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“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.

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This just in from our guest conference blogger, Shelly Randall of SustainableTogether.com, who took the time to recap the events of NWEI’s multi-day biannual gathering a few weeks ago. Thanks Shelly! For those who weren’t able to join, this will fill you in on gathering highlights and outcomes.

Salutations from Port Townsend, a community that is still reverberating with the excitement of hosting NWEI’s biannual North American gathering last month (Sept. 15-18, 2011). The “Will Allen buzz” has yet to wear off, and every one of the 500-odd people who attended his public keynote address seems to still be talking about it. Everyone else in town is eagerly awaiting the video that was shot that night to be edited and released.

Our grassroots efforts to create a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy have gained visibility and been bolstered by the opportunity to host NWEI’s conference, “If Not Me, Then Who? Building Healthy Communities and Local Food Systems One Conversation at a Time.” (Thanks to NWEI for offering reasonable day rates that made it possible for many Port Townsendites to attend the conference part-time.)

In addition to the conversations that started, “Did you hear Will Allen?”, conversations here in Port Townsend are spinning off everywhere:

  • Through new NWEI discussion courses that are starting up this month, in homes and churches;
  • At a talk this week on reconnecting urban consumers to agricultural producers, presented by the director of our state Department of Agriculture and hosted by Port Townsend’s Citizens for Local Food;
  • At this week’s kick-off event for Our Watershed, a NWEI-style, 7-week course being offered at no charge to participants, and available in two geographic versions: the Pacific Northwest and more specifically Puget Sound. Click here to learn more.
  • At meet-the-candidate events with conference attendee and local economy advocate Deborah Stinson, who is running for City Council;
  • Between my 3-year-old son and the 4-year-old son of a climate researcher I met at the conference whose family just happens to live four blocks from mine!

Best yet, our local Chamber of Commerce has invited me and Judy Alexander (chair of Port Townsend’s NWEI steering committee and Local 2020 leader) to present back-to-back in November, and is dedicating two of its weekly meetings to the topic of local sustainability. The Chamber director was inspired by local media coverage of the NWEI conference, and her phone message was waiting for me at the end of the day Friday. What a wonderful and direct outcome!

Before my inspiration from the conference is redirected to these worthy conversations, I want to present some easily scannable conference highlights from sessions I attended. Below, please find short summaries and relevant links to more information. The conference schedule contains details on all the presentations held Thursday-Sunday at Fort Worden State Park…

*Below are just a few excerpts from Shelly’s full post. To read the full recap, visit www.sustainabletogether.com

Conference Highlights – FRIDAY

Community Building, Sustainable Food and Neighborhood Activism: A Port Townsend NWEI Case Study

Imagine if every Menu for the Future course had a farmer or food producer at the table? That was the case for the 28 NWEI discussion courses organized in our county in 2010. Judy Alexander and Peter Bates (both NWEI organizers) and local Grange President Dick Bergeron shared how they found common ground to pull off this ambitious, and how it helped grow the customer base for local food.

It was an inspiring first session, notable for its outcomes (our county now spends 4% of its food dollars locally, compared with less than 1% nationwide, and there is a push to get that to 20% by 2020), its specificity (how a Google Docs spreadsheet enabled course coordination), and its enduring themes (partnerships, identity politics, how food brings people together).

Peak Moment TV interviewed these three in Fall 2010, and the interviewer’s notes nicely summarize this Town Mouse/Country Mouse collaboration. Click here to read them, and click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Accelerating Community Capital: Developing a Local Investing Ecosystem

I heard this called “the most paradigm-shifting session” of the weekend, and with the Occupy Wall Street protests now in full swing, learning how to promote local investing seems more relevant than ever.

One of the key factors driving Port Townsend’s relatively thriving local economy is the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION), a clearinghouse between business owners who need capital and potential investors in their community. It’s not a pooled investment or a loan fund, and business owners are not making public offerings—transactions are based on one-to-one personal relationships (which gets around SEC restrictions). Since LION formed in 2006 (it was formalized in 2008), it has facilitated more than $2 million in local investments (primarily loans), with an average investment of $132,000 per active investor.

“It has been not only a huge economic boost for us, but also a profoundly hopeful thing to be a part of,” said presenter Deborah Stinson. She was joined by fellow LION investor Michelle Sandoval and locally financed business owner Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm “What we’re finding with LION investors is they have truly aligned their values with their actions and their bank accounts,” said Kisler.

LION’s website offers Local Investing Kits with templates of its legal agreements and forms. Peak Moment TV interviewed LION’s co-founder, an investor, and a locally financed entrepreneur in Summer 2011. Click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Becoming a Hyper-Locavore: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet

I hadn’t read my conference schedule close enough to realize Vicki Robin would be here, and when I was casually introduced to the co-author of Your Money or Your Life—one of the most influential books of my past year—I couldn’t even speak, I just genuflected. So of course I had to attend Vicki’s presentation later that day.

