Changemaker Interview: Dan Brunner Speaks about Seeing Systems

BrunnerDan Outdoors We here at NWEI are excited to have worked with over 400 colleges and universities to offer our discussion course books and EcoChallenge (and counting!). This summer, Dr. Dan Brunner of George Fox Evangelical Seminary used NW Earth Institute’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course book in his Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping class. In this post, Lacy Cagle, NWEI’s Director of Learning and Engagement, interviews Dr. Brunner about his innovative use of NWEI courses and how he is changing the world for good, one student at a time.

Thanks for speaking with me today, Dan. Can you tell us what you do at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and how have you used NWEI course books in your work?
I am Professor of Christian History and Formation and the Director of Christian Earthkeeping. For that second position, I co-teach four courses in the seminary in the Christian Earthkeeping concentration. Each course uses an NWEI discussion course book. Because NWEI discussion courses are so focused, they allow both first and fourth class students to engage as equals.

This summer, you used Seeing Systems in your Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping class, tell me a little about your use of Seeing Systems.
Poverty and Restorative Earthkeeping is a hybrid class, mostly online, with one GoToMeeting session at the beginning and three consecutive days in which we all meet in person. Overall, it’s about a ten week class. For the first four weeks, students read the first three sessions of Seeing Systems and from a more academic and theological textbook, Resisting Structural Evil. Students also engage in three interviews during this time: they interview one person who is of a different class than them, one person who is of a different gender than them, and one person who is of a different race than them. They then complete an integrative assignment. During this time, they engage via Facebook and Twitter, using hashtags to post quotes from Seeing Systems and their theology text. The idea was that they would use their own social media accounts to publicly start thought-provoking conversations with their friends around the issues explored in the text. For the in person meetings, we knew that these days couldn’t be lecture-based – we needed to get students out into the community and sharing experiences together. We want students to relate the environment to urbanization – to see that social, cultural and environmental systems are integrated. Our experiences try to help students broaden their perspective. For example, we do a liturgy of the river and take them on a walking tour of the Willamette on the bluffs above a super fund site. The tour tells the story of the river from the perspective of the river as first person. Then during the last six weeks of class, they finish both Seeing Systems and Resisting Structural Evil, write a research paper and put forth their own theology of creation care.

It seems that you structure your class very intentionally around engagement and pedagogy – something that’s very important to NWEI. You’ve structured your class to get at the essence of NWEI’s method – to create community, to connect the issues we currently face to what students can do in their own lives and fields, and to see that things are connected. What did your students think of Seeing Systems?

The students loved Seeing Systems. The Academy tends to become so siloed – my students have theological glasses on, others have economic glasses, or biological glasses, or cosmological glasses. Seeing Systems brought those perspectives together and forced students to see beyond those theological glasses and to see more broadly. Students mentioned how much they liked the book many times, they quoted from it more than any other text they were reading, and they talked about what they had read with energy and passion. We will definitely use this book again because the feedback was so positive. I will also use Seeing Systems in my Doctor of Ministry course this fall. It is more prophetic than some of the other books we’ve been using.

You’ve mentioned to me a couple of times that you find Seeing Systems to be prophetic. What does that term mean to you?
Prophets try to help a system to see things from a different perspective, most often from a minority perspective that is invisible or silenced. The prophet has no idea if he or she is right. People think that a prophet foresees the future, and that a prophet is legitimate if a prophecy comes true. But a prophet calls for change – did a prophet see things ahead of time that the community came to see as true? Prophets are confirmed by the community. The prophetic role can be a lonely one, but it’s very necessary.

Dr. Daniel Brunner is a Professor of Christian History and Formation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, Dr. Brunner has authored several peer review publications on hybrid learning in addition to his theologically-focused work. Thanks to Dr. Brunner for sharing this thoughts and experiences using the NWEI course books. For more on NWEI’s work with college faculty, students and staff, click here.

