First, Engage Employees!

imagesHere at NWEI, we believe in the power of engaging employees. According to an Employee Engagement Report by BlessingWhite Research, fewer than one in three employees worldwide are engaged. In fact, according to the same study, nearly one in five are actually disengaged! An employee attitudes survey by Sirota Survey Intelligence uncovered that “When employees are positive about their organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility commitment, employee engagement rises to 86%.”  Furthermore, the Society for Human Resource Management Report (SHRM) notes that firms with sustainability programs reported improved employee morale, more efficient business processes, stronger public image and increased employee loyalty.

Sparking collaboration and the conversations that matter is critical to organizational health – as well as attaining sustainability objectives. This is why we love Sustainable Business Oregon’s article, Beyond Green Teams, which highlights two businesses that have chosen to use NWEI discussion courses as a way to forge common ground and work more effectively together. As the authors state, “while engaging customers in sustainable design remains both challenging and crucial for forward-looking companies to thrive, it can be tempting to overlook the importance of first engaging employees on the issue.”

Read below for an excerpt, or click here to read the full article.

In recent months we’ve seen an uptick in businesses owning up to what their sustainability initiatives really mean for their customers, and the answer is resounding: Nothing tangible.

Says the customer: Where’s the value for me?

The disconnect can be unsettling for companies like ours (and likely yours), whose work considers deeply how our built environment affects the natural one, both in the short- and long-term.

And yet, while engaging customers in sustainable design remains both challenging and crucial for forward-looking companies to thrive, it can be tempting to overlook the importance of first engaging employees on the issue.

Sure, your business may operate by the triple bottom line. It may even have a sharp hiring process that discerns between the faithful and the fair weather. But just as the vital nuances of sustainability in the built environment are lost on customers, so too are they lost in the shuffle on the job. Ah, yes — even at your company.

That’s why Mahlum and PAE, who collaborate frequently on architectural design and engineering projects, began hosting weekly discussion courses curated by Portland’s Northwest Earth Institute. What began as a joint-effort to honor sustainability’s central role in our work quickly revealed itself as an indispensable way of going about our business…

For the full article, click here.

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute.



NWEI goes high tech (Or perhaps just “higher tech”)

connected-world-600As you probably know, we value personal connections and the community that develops during our discussion course programs. In fact, community is just as important as the content of our courses. As the world changes around us, and people find community in new ways and in new places – including online – NWEI has worked to evolve our process to meet the needs of the people using our discussion course programs to create change for good.

We are currently considering a variety of new ways to engage people in shared reflection, shared stories and shared action and one of the ideas under consideration is to utilize the multitude of online platforms that facilitate virtual meetings. This allows people to save time and money getting to and from meetings, as well as engage with people across the country. Our interest in going high tech, or a-little-higher-tech, comes from a place of wanting to increase our impact and deliver on our mission.

We have been watching a new way of organizing NW Earth Institute discussion courses play out this spring as Bank of America engaged hundreds of employees across the globe in Choices for Sustainable Living — in real time and real depth.

I had the chance to sit-in on a session, which utilized a combination conference call and interactive web stream. During the meeting a man living in rural UK, a woman in Charlotte, and another in Philadelphia exchanged stories related to their own sustainable transportation experiences. The trio might not have been able to look into one another’s eyes, but they were able to hear each other’s voices, ask and answer questions, and even doodle on an interactive “white board” that brings the conversation to life.

And this is just the beginning. If we can pull this off with the help of Bank of America (who is starting a second round with another 150 employees!), we now look to YOU. Are you excited for the future of NWEI programs and how we inspire people from around the world to take action on the issues that matter? Do you have any of your own ideas on how we may successfully marry the depth and effectiveness of our materials with technological savvy? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We want to hear from you!