Who knew it would be so funny? It turned out to be the trial run of her “relational eating” talk, describing her extreme eco-challenge to eat only what grew within 10 miles of her Whidbey Island home for one month in 2010—and she had us all laughing hysterically. Thankfully, she chose September. Thankfully her neighbors bootleg raw milk and cheese, and sell eggs and free range chickens. But at a “shocking” $5/lb, Vicki was forced to cut way back on eating the only meat available to her. In the midst of describing this protein dilemma to us, Vicki happened to look out the window and caught one of Port Townsend’s feral deer in her sights. Instantly, she leaped into a bow-and-arrow stance. “That would’ve been dinner,” she declared, to her audience’s great delight.

Look for her undoubtedly good-humored book to come out next year: Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet (Viking 2012). Vicki blogs at http://ymoyl.wordpress.com/

To read more about Kurt Hoelting’s keynote address about Harnessing the Power of Place to Build More Resilient Lives and Communities, workshops on community walkability, NWEI’s new course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability and highlights from Farmer’s Market tour and the Farm Tour, click here.

Shelly Randall blogs at SustainableTogether.com and can be reached at shelly@sustainabletogether.com or 360-301-2540.

In just over a month, our cadre of EcoChallengers will set out to save water, conserve energy, reduce the waste that ends up in our landfills, prove that car-free transportation is a viable option, and eat more sustainably–and we hope to count you among our 2011 EcoChallengers.

There are a few ways to participate–by starting your own team (and inviting your community to join the ranks), by joining the NWEI Community Team, or by signing up as an EcoChallenge fundraiser.

If you need inspiration to start a team, just check out the list of teams who have signed up so far–the list includes large companies like The Standard, community groups like the Unitarian-Universalist Church Of Belfast and even an extended family taking on the EcoChallenge together, the Alex. T Jones Family Reunion team.  We’d love to have your neighborhood, business, family or congregation join us too, so consider starting a team.

We’re also welcoming participants on the NWEI Community Team. The more the merrier and everyone is welcome! For details on how to join the NWEI Community Team visit the team page on the EcoChallenge site.  You’ll join Sarah Crump, our fabulous EcoChallenge intern, who’s taking on a no-trash challenge (and any trash she does generate during the EcoChallenge she’s pledged to carry around with her, as a visual of what can’t be recycled, composted or otherwise diverted from the landfill), and Sky Trombly who is undertaking a human-powered transportation challenge.

If you’re feeling inspired, you are also invited to take on the EcoChallenge as an EcoChallenge Fundraiser. Our team of EcoChallenge Fundraisers will set out to raise $25,000 in pledges during the EcoChallenge–by collecting pledges from friends and family to support their EcoChallenge.  Raise $50 as an EcoChallenge Fundraiser and you’ll also be eligible to win some great prizes.  You’ll be in good company as an EcoChallenge Fundraiser- the entire staff and board of NWEI are participating as fundraisers again this year, and you’ll join other NWEI supporters like Erin Simons and Tami Boardman.

Registration is underway, and we look forward to hearing what your EcoChallenge will be this year!

This week, during our Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action, we have turned our focus to community and culture, and how we can be agents of change in our respective circles of influence.

So far this month we’ve addressed the importance of taking action at home and work and looked at changes we can make in how we transport ourselves and how we eat.  We’ve looked at what we can do about plastics, a by-product of our dependence on oil, and considered how to broaden our reach beyond personal lifestyle choices to now influencing our immediate communities.

Today we bring our focus to what you can do in your immediate community to positively impact both others and the environment where you live.  Beyond signing petitions and pressuring our elected leaders to enact changes we wish to see, we must also turn our attention to the immediate circles of living communities of which we are a part.

As Grace Lee Boggs says, “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.”

Today’s proposed action is: Look after where you live.  Take one action today to serve your local community or neighborhood. 

If you’re not sure where to start, find out what one environmental justice issue in your community is, or one environmental issue that is particularly relevant where you live.  Find out what your local government is doing about the issue and contact them with questions or feedback or to ask how to get involved.  Another way to look after where you live is to find out what local organizations are doing to address environmental issues and get involved that way.  Is there a local action-oriented campaign you could join?

To learn more about how your state has been affected by fossil fuel extraction, for example, take a look at this state by state map of the impacts of fossil fuel accidents in the US from 1968-2011: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/fossilfuelmap.html.  If you live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky or Texas, your states have been hit hardest. 

An easy way to reduce your energy usage at home is to switch over to more efficient appliances. Doing a bit of research in advance can save you a lot of time and money when you’re ready to make a purchase. Refrigerators consume more electricity than any other appliance, so today I will share some tips to help you start saving energy today with your existing refrigerator:

  • Transfer frozen foods from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you want to use them: this will help cool the compartment and reduce energy usage
  • Wait until food has cooled before putting it into the refrigerator
  • Vacuum the coils on the back frequently
  • Temperature settings can typically be reduced in the winter

And if you’re in the market for a new fridge, here are some quick purchasing tips:

  • The less accessories, the better! Ice makers and water dispensers are unnecessary and sap a lot of energy
  • Look for freezers that are on the top or bottom, rather than the side
  • Avoid auto-defrost models

Rather than disposing of your appliance, you can recycle it! Learn more about recycling all types of home appliances on the Energy Star website.

