We here at NWEI are honored to work with some of the best and brightest interns – people who are just beginning their journey in working for a more sustainable world. Today’s Changemaker Interview is with Erik Horngren, who served as a Curriculum Intern with NWEI in 2010 and 2011. Erik shares inspiration for those who are looking for ways to begin working in the sustainability field. He also reminds us that, regardless of where you start, change does indeed begin with each of us. For Erik, learning to appreciate the environment was a catalyst in his choice to take responsibility for Earth.
Tell us a bit about the work you did as an intern with NWEI.
I helped with curriculum development, primarily researching articles for course books, developing graphics, sidebars, author bios, and serving on the curriculum committees. The best part about interning with NWEI was that I was learning every day – not just job related skills, but information that would benefit my everyday life. Being exposed to all the new thoughts, ideas, efforts, and facts that make up all the great articles in an NWEI course book really helped grow my understanding and appreciation for sustainability. It also helped me make positive changes in my life, in that I realized I couldn’t just expose myself to this kind of information on a daily basis and not do something about it, and start to adopt what I was learning into my lifestyle.
Tell us what you are doing today, and does the work of NWEI influence what you do today?
I currently serve as Master Composter/Recycler Program Coordinator at Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center in Vancouver, WA. This program works to educate the community about composting, recycling, overall waste reduction, and other aspects of sustainability. We do this through workshops, community events, web and print resources, and hands-on demonstration sites. We are driven by an amazing group of volunteers (trained Master Composter/Recyclers) who provide the bulk of our outreach. So yes, sustainability influences what I do every day, and I know NWEI helped me get here!
What motivated you to enter the sustainability field?
I grew up with an appreciation for the environment that was instilled in me by my parents, so it probably started there. It’s important to me that everyone be able to experience the great natural places our world has to offer — I have been especially inspired to feel this way by doing a lot hiking and exploring. Not only that, we also all deserve access to clean and abundant natural resources. This is far from our current reality, but promoting sustainability can help steer us in this direction and that’s what motivates me to be a part of this change.
What inspires you to keep working in the face of complex challenges and setbacks?
I feel like a lot of the challenges we face stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding. In my current job specifically, I come across a lot of people who are interested in doing the right thing (with recycling for example), but either don’t know what that is, or maybe have been doing the wrong thing thinking it’s right. People don’t do things like this out of a sense of spite or hatred, they do it because they don’t know any better. In my position, I can give people the tools to do better and they are often appreciative and excited to have the resources necessary to do something positive. So what inspires me is knowing that if we are willing to take an action as simple as sharing our knowledge with others, it can have a beneficial impact both for them and our world.
What insight and wisdom can you offer to others who are beginning to work in the sustainability field and who are working to make a difference in their communities?
Establishing yourself in this field doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, work, and patience. Trust that what you are doing matters and will pay off down the line. The great thing about sustainability related projects is that no matter what role you play- intern, volunteer, concerned citizen, paid employee – what you do makes a difference and can have a positive impact on the lives of others and our planet. There are also a million different things you can do to promote sustainability (education, research, advocacy, outdoor fieldwork – my personal favorite), so find the best fit for you and enjoy it!
Erik Horngren served as a Curriculum Development Intern with NWEI in 2010 and 2011. He currently coordinates the Master Composter/Recycler program, a community waste reduction and sustainability education project in Vancouver, WA. When he’s not sifting through compost or sorting recyclables, you can find Erik eating something delicious, exploring the wilderness or on his bicycle.
*Interested in interning with NWEI? Email us at email@example.com.