Sustainable World Sourcebook

sb4-cover-homepage-rotating-slideThe Sustainable World Coalition has just published the 4th edition of the Sustainable World Sourcebook, winner of the International Book Award in the Environment Category. Why should you take notice? SWC’s Steve Motenko tells us.

As someone who cares about the future of our planet, you might be overwhelmed with the volume of information available on:

  • the most pressing global issues;
  • the most promising solutions; and
  • what you can best do to make a difference, given your time, availability and specific passions around sustainability.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a single, accessible resource covering all the above? There is. The Sustainable World Sourcebook gives you the essential information you need to know to be a more effective advocate for change. The Sourcebook addresses:

  • Environmental issues and their impacts, along with a prescription for rapid, large-scale change
  • Energy resources, peak oil, conservation, and emerging technologies
  • The global financial crisis, economic transition, green jobs, and sustainable business
  • Poverty, health, education, food security, and social justice
  • Local, sustainable communities and engaged citizens and
  • Green lifestyle choices.

Each chapter includes “What You Can Do” suggestions. And each chapter ends with an “Explore & Engage” activities section, intended for a study circle, class, or practice community. The “Explore & Engage” section’s questions for contemplation, themes for discussion, videos to watch, experiential activities and community action ideas provide diverse and inspiring ways to engage.

The Sustainable World Sourcebook is published by an NWEI partner organization, Sustainable World Coalition, which is a project of Earth Island Institute. If you order the Sourcebook through this link, SWC will donate a portion of the purchase price back to NWEI.

New Ways to Protect the Environment

Ecova employees post their EcoChallenges on the 'ecochallenge tree'
Ecova employees post their EcoChallenges on the ‘ecochallenge tree’

Are you looking for new ways to protect the environment? Ready to try a new sustainable habit but just need support in taking the leap? This week Sustainable Business Oregon highlighted the EcoChallenge as a way to get started. Thanks to Wendy Culverwell of the Portland Business Journal for the following article!

The NW Earth Institute is taking registrations  for the 2014 edition of its popular EcoChallenge.The challenge asks participants to set one goal to reduce their environmental impact and stick to it for two weeks. The theory is that by the end of the challenge, those actions will become habits, meaning participants will keep at it.

The 2014 version runs Oct. 15 to 29 and includes plenty of incentives and prizes to motivate businesses and other groups to meet their self-set goals. Nearly all of the 2013 participants told NW Earth Institute they planned to continue their work after the challenge ended.

“We often hear from people who are looking for ways to live more sustainably,” said Mike Mercer, executive director. “Our Eco-Challenge is the perfect opportunity to take action with thousands of people, make a difference for the planet, and share the inspiring journey from ‘I should’ to ‘I do.’” NW Earth Institute estimated 5,000 people and businesses have taken the EcoChallenge.

Past examples include:

  • Hopworks Urban Brewery: Billed as Portland’s first eco-brewpub, Hopworks used the 2013 EcoChallenge to tackle its goal of sending no waste to landfills. It scoured garbage bags for recyclable and compostable items and worked with staff to divert even more waste by taking pictures and posting it.
  • Capital Pacific Bank: The bank’s 2012 experience reducing waste was so successful it returned in 2013. It’s goal: Improve workplace health by choosing safer cleaning products, eliminating containers with BPA and turning down the thermostat.
  • Tapalaya Restaurant: In 2012, restaurateur Chantal Agnot of Tapalaya  locked up her car keys and ran the business by bike, a pledge that included towing a bike trailer “full of ice and crab” to the restaurant. She even handed out $20 gift certificates to customers who joined the EcoChalllenge. Eventually, 23 did.

For the full piece, click here. To register for the EcoChallenge and start you own new way of protecting the environment, click here.

EcoChallenge for Kids!


If you are looking for ways to engage the young people in your life in learning about and taking action on environmental issues, the NW Earth Institute EcoChallenge is a great opportunity to inspire budding environmentalists!

