You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘sustainability’ tag.

“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.


NWEI’s Executive Director Mike Mercer’s guest opinion piece, We Can Reconcile Moral Values and Self-Interest to Encourage Sustainability,  was featured in yesterday’s Oregonian. Read below for Mike’s perspective on reconciling values and self-interest in pursuit of a more sustainable community.

Our sustainability “tent” can be broadly defined as all the people who have decided to do something large or small about the environment. It’s growing, but it still only covers a small segment of the population. If we really are to achieve a thriving, sustainable future, the sustainability tent has to be large enough to include the diverse perspectives found among our citizenry.


Most folks on the street, if asked, would describe a sustainability advocate as urban, spiritual, politically liberal and intellectual. If this view is accurate, we have two approaches: Try to convert all those who don’t fit this profile to think like an advocate, or find a path to meet people where they are, appealing to the values they hold most dear — the well-being of ourselves, family and friends.


Let’s step back and define the real problem pushing us away from a prosperous future for all: We simply consume too much stuff, much of our waste is toxic and the biosphere that enables life can’t keep up with the pace of human progress. As consumers, we determine the success of advancements in technology, policy and market forces. The majority of citizens understand that we should change our ways.


A 2010 study conducted by Yale University highlighted the “say-do gap,” the gap between what we say we should do and what we actually do. The study examined a wide range of “sustainability” behaviors and the gap between beliefs and actions. For example: 76 percent of the respondents said that it is important that we walk or bike more regularly instead of driving, yet only 15 percent said they do. It is important to use reusable shopping bags, 81 percent said, yet only 33 percent do.


On the surface, this study suggests that for a significant majority, guilt or education is not enough to elicit a change in behavior. A significant reason is because we have too much on our plates; other priorities take precedence. So then, how do we help citizens care enough to overcome barriers and change behaviors toward a sustainable future? One successful approach is to help them link the change to the values that matter most to them. At the NW Earth Institute, we take two proven approaches to closing the say-do gap. First, we use the power of fun, shared learning, shared discovery and support. Second, we encourage citizens to reflect on their values (current and evolving), not ours, and consider why thriving human and non-human communities might matter to them.


There really is room for both altruistic and self-interest values to achieve a future that includes clean water, healthy air and material possessions to meet our needs. On the surface, self-interest and community values don’t appear to be great bedfellows, but actually, they co-exist within many aspects of our lives. For some, eating local and organic food is primarily a choice for better health, but this choice also has the side benefits of building stronger local economies, reducing greenhouse gases, cleaner waterways and better outcomes for those involved in food production. I started riding my bike in 1989 because I couldn’t afford a second car and I wanted to maintain good health and look the way I did … yes, a bit of vanity! My reasons for riding today are much broader, but they didn’t start that way.


If we really are to achieve the broad-scale change necessary for a thriving, sustainable future, I am for making the tent as big as possible with room for those open to change, without prescribing the values motivating that change.

To read Mike’s guest column online, click here. we feature a guest post from Angela Hamilton, Education and Student Programs Coordinator at Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, NWEI volunteer and member of the planning committee for our 20th Anniversary Celebration.

By Angela Hamilton

Like many of you, I have my own personal story of change inspired by NWEI’s discussion courses and EcoChallenge. I was introduced to NWEI in 2008 during my first class in the Leadership for Sustainability Education master’s program at Portland State University. The professor integrated a discussion course as a group assignment and brought in a guest speaker from the Earth Institute to speak to our class. I dreamed of becoming part of a curriculum committee for one of the discussion courses, and ventured to volunteer with NWEI. Instead of planning life-changing programs with a committee of like-minded folks, I found myself instead doing data entry, a much less “sexy” volunteer job, for which I had the right skills. What, you might ask, kept me around for the five years since?

Spending time in the NWEI office, I noticed two things that keep me connected to NWEI and its meaningful work. First, I learned how far NWEI’s influence stretches. Before volunteering, I knew that NWEI was a cool Portland nonprofit that had put together some amazing materials that I couldn’t wait to utilize in my future educational opportunities. But I had NO idea how many people had used the discussion courses to create change in their communities — thousands upon thousands of people in neighborhoods, universities, churches, and organizations across the world are taking action and creating change because of the Earth Institute! I became excited to support such an important organization working to bring forth a thriving future. Second, I realized that the organization is supported by a community. I watched as people came into the office and were welcomed as old friends. Because of the heart and commitment of the staff and board, NWEI brings meaning and community into people’s lives–locally, nationally, and internationally.

Over the past five years, I have deepened my relationship with NWEI by convening a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course, tabling for NWEI at the Portland Earth Day festival, attending the 2011 North American Gathering in Port Townsend, serving as a liaison at Portland State University for integrating the discussion courses into curricular and co-curricular learning, and promoting the courses via the nonprofit that I co-founded, Earth Wisdom AllianceWhen Mike called me in January 2012 to ask if I would be interested in joining a committee to work on the Change for Good campaign leading up to the 20th Anniversary Celebration, I was honored to be invited to increase my commitment to NWEI.

During the Voluntary Simplicity course that I convened, one of the participants quit her second job as a result of reassessing what she wanted more of and needed less of in her life. Witnessing this and hearing the other stories of individuals, groups, and organizations that are using NWEI’s courses to do amazing things —to make sustainable magic— in this world where change is sometimes challenging, my inspiration is renewed. I can’t wait to see NWEI’s powerful new platform for cultivating communities of leaders, which will launch at the 20th Anniversary Celebration.