Yours in inspiration and integrity,
Kerry and the rest of the NWEI Staff

70 Companies in Oregon Support State Action on Climate Change!

CaptureThis just in from fellow Portland, Oregon non-profit Oregon Environmental Council: On Tuesday, over 70 companies in Oregon announced their support for state action on climate change, including support for clean fuels and reducing carbon pollution. Companies including Adidas, eBay, Moda Health, Nike, Portland Trailblazers, Staples, Umpqua Bank and others join the effort to show that there is business support for moving forward on climate change and to lead on climate in our region. You can view the Oregon Business Climate Declaration and the story in this week’s Portland Business Journal.

For those of you local to Oregon, the Oregonian is running a poll asking if companies should step up and take positions on climate change. Has your company signed on? If not, you can do that by clicking here.

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute. Click here for more info on NWEI’s discussion course on climate issues, Change By Degrees.

Are Organic Vegetables More Nutritious After All?

indexAs you likely know, there has been an ongoing debate regarding whether organic foods are actually healthier than conventional foods (grown with pesticides). Like a ping pong ball, studies have gone back and forth proving and disproving the benefits of organic foods. We here at NWEI have all along been proponents of organic foods when possible – if not for personal health reasons, then for the life and health of our soils. Just a few days ago yet another study revealed additional benefits of eating organic. For the full story, click here.

There may never be an end to arguments over whether organic food is more nutritious. But a new study is the most ambitious attempt so far to resolve the issue — and it concludes that organic fruit and vegetables offer a key benefit. It’s a scientific reply to an analysis that some researchers at Stanford University published two years ago. That paper, which generated lots of media coverage and much controversy, reviewed more than 200 studies of organic and conventional food, and concluded that organic foods do not really offer any significant nutritional benefit.

This new analysis, from a group of scientists mostly based in Europe, crunched data from an even bigger pile of studies: 343 of them, carried out over the past several decades. It will be published Monday in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The new analysis repeats some of the Stanford group’s findings. It finds that organic and conventional vegetables offer similar levels of many nutrients, including minerals, vitamin C and vitamin E. Conventional crops are higher in protein. And there are fewer pesticide residues on organic foods, as you’d expect.

But the group found a significant difference in the levels of special compounds called antioxidants. “Across the important antioxidant compounds in fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables deliver between 20 and 40 percent higher antioxidant activity,” says Charles Benbrook, from Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, a co-author of the study. These antioxidant compounds, which go by names like flavonoids and carotenoids, are getting a lot of attention lately. Their effects remain somewhat murky, but scientists say they can protect cells from the effects of aging, or from the sort of damage that can lead to cancer.

Benbrook says this is a big reason why public health experts want us all to eat more fruits and vegetables: They deliver a good dose of antioxidants. And if organic produce provides more of them, he says, “we think that’s a big deal.” …

For the full article, click here. To learn more about food choices as they relate to health and sustainability, check out our two food-focused discussion course books: Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability.

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute.

EcoChallenge 2014: What kind of change maker are you?

How are you best suited to make a positive impact for the planet? The thought alone can be enough to invite a headache—but don’t let it!

Keeping you assured, leading researcher and friend-of-NWEI Renee Lertzman has shed some welcome light on the four main lenses into which sustainability change makers tend to fall. Do you recognize yourself in one of the following areas?

Image credit: Brand Cool
Image credit: Brand Cool
  • The Behaviorist identifies key triggers that help to “shift, nudge or influence” positive behaviors for the planet.
  • The Sociologist works on a more macro-scale to leverage “cultural values, beliefs and identities” in an effort to shift those currents. Think messaging that taps into our greater social consciousness and aspirations.
  • The Guru speaks “to people’s direct emotional connection” with sustainability issues and views stakeholders as collaborators in the change process.
  • The Designer focuses on “how we can design solutions through our technological, industrial and commercial innovations.”

Knowing which lens we tend to look through matters greatly, as Dr. Lerztman puts it, because “our lens shapes our ideas, strategies and capacities to imagine new and different innovations.” Just as important to keep in mind is how each lens is limited on its own: “The truth is that real change — at the level required for shifting how we exist sustainably on our planet — involves all of these, in specific combinations.”

So, which combination will you bring to the table for EcoChallenge 2014?

Danny Lampton is Communications Associate for Northwest Earth Institute

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