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More than 300 colleges and universities worldwide have successfully used NWEI’s discussion course books to strengthen academic communities and foster learning about sustainability, both in and out of the classroom. This short video will tell you more about our work on campus.

NWEI courses are sparking shared learning, shared stories, and shared action in a wide variety of campus-based settings—from first-year to graduate level classes, with community-based learning initiatives, in residence halls and learning communities, as professional development for faculty and staff, and in other campus-wide programs. Find out more in this NWEI on Campus video and on our website at


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.

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!

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability - one of NWEI's 12 course books

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability – one of NWEI’s 12 course books

For educators in the Portland area, we’ve got an exciting opportunity for the 2012-2013 school year. Thanks to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, a charitable foundation of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, we are pleased to offer 1,000 of our discussion course books for FREE to students in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties!

If you’ve never used them, Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion course books are an effective tool for teaching sustainability through a process of shared discovery, personal reflection and positive action. In fact, more than 190 colleges and universities throughout North America have successfully used NWEI course books in a wide range of academic disciplines and institutional settings.

Here at NWEI we see lasting change as being possible, social and fun. Our student-led curriculum promotes this kind of change by encouraging critical thinking and active learning, and by helping students find “Aha!” moments about the way they live, work, create and consume.

Here is what some other local educators have to say about NWEI discussion course books:

“Portland Community College has benefited greatly from our partnership with Northwest Earth Institute. The materials are well designed and appropriate at the college level. The discussions lead to a meaningful examination of the choices we make every day that affect our environment and its complex network of people, plants, animals and natural resources. The discussions also encourage participants to articulate their own philosophy about the purpose of humankind as it exists on planet earth.”

-Linda Gerber, President, Sylvania Campus, Portland Community College

“At Pacific, I offered Discovering a Sense of Place in my section of First Year Seminar last year, a course required of all incoming freshmen. Our section focused on the Experience of Community and Place and the NWEI course has been instrumental in orienting the students to this bioregion. The students teach the course in groups, fostering classroom community and bringing in their unique perspectives. The reception last year was overwhelmingly positive. I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings.”  

-Lara Vestas, Assistant Professor, English, Pacific University

The basic guidelines to participate:

  • You may select any of our 12 discussion course topics.
  • The books must be used for students in Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington counties.
  • The books must be for new users or used in classes not recently using NWEI discussion course books.
  • In order to receive the books, we request that the instructor respond to a few evaluative questions at the end of the quarter provided by NWEI. We want to see these books actually used in the classroom and not just distributed to students with no discussion in class or with their peers. We also request that you share feedback from the students, which would be helpful in our efforts to secure future grants.

If you’d like to learn more or apply for some free discussion course books, call NWEI’s Director of Curriculum, Lacy Cagle, at 503.227.2807 or email at

This semester students at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan are taking a Food Quest course led by Professor Tara Deubel. One of Professor Deubel’s key texts is the Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course book from the Northwest Earth Institute. Read below for excerpts from an article just published about the students’ learning process:

In all its capacities, food has long played a role in human social and cultural systems. The consumption and preparation of food defines nations, unites traditions, builds families. And as the world has continued to develop and change, so too does the food industry and various food-philosophy movements.

The Food Quest, an anthropology course at Oakland University explores the ways in which humans produce, consume and relate to food in a global, cross-cultural perspective.

“Understanding the human relationship to food illuminates the relationship we have with our larger environment,” said Tara Deubel, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology. “From a global perspective, we need to address why people continue to die of hunger and malnutrition in 2012 when adequate food resources exist.”

“Locally, we need to ask similar questions about why many residents of Detroit are unable to access healthy food on a daily basis in an area now considered to be a “food desert” due to its lack of food resources,” Dr. Deubel continued. “It is critical to re-examine the local and global systems we have put in place and advocate more sustainable alternatives that encourage smaller-scale, local food production and more healthy eating habits.”

The course covers a wide range of topics including changes in human eating patterns, the globalization of the food industry, transnational food politics, debates concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the organic and local food movements, malnutrition and hunger in developing countries, food rituals and eating disorders…

As they learn about the local and global impact of the food industry, several students have developed passions for the local and organic food movements.

