Here’s What NWEI’s Annual Staff Retreat Looks Like!

Saturday marked the end of our annual NWEI Staff Retreat, where we gather to regroup for a few days at the base of Mount Hood near Parkdale, Oregon. Of course there is the strategic planning, along with special meetings this year on how to expand and improve our annual EcoChallenge. Add in delicious home-cooked meals and homemade European-style bread making with Rod MacDow, and a few walks in Mount Hood National Forest (complete with a newt sighting by NWEI Director Mike Mercer) and there you have it. This was my 8th annual retreat with NWEI and as always, we are ever-grateful for the extended NWEI community! Here are a few shots from our time together:

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A few NWEI staff enjoying Laurance Lake, in the Mount Hood National Forest
NWEI Director Mike Mercer with Liz Zavodsky, Lacy Cagle and Deb McNamara (with future NWEI fan Kienan) at Laurance Lake, in the Mount Hood National Forest


Easy Ways to Generate Less Waste

Photo: Treading My Own Path
Photo: Treading My Own Path

Figuring out how to generate less waste is an ongoing practice and conversation at the Northwest Earth Institute – and we even have stories from people who have reduced their waste to one garbage can a year! We recently connected with the Treading My Own Path blog, which shares practical steps to living a more sustainable lifestyle. This recent post shares some simple ways to generate less waste, beginning with questions you can ask at the places you frequent. The author reminds us that “The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!” For the full post, click here

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savory muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savory muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate. How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back…When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking. I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions. The result: A plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organize a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different. The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!…

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way…

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. We can make others realize that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go!…

*For the full post, click here. To go deeper into changes you can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle, check out NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course book. 

NWEI is Hiring! Join our Team

Olympic Mills building, which houses the NWEI office in SE Portland
Olympic Mills building, which houses the NWEI office in SE Portland

The Northwest Earth Institute has a rare job opening! We are seeking an experienced administrative assistant to join our team. This part-time position will provide coordination and support of NWEI’s operations in the areas of customer service and engagement, shipping, membership support, EcoChallenge event support, database management and miscellaneous support. We are excited to work with someone passionate about the environment, excited to be in the non-profit world, and ready to work with our amazing NWEI community.

For more information and a full position description, click here. Know someone who might be interested? Please send them our way. Send resume, cover letter and three professional references to: Liz Zavodsky at Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Permission to Care

imagesToday’s post by Renee Lertzman on Climate Access’s blog offers food for thought on why conversation – and listening deeply to one another around climate change is so critical in effecting change. Renee asks many of the same questions that we here at NWEI do — how do we motivate people? How can we engage people more widely and creatively?

As we redesign our climate change course, Change By Degrees, (a new iteration is to be released in May,)we too know how transformative the power of conversation can be. As Renee reminds us, “conversation changes people.”  Let the dialogues begin…

Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to participate in discussions about climate change threats and environmental issues with people across private, public, governmental, and research sectors. Whether at an island retreat in Puget Sound, a corporate conference at a resort or in the halls of our esteemed universities, the same questions get asked: How can we get people to care more? How do we motivate people? What’s it going to take?

What if these are the wrong questions to be asking?

Let’s consider this question by first reconsidering the context.

Environmental issues can generate huge anxieties that make them hard for many people to contemplate. Climate change in particular taps into all sorts of cognitive dissonances and feelings of guilt, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed about their role in the problem and solution. This anxiety is often managed through an array of brilliant (usually unconscious) strategies, often both privately and socially, that help us avoid pain, discomfort and conflicts.

Assuming we can agree on these things, the questions we should be asking are: How can our well-established insights into loss and cognitive dissonance guide new approaches to reaching people? How can our understanding of the way anxiety impacts our psyche and conduct inform the way we engage, message and campaign for a more sustainable future?…

How this translates into engaging people more widely and creatively can be surprising. For starters, acknowledging that people use unconscious strategies for managing anxiety changes the ways we consider (and research) how people think and feel about our world. Analysis needs to go beneath the surface to explore where people feel stuck in conflict and anxious. Second, a psychoanalytic paradigm asks not whether people care or not but focuses on where care may exist but may not have permission to be expressed.

