Earlier this summer, NW Earth Institute released our latest discussion course ebook, Change Is Our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions, a five-session discussion course that offers up inspiration on taking action to increase resilience and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In response to questions about the ebook format of this resource, we offered a webinar this month on Tips for Success When Using NWEI Ebooks – and the link to listen to the recording is now available!
We’ve condensed the webinar recording into 10 minutes, where you can quickly learn about why we are offering content digitally, get a host of tips for success when using an NWEI ebook, and how to navigate your ebook and access the integrated multimedia content, video, and action plans. You’ll also get tips on taking notes and bookmarking using your ebook.
*For quick tips for success when using NWEI ebooks, you can listen to the 10 minute webinar recording here. For more information on Change Is Our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions, click here.
Today’s Changemaker Interview is with NWEI’s newest intern, EcoChallenge Progam Assistant Eric Elmore, who comes to us just after discovering the benefits of Voluntary Simplicity in his own life. As Eric says, “For many years I was progressively discontented, but was literally too busy to notice or do anything meaningful about it.” Eric reminds us that making changes in our own lives can be daunting, but small shifts can indeed lead to big change.
Tell us about your journey in discovering Voluntary Simplicity. What were you doing before becoming an intern with NW Earth Institute?
Just shy of two years ago, I was living in a 2,000 square foot three bedroom-two bathroom “American Dream” home by myself in an affluent suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. I was largely “stuck” in this home for many years longer (six to be exact) than I would have liked, having purchased this budget-crushing home – because that was what I was “supposed” to do – just prior to the housing market crash of 2008. I was an unhappy and experienced full-time physical therapist working & commuting by car fifty to sixty hours per week, and spending my “free” time and weekends cleaning and maintaining my large home and yard. I lived for the weekend, basically skimming over and racing through a five-day workweek. I rarely took my two full weeks annual vacation to spend time doing what I loved and spoke about all the time…hiking, backpacking and relishing time in the great outdoors.
Tangible change started in early 2014 when the value of my home thankfully came up to a point where I was finally able to sell it without being under water. I quickly moved into an 800 square foot one-bedroom apartment close to my new physical therapy job, forcing me to jettison more than half of my belongings and allowing me to commute by bicycle. During the process of decorating my new, reasonably modest living space, I researched “minimalism design” and stumbled onto the concepts of minimalism & voluntary simplicity as a lifestyle. I was hooked on these concepts’ premises of living simply, meaningfully, and happily with less physical & mental clutter.
How did you continue to incorporate Voluntary Simplicity into your lifestyle? What difference did it make?
I quickly became a verifiable regular at the local Goodwill donation center, constantly asking the question “Does this item add real value to my life?” and subsequently getting rid of those things that failed this singular criteria. I moved from an 800 square foot one bedroom apartment into a 400 square foot studio. I was living happily without things that I had I previously viewed as essential. I was also beginning to make connections between “consumerism” & sustainability.
I began questioning the value of the “stuff” I was eating, having experienced progressive abdominal pains over the course of the previous three years due to basically eating whatever I wanted. A whole foods, non-processed diet prescribed by a gastroenterologist resulted in complete resolution of my stomach issues and nearly thirty pounds of unintended weight loss. I was now eating happily and healthfully in a way that I had never thought possible. I had begun to connect the food I ate to sustainability.
What motivated you to enter the sustainability field?
I also began to question the value of my time, the vast majority of which was spent working in a fast paced, stress-laden, albeit, stable field that I no longer loved or even liked. For many years I had superficially and hurriedly entertained the idea of aligning my love of the outdoors with a new career that reflected that love, but repeatedly brushed it off as impossible and risky. Then I realized if I could make these other changes and “sustain” them, why could I not change my 12 year career as a physical therapist for a career promoting the outdoors, environmentalism, and sustainability? Realizing that my time was not a renewable resource, I made the biggest change yet. I quit my career in healthcare and moved to Portland, Oregon this year to delve into a career in sustainability.
That is essentially how I have now found myself working happily as an intern for the Northwest Earth Institute. The organizational mission to inspire people to take personal responsibility for Earth is a personal mission for me. NWEI’s model of self-guided education and reflection inspires progressive change – and small change inspiring lasting and larger change directly mirrors and reinforces my experience.
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?
I know real change starts small. Small change snowballs into large. I started small and have changed greatly. If I can do it, I know anyone else can! I am, in essence, starting from ground zero, with more than a decade of education and work experience not in sustainability and environmentalism, and am looking to build a career within that field. If you possess a passion for sustainability issues and are looking to effect community change, simply start…somewhere, anywhere you deem vital. Fear of change disguised as planning for change is frequently a significant impediment to change itself. One essential quote that continues to inspire me is “Once you make starting more important than planning, you will start.”