“I would like to see the concept of urban gardening spread throughout Detroit and for more people to get involved and to start eating real food, not processed food from the gas stations and little grocers,” said Katherine VanBelle, a senior student majoring in Environmental Sciences. “I found it sad to hear that some city kids think food comes from a gas station. I feel that it’s reasons like this that make us one of the unhealthiest cities in America.”

For the full article, click here.

Recently, A University of Washington professor brought Menu for the Future into her classroom, tasking students with meeting in small groups outside of class to delve into the complex world of sustainable food choices.  Here is what a few of them had to say in response to NWEI’s discussion course process.

“My fondest memory of food has got to be standing beside my mom, barely tall enough to see the large saute pan filled with a creamy white mixture, asking “why don’t you just put the cheese in all at once?”  The first Menu for the Future meeting  continued on this theme as we answered the question, “how do the foods you ate as a child compare with the ones you eat today?”  There was a varied response to this question: some ate better today, some ate the same, and some ate worse.  This led to discussions about why.  The reason for eating worse today was mostly about money and convenience, but also an overload of information (labels, media reports, educations).  They couldn’t afford to eat healthy, and didn’t have time to…  The first session has a lot of great articles that reduced defensiveness associated with all the food choices we have today:  local, organic, conventional etc.  And, it is hard to navigate amid warnings about metals in fish, fat content, high fructose corn syrup, and now the condition of conventional cows and chickens…

I learned in my ethics class about values, and they seem to be categorized by either human centered (and usually self-centered at that), biological (all living things), or eco-centric (all living things plus the air, water, and atmosphere).  Personally, I look at every living thing, as well as water and air as having intrinsic value – born within.  And we now have a good understanding of how anthropogenic (human action) disturbances affect all of these things.  Therefore, we have an obligation to respond with better than sustainable choices and actions (because sustainable by today’s standards is not really sustainable).

Yes, the Menu for the Future sessions have motivated me to change some of my actions.  It is painful to see that in the heart of the issue, is my own resistance to change despite my knowledge and personal values.  I believe this is the perfect example of acts and omissions…As individuals we have an obligation to respond, and therefore we should at the very least voice our issues with industrial agriculture by way of food choices.”

Another student reflects on getting housemates in on new food choices and habits:

“The information I learned from the readings has inspired me, and that inspiration has spilled onto my friends and family.  After learning about the environmental, health, and social implications of CAFO’s, I told my parents… Since then, they have found a grass fed free range beef supplier.

I also gained a new perspective on food.  Food had become something I would hurry up to finish as I’m running out the door… In the first reading, there was an article that spoke of the dinner table as an outlet for personal expression and a time to bond with family.  The article took me back to my childhood: mom, dad and I sitting around the table talking and laughing.  Them showing love and care for their child, and me growing and learning how to express myself and learn rules of society.  Can you pass the potatoes?  Yes, of course! Dinner time was a time to bond, slow down and reflect upon our lives… This article opened my eyes to what food has turned into for me, and I have since made changes.

I’ve made myself wake up 20 minutes early, to ensure that I have enough time to enjoy my breakfast.  I take my one day off and dedicate at least half of it to preparing salads and healthy foods to eat throughout the week.  The most special one, and the one my roommates love the most, is the Tuesday evening dinner that I’ve implemented…There has been more of a sense of love and warmth in our house since then.

A general consensus amongst the Menu for the Future group was that we are doing the best we can with regards to what we are given.  A majority of us feel that provided the options we have to choose from, we choose the best we can.  By best choices, I am talking about local, organic, and humane.  I also noted, that the students who were really able to make conscience decisions regarding food, had support.  My roommates have turned out to be very open to the things I’ve learned, and want to incorporate better choices into our lives.  It has turned out to be quite a process.  Going organic is not too hard, you can find organic produce and processed items at any Fred Meyer or Safeway.  But buying local is definitely a goal of mine.  This means once, if not twice a week running down to the local market for veggies and fruits.  When it comes to local grass- fed meats, they are just not worth the price.  But this has lead to us eating not as much meat, and pretty much no beef.  The changes that I’ve made that were inspired from the readings of Menu for the Future have allowed me to make a better impact on my health, my environment, and my local community…”

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.

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