products from all over the world now and think little of it. But many natural resources are used up in transporting things. “Buying locally” is not enough if the product has been shipped to our local store from across the world!

When shopping, try to think beyond the item you see in front of you. Consider all it took to put it in front of you, and ask yourself if it is worth it.

*If you are in the Kingston area, Stillwaters Environmental Education Center is starting NWEI’s newest discussion course, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics & Sustainability. If you are interested in joining this group, call (360) 297-1226.

This month, Ellen Dawson-Witt is hosting Choices for Sustainable Living in her 192 square food home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The group is discussing voluntary simplicity, ecology, food and money…and all things pertaining to living more lightly on the Earth. For more photos of Ellen’s ‘tiny house’ and for the full article entitled “Tour of a Tiny House” in the Yellow Springs News, click here.

When Ellen Dawson-Witt wanted to live a more sustainable life, she didn’t take half-measures. She moved to a farm, went off the grid, and downsized to a house the size of a shed.

Fitting her life into 192 square feet was easy for the 56-year-old — she long ago eschewed television and fashion, and got rid of the stuff she didn’t use — and so was living on a farm in exchange for taking care of goats. And she didn’t mind carrying water, using a composting toilet, keeping a wood stove going and lighting oil lamps in the off-the-grid structure that lacked indoor plumbing and a furnace.

She raised some of her food, carried the water she used for bathing and cooking from a nearby well, collected rainwater from her roof for washing, composted her waste and split wood for her wood stove. There were some modern amenities too — three solar panels, which provided some electricity for a lamp, CD player and laptop, and a 1934 gas range for cooking.

“It was fully living in line with my values,” Dawson-Witt said. “I like to know where my food comes from; I like to be in literal touch with the elements and to work with other people.” …

Thanks to Ellen for setting the example that living this lightly can be done – and for sharing it with others through a Choices group!

As I mentioned last week, NWEI was featured twice this Spring in the Journal of Sustainability Education.  This week we’ll hear from Mike Shriberg, Ph.D., who is Education Director at the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and Lecturer in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.  He wrote the following reflections on using NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion guide in the classroom.  For the complete piece, click here.

“In the class, “Sustainability & the Campus,” my students focus on organizational change, environmental management and the substantial institutional changes that are required for a university to lead the way toward a more sustainable future…In teaching this class for more than a decade at three different institutions, I have experimented with many readings or texts but nothing seemed to align with the unique, hands-on, and intellectually challenging approach of the course.  Two years ago, I started utilizing the Northwest Earth Institute’s (NWEI) Choices for Sustainable Living discussion guide and the resulting conversations and analysis have been remarkable…

…I use the Choices for Sustainable Living course book to introduce the concept and application of sustainability. It provides the backbone for sustainable thinking through bite-sized readings from leading thinkers and practitioners. The content and format directly hits the key challenges we face in a world of rapidly declining environmental, social and economic capital.  More importantly, the text provides reasons for hope, optimism and action.

Students are not only tasked with completing the readings, but also coming to class prepared to enter into dialogue and discussion with one another since each discussion guide includes relevant questions for reflection.  The questions included are aimed not only at fostering an intellectual understanding of the author’s perspectives, but also at encouraging inquiry and reflection on the part of each student, particularly around how the issues of sustainability interface with daily campus life and personal decision-making processes.  If the aim of sustainability education is only for students to grasp concepts, perhaps we as higher education institutions are succeeding.  If our aim is to engender a deeper, systemic understanding of sustainability where concepts are not only grasped intellectually, but also translated into action and a more responsible type of citizenship, we must find resources that match up to this challenge…”

To read the rest of Mike’s piece, click here.

Today we continue our focus on transportation by looking at ways to broaden our reach. Individual behavior change is necessary and important in creating the world in which we want to live. Individual actions inspire, motivate, and change culture, especially when enough people work together to make a difference.  Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge.

But we also see the vital importance of working together to change our infrastructure, political systems, and broader cultural constructs, as well.

Today’s proposed action is: Broaden your reach.

Cars produce about 20 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and consume about 44 percent of the oil we use. Consider contacting your representative about implementing a fuel tax or raising the standards for fuel efficiency in your state. Environment America is working on some great campaigns aimed at getting America off oil.

Also, consider contacting your Congressperson and Department of Transportation and telling them of the merits of a U.S. Bicycle Route System,  an interstate network of bicycle routes for national non-motorized transportation. You can find out more information here and see what’s going on in your state here.

For the weekend:

Enjoy non-motorized fun, for your health and for the health of the planet. Go for a bike ride, either to a destination you’ve already planned, or just for fun. Or take a hike and enjoy the weather your area has to offer in the spring. Take a picture celebrating your surroundings and how you got there.  Send your pictures to, and we’ll post them on our blog!

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

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