I hope you’ll join me on May 16th at the Celebration, I promise you a night of fun and inspiration!

buy tix image

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.

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.


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!

Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Maryann Calendrille, photo by Kathryn Szoka

Annette Hinkle with the Sag Harbor Express newspaper in New York recently interviewed Northwest Earth Institute course organizer Maryann Calendrille, who will lead a Voluntary Simplicity discussion course at Canio’s Cultural Café in Sag Harbor beginning in late January. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

How would you define Voluntary Simplicity and the goals of the program?

…It calls for an intentional choice about how we’re using resources, how we’re consuming things and how we’re spending our time.

What’s the basis of the program and how does it work?

It’s based on a book by Duane Elgin that came out in 1981 and was re-released in 2010 — that’s where the phrase “Voluntary Simplicity” comes from. It’s moving toward a way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. It addresses the many aspects of our life — personal, public, work life — and how we’re now really called upon to make conscious choices.

The concept is any community group can come together — say 8 to 12 people — and it’s a shared responsibility to move the course forward. Each participant volunteers to facilitate for one night during the five weeks. It’s a very democratic structure. There’s no hierarchy, no experts. We learn from the readings and they ask high quality questions. There are action plans, suggested ways of putting theory into practice. I found it thoughtful and high quality material.

What are some of the wider issues you expect to address in the workshop?

In terms of helping to develop awareness about choices we make, one of the goals for this movement is to create greater equality all over the planet. We consume more fuel and food than anywhere… If we’re buying strawberries in January in the Northeast, where were they grown and how did they get here? What’s the cost? Is it healthy? Or a $2 pair of socks from China — what were the costs of making them? How does my choice here perpetuate a system that leaves other people at risk?

Another goal is to connect with others who are making changes and figure out what we can do in our corner of the world. We may not be able to do everything we want, but we can become more aware and see where we can make a shift. This is voluntary. It’s not compulsory. You do within reason what’s possible and seems manageable.

…We really need to be living more mindfully to create a sustainable future…

On a local level, is part of the simplicity focus just finding ways to reconnect personally with others in the community?

…I think a lot of people are feeling stressed out by the constant call to be connected either on line, or available 24/7 via cellphone. I think people are exhausted by it and are missing the one-on-one conversations. There are pockets of people saying this is unhealthy, this is not progressive in any way and we need to create some new ways of being together.

To read the full interview, click here.

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

attending-mommyconEarlier this Fall we featured Arizona mom, writer and environmentalist Risa De Groff’s EcoChallenge efforts. Now Risa is organizing MommyCon, a convention dedicated to bringing modern moms and moms-to-be together with a focus on natural parenting. With 150-200 people expected to attend, every participant will receive Northwest Earth Institute’s Healthy Children-Healthy Planet discussion course book when they attend the Greener Living seminar.

MommyCon will be held on January 4, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring over a dozen seminars and presentations. For more information visit  or

Thanks Risa for sharing Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion course on parenting with convention attendees!

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.

Oregon Sea Grant has published a new book called Pathways to Resilience: Sustaining Salmon Ecosystems in a Changing World. It was written by salmon experts from around the Northwest and explores the radical approach of strengthening salmon resilience. It discusses salmon life histories and the social and economic impact salmon have on the people who depend on them for their livelihood. This book will be of interest to those who are active in fisheries as well as policymakers and anyone interested in the resilience of other ecological and social systems.

Jim Lichatowich, author of Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis, says, “The ideas in Pathways to Resilience are important guides in moving towards a different and sustainable relationship between salmon and humans…” Copies may be ordered online at

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.

Sustainable Jersey, a certification program for municipalities in New Jersey, will be participating in NWEI’s Annual EcoChallenge by offering the EcoChallenge as a way for municipalities to meet “Green Challenge Program” goals. Sustainable Jersey supports community efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve environmental equity. Currently, 376 towns are registered and working towards certification. Nearly 75% of New Jersey’s population lives in registered/certified Sustainable Jersey communities.

This year, NWEI’s EcoChallenge will be offered to Sustainable Jersey’s network of municipalities and communities as a way to earn points towards certification via their Green Challenge Program, which engages the community by challenging individuals, families, and businesses to change their behavior in support of the community’s goals for sustainable development. The Green Challenge Program asks people to pledge to “take a challenge,” and to make a specific change in their lives or in the way they do business.

Green Challenge Programs encourage healthy competition among community members while building a sense of shared purpose. As individuals try to achieve their own goals, they play a key role in reaching community-wide goals.

We are excited to see what New Jersey towns and communities accomplish this October via our collaboration!

With just over three weeks until the start of the EcoChallenge, we are excited to have over 140 people registered so far. We’re off to a great early start and look forward to having many more people join the 50+ teams who are signed up already!

We welcome you to participate as an individual or to create a team and take on the EcoChallenge with your coworkers, friends, family members, congregation or fellow students. You’re welcome to join the NWEI Community Team, too.

For inspiration, watch this video of EcoChallenger Bradford McKeown who is choosing to travel only by bike, bus or foot for the duration of his Challenge. If you haven’t already, sign up here to change one habit for Earth! The EcoChallenge runs from October 1-15th, 2012.

Order NWEI Books

Find us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Make a Donation to NWEI

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Twitter Updates