Over the years we have had families, elementary school classes, and a preschool or two participate in the EcoChallenge. While the majority of the resources on our EcoChallenge website focus on how people can engage their business or community groups (in other words, adults) in taking on a sustainability challenge, the EcoChallenge is also a perfect opportunity to inspire the next generation of “green” leaders.

This will be my 5th year participating in the EcoChallenge but the first year that my son is old enough to actively participate with me, and I’m looking forward to taking on the EcoChallenge as a family this year. I started doing some google-research on crafts and activities that I could do with Aiden, who is 2.5, and wanted to share some of the fun resources I found. Rather than re-create the wheel, here are a links with lists of nature activities, crafts and earthy books for kids that I found inspiring. I also invite you to join me and my colleague Deb McNamara’s Parenting Simply EcoChallenge team and take on the EcoChallenge with us!

I’d love to hear from you if you have other activities or resources that we should add too. Leave us a comment, here or pop on over to our Facebook page and we’ll add your ideas to this iterative list. Also, check out our new Pinterest board for more fun ideas.

Kerry Lyles is Development and Communications Director for the Northwest Earth Institute. Kerry and Deb invite you to join their new EcoChallenge team: Parenting Simply - where you can choose an action with your kids and commit to it for two weeks October 15-29th. Join us, and find a few more ideas here

Inspiring Advice for Changemakers


untitledThis week we are kicking off a series of interviews with NW Earth Institute changemakers: individuals who have tapped into their circles of influence, and are making a profound difference in the community. Today’s interview is with long-time volunteer Betty Shelley, who runs the Reduce Your Waste Project. We asked Betty how she stays inspired in her ongoing quest to help others reduce their impact on Earth.

What motivates you, as a community organizer, changemaker and leader in the sustainability field?

Because of all that I’ve learned via the NWEI courses, I feel very strongly that working for the planet is an obligation for me. When people hear that our household only produces one can of garbage a year, they asked how we do it. That motivated me to develop a class. I also think it has to do with seeing the reactions of the people who take my classes – much like with the folks who take NWEI courses, the class participants get energized when they realize that by making simple changes to their habits and behaviors, they really can do something to help the environment and curb climate change. And finding other like-minded people who also care about the same things is key!

Tell us what inspires you to keep at it, in the face of complex challenges and setbacks?

Realizing that it’s a process keeps me going. I learned from Dick and Jeanne Roy, NWEI’s founders, that if something doesn’t work out, there may be another approach to try.  You keep working at it and you don’t take the setbacks personally. Or you let go of one idea so you can spend energy on a new project.

Share one story of something that worked in your efforts to effect change. What contributed to the success?

I think it helps to tell people about what you’re doing in an enthusiastic manner, rather than a preachy way. When I would say, “Wow!  We got down to one can of garbage this year!”, it was an opening to more conversation. Word of mouth spread to get the attention of the media. Then there was an article about us in The Oregonian that got a lot of attention. After that we offered three sets of classes simultaneously.

What insight and wisdom can you offer to other changemakers?

It’s important to find others who feel the way you do; otherwise you feel alone and burn out. In my class, I share the changes I’ve seen over the twenty years I’ve been involved with NWEI. One example is the growth of the organic food movement and the growth of farmers markets. Another is the number of publications and organizations that offer information on sustainable practices, as well as the the increased awareness of the environment. These examples not only make an impression on the class participants, they serve to keep me going, too.


CaptureBetty Shelley has been a Northwest Earth Institute volunteer since 1994. After twenty years of volunteering, Betty attests,“NWEI has changed my life”. Betty and her husband have produced just one 35-gallon can of garbage per year since 2006, and now teach others how to reduce their waste too. Betty is a Master Recycler and a Recycling Information Specialist for Metro Regional Government in Portland, Oregon. Betty finds waste reduction to be a creative way to help reduce her impact on the Earth’s resources, and a great way to save her own resources.

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