As the EcoChallenge Program Assistant at NWEI, Eric works to organize & promote the annual EcoChallenge. He has always loved the outdoors, and his interest in/love for the environment has grown significantly over the last several years. Eric discovered NWEI prior to moving from Arizona to Oregon earlier this year while looking for a career change, and found that NWEI’s mission and premise for inspiring change directly reflected his own personal experience. Prior to joining NWEI, Eric worked as an orthopedic/sports medicine physical therapist in Phoenix, AZ for 12 years. He received his BA in physiology from the University of Arizona & his MS in physical therapy from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. After hours, you will find Eric hiking, backpacking, exercising, reading, & playing guitar.
Ready to make a change too? Join us for the EcoChallenge this fall! You can register here.
We know change can be tough, and sometimes it takes a kick-start to make it happen. Chances are there’s already something on your “to-do” list for the planet – whether it’s planting a veggie garden, installing rain barrels, getting a bus pass or kicking your bottled water habit. NW Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge is your opportunity to choose one action to reduce your impact and stick with it for two weeks.
Registration is now open — and it’s more fun to kick-start a new habit with a few thousand new friends! Instead of struggling to change on your own, the EcoChallenge has a built-in support network, fun and easy ways to share your stories (and find out what other folks are up to), and a chance to win some great raffle prizes.
This year, we are looking for EcoChallenge Team Captains – motivated change-makers like YOU! This is your chance to become a change agent in your community. When you register a team, you create a platform for your peers to commit to taking action. We are offering team captains a complementary webinar on July 28th at 11am (PST) to help you maximize your impact this year. Click here to learn more.
We look forward kick-starting change with you this October – and hope you will join us!
*Haven’t yet heard about our annual EcoChallenge? The EcoChallenge happens every October 15th-29th where we challenge people to choose one action to reduce their impact and stick with it for two weeks. Individuals and teams pick an action and set a goal that stretches their comfort zone. Create a team at work or on campus, and invite your friends and family to participate with you. Camaraderie, friendly peer pressure and fun raffle prizes make change a little easier, and a lot more fun!
Workplace sustainability initiatives are most successful when employees are inspired to take action, together. We’ve offered our discussion courses in over 2,500 workplace settings, engaging employees, fostering education, creating greener workplace cultures and inspiring staff to find solutions that support organizational sustainability initiatives. We think these things are critical in creating change – and we know that it often starts with one motivated employee to get the ball rolling.
For example, nearly 600 Bank of America employees from around the world participated in NWEI’s Choices for Sustainable Living discussion course online– where participants had the opportunity to discuss environmental topics relevant to their day-to-day lives. As Bank of America’s 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Report highlights, the group was asked to track behavior change and re-group to discuss achievements and challenges. Topics of discussion included the impact of food choices, ecological principles and transportation. Teri Jacob, a Bank of America employee who participated in the course says, “I have always considered myself to be very ‘green’ and proactive in making responsible environmental choices, but this course challenged me to think beyond my ‘environmental box.’ The problems and challenges we face in our environment can feel overwhelming, and sometimes the hardest part in creating change is taking the first step and feeling like we make a difference.”
*Ready to take the first step and join with others to create a greener workplace culture? Consider hosting one of NW Earth Institute’s courses at your workplace. Sustainable Systems at Work offers tips and action plans for greening your workplace. Find out how to get started here.
Summertime is often the season that invokes many memories and stories because of the adventures we take. Whether it’s camping, hiking, neighborhood picnics, bike rides, swimming, going to camp, taking a road trip to see family, friends, and historical places, these experiences can stay with us for a long time and offer a fulfillment that a new pair of shoes cannot. When NWEI staffer Liz Zavodsky saw the latest article from Fast Company Exist on the science behind why we should spend money on experiences and not things, she was reminded of her own experiences that have led to great memories, funny stories, and valuable learning moments. For the full article, click here.
Most people are in the pursuit of happiness. There are economists who think happiness is the best indicator of the health of a society. We know that money can make you happier, though after your basic needs are met, it doesn’t make you that much happier…”One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” So rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling.
Gilovich’s findings are the synthesis of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. How adaptation affects happiness, for instance, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases. Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same. But over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up…While the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity…”We consume experiences directly with other people,” says Gilovich. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”…
Gilovich’s research has implications for individuals who want to maximize their happiness return on their financial investments, for employers who want to have a happier workforce, and policy-makers who want to have a happy citizenry. “By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness,” write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. If society takes their research to heart, it should mean not only a shift in how individuals spend their discretionary income, but also place an emphasis on employers giving paid vacation and governments taking care of recreational spaces. “As a society, shouldn’t we be making experiences easier for people to have?” asks Gilovich.
*For the full article, click here. For more information and inspiration on living a simple life, check out NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion course book.