Happy Saturday and thanks for joining us for Day 2 of Oil and Our Lifestyles: A Month of Action!

Did you know that heating and cooling systems put 150 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year? This is a major contributor to global climate change and a reminder that individual actions can have global effects.

Proposed Action for April 2nd Follow some of these simple steps from the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce emissions and lower your utility bill:

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Bleed trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
  • During the heating season, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • During the cooling season, keep the window coverings closed during the day to prevent solar gain.

Thanks again for checking in and we’ll see you tomorrow!

As many of you know, today marks the beginning of NWEI’s Oil and Our Lifestyles – A Month of Action. This month we’ll be posting daily action ideas and information pertaining to oil, energy and our lifestyles and we invite you to join us and share with us what you and your groups are doing.

We want to acknowledge that personal change is important, which is what this month of action points towards.  However, advocating for broader and more systemic change is also necessary.  We hope this month will move each of us towards greater participation in finding needed solutions, both at the very personal and often seemingly ‘small scale’ level while also acknowledging needed shifts at the community and global scale.  Here’s to starting exactly where you are!

Proposed action for April 1st:   Begin a survey of energy use in your home.  All weekend we’ll be looking at home energy use and offering ideas and actions to conserve energy and use less (we’ll do this over the next few weekends as well).  Today, survey your energy use and needs at home and unplug what you aren’t using or don’t need to use.  Focus on any home office electrical equipment when not in use over the weekend.  Begin a habit of unplugging items when they are not in use. Better yet, use power strips–and easily unplug multiple items at once.

We also invite you to listen to a live interview with Pat Murphy, Research Director of Community Solutions, a non-profit organization that advocates for a world where people live sustainably and cooperatively in smaller communities which are diverse, equitable, and just.  He’ll be talking on Greenwashing in the Energy, Transportation and Building Industries, airing this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3 at 8AM EST & 5PM EST.  For more info visit www.talklansing.net and www.mieradio.com.  This interview with Pat will also be available as a Podcast.  (Go to www.mieradio.com for the Podcast – Shunpiker’s Journal link).

Pat’s main interest is developing the techniques and strategies for a steady reduction in the per capita use of fossil fuels. He sees community as a necessary context for a low energy lifestyle.  He will discuss Greenwashing in the energy, transportation and building industries, FTC Green Guides to curb this abuse, the Smart Jitney and shared transport programs that could work in the US, whether or not President Obama’s proposal to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is the right way to promote clean energy technology, and whether or not alternative fuels ethanol and propane can be part of the solution.

We look forward to journeying with you this month!


You might be thinking “oil spill, what oil spill? Wasn’t that last year’s news?”

Yes, the spill is over, but next month on April 20th marks the year anniversary of the largest environmental disaster in US history.  After the 1969 oil spill off the coast of California citizens rose up to initiate the first Earth Day in April, 1970.  As Bill McKibben says, “it was a real moment” in our history.  It is a good time to ask ourselves how we have responded or failed to respond to last year’s oil spill disaster. Have we responded to the call to live differently with less dependence on difficult to access, dwindling fossil fuels?   Have we worked hard enough to enact more responsible policies and regulations?

In an ever-accelerating world of rapidly shifting news cycles hammering one disaster after the next, it is a natural defense mechanism to tune out or shut down.  Many of us absorb bad news and then move on to the next thing.  The problem is that business as usual continues on both the personal and macro levels.

This is why NWEI has responded by dedicating its newest discussion guide, Just Below the Surface:  Perspectives on the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, to reflection and action around last year’s oil spill.  Many of us on staff grappled with the specter of continued lifestyles and actions reflecting the status quo, which led us to host a month of intentional action where we can each consider more deeply our parts in the often destructive oil dependent systems at hand and consider opportunities for radical change.   Next month, Oil and Our Lifestyles:  A Month of Action, is an opportunity to gather together with your co-workers, family, neighbors or friends to take part in this one session discussion course on the spill and to together consider next steps to address the environmental challenges we face.

One of our volunteers recently wrote to remind me that “individual lifestyle choices alone won’t solve our problems.  Driving less won’t solve our problems.” It is true.  Of course a larger, more coordinated and systemic effort is needed to radically shift our cultural dependence on fossil fuels.  However, it is individuals like each of us who populate businesses, organizations and other institutions that all have the potential to respond with innovative solutions that map a new and unchartered way ahead. 

Change begins with individuals.  The question is, do each of us respond to the calling, offering up solutions and examples of change in our own circles of influence?  For some of us driving less may be what we can do as a gesture of response.  For others, we can join a green team dedicated to taking action, create a new sustainability council, convene a neighborhood meeting to find local solutions, pressure congress, or demand more responsibility from the oil companies we support with our dollars.

We all have response-ability.  As Anthony Robbins says, “Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” Here’s to deepened reflection, dialogue and action in service of Earth and life.

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