This approach can infuse our engagement work, whether in research or strategy, with a mood of curiosity as opposed to frustration and irritation at how wasteful, greedy and short-sighted societies can be. And this mood of curiosity and inquiry can lead us into some unexpected behavior change strategies – particularly through conversation.

The power of conversation may be the most profound insight we can gain from those on the frontlines of the therapeutic professions. Conversation changes people. As Rosemary Randall’s development of Carbon Conversations demonstrates, it’s very simple – if we want people to change, we have to listen to them. Humans are designed to learn, be changed and process information in the act of conversing. In this context, engagement can move beyond the creation of “Green Teams” and champions, into a far more dynamic evolution that creates contexts for creative participation…

What all of this amounts to is a radical reframe, a shift from a focus on motivating, persuading, cajoling and gamifying to inviting, enabling, facilitating and supporting. This is about giving people permission to care. As deeply social beings, we need some permission, we need to feel safe. Now, more than any other time, we need to start practicing a new form of engagement that presumes there is more care than can be contained – it just needs some help being channeled.

*For Renee’s full article, and to learn more about Climate Accessclick here.To learn more about NWEI’s discussion courses which can be used to jump-start these important conversations, click here

5 Signs the World is Ready for Global Divestment Day

morejobssolarFebruary 13th is Global Divestment Day, with over 300 events planned on six continents. There are signs that the movement is gaining momentum, especially with last week’s announcement that Norwegian Sovereign Wealth (oil) Fund has divested from a total of 22 companies – one of the biggest divestment decisions to date. We’re optimistic that this rapidly growing campaign is having a serious impact – and, NWEI is excited to be launching a new climate change discussion course this Spring to add to the momentum. (Stay tuned for more information on our launch this May!) Here are a few signs that the world is ready for Global Divestment Day, from our friends at

1) It’s happening everywhere! This is going to be a global event— there are over 300 events happening on 6 continents. From South Africa to Mexico, Bangladesh to Benin, and Bulgaria, people are showing commitment to taking on the fossil fuel industry. If you had Googled “fossil fuels” “carbon bubble” and “divestment” a few years ago you probably wouldn’t have gotten that much. Oh but how things have changed in the past while. Now, media outlets like The Guardian are calling it “The fastest growing divestment campaign ever.” If you want to be a part of history. Now is the time.

2) A key window of opportunity: It’s a perfect combination of factors: growing global momentum + down times for fossil fuel companies. Naomi Klein explained this really well in a recent workshop: “What’s really been striking to me is understanding that it really kind of makes sense why, despite all of the consciousness-raising that has taken place over the past decade–why this hasn’t translated into action. It’s because we have been working against the titanic power of enormous profit…So, I think we’re in a much better situation to win that. But we need to understand that this is a window. This is the last moment to be complacent.”

3) Even some of the world’s biggest banks are realizing it’s time. This wasn’t written by Naomi Klein or Bill McKibben — this was written in a report by Deutsche Bank: “If the world takes its climate change commitments seriously, then the dynamics of oil will be altered beyond recognition. Oil will become constrained by the level of demand allowed under CO2 emission limits and this will have implications for the behaviour of countries, companies and consumers alike. Perhaps last year’s fall was the first rumbling of this upcoming profound change.”

4) 2015: Already full of divestment victories.  2015 has barely started, but already we’ve seen multiple divestment wins happen in a single week. See some of January’s biggest victories here.

5) We have the solutions. Solar, wind and other green energy projects — it just makes sense. All over the world communities are reinvesting in solutions that work and seeing the rewards…

To read more of the full post from, click here. To get involved with a Divestment Day action near you, click here. 

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