5 Tips for a Sustainable Thanksgiving

images (1)As you know, we are big advocates of simplicity and sustainability — at the holidays and all year round. We are always trying to find ways to bring sustainability into our daily habits and practices – and that’s why we like these tips with simple things we can remember as we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Carrying forth the energy and inspiration from EcoChallenge 2014 this Fall, we also encourage you to integrate EcoChallenge actions into your festivities: conserve water and energy where possible, choose sustainable food options, reduce your waste – and consider ways to give back to your community. For the full article on how to have a green Thanksgiving, click here. 

It may be too late for a full green overhaul of your Thanksgiving plans, but there are subtle ways you can “green” your Thanksgiving holiday. They may seem like small gestures, but with millions of people celebrating, if we all make a few changes we can really show the Earth our thanks.

  • Remember Your Reusable Bags! You hear it all the time. What you don’t hear is that you don’t have to buy a bunch of Whole Foods logo recycled bags to be green on your grocery trip. Look in your closet. You have that tote they gave away at last year’s convention. Or your kid’s beach basket that you retired for the winter. Use whatever you have at the house. Anything is better than a plastic bag. And repurposing something you already own is greener than buying a reusable bag anyway.
  • Avoid Superfluous Food Packaging. When choosing between the lettuce in the plastic container and the loose leaf, take the extra minute to gather the loose leaf. Don’t pick the single cucumber in seran wrap. Get rice and nuts from the bulk bins — and again — bring your own bag to scoop it in.
  • Don’t Use Paper or Plastic Cutlery, Even if its a Big Crowd. Soiled products like paper plates and napkins are typically not recyclable. Styrofoam is not only not recyclable but also often leaches toxic chemicals into your food when exposed to heat (like from a hot slice of turkey). Use cloth napkins, and if you don’t own enough plates, buy bamboo plates and cutlery for the event and save them for the next party. Get cheap mason jars at a hardware store to use as glasses and reuse them later.
  • Think About Food Waste. Food waste is probably the biggest environmental tragedy that comes out of Thanksgiving. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates Americans throw away 40 percent of their food every year. Our Thanksgiving instincts are to plop as much grub in front of us as possible. But once that food hits your plate, any leftovers are likely ending up in the trash. Start with a small portion and get more as you need it. Added bonus: you’ll probably end up consuming fewer calories with this strategy too.
  • Clean Green. Use rags instead of paper towels or even sponges. Hang dry linens after washing them. Turn the water off every time you stop to add soap to dishes. Choose environmentally-friendly cleaning products from the Environmental Working Group’s database of human and environment-safe cleaners (you’ll be surprised which make the cut and which don’t.)

And a bonus sixth tip for living lighter on the planet this week:

  • Skip Black Friday! Go on a hike on Friday. Read a book. Play a board game. Or, repair something you otherwise planned to replace!

For more tips, click here. We wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! thanksgiving image

How to Defeat the Impulse Buy: Be Thankful for What You Have

imagesAs we celebrate Thanksgiving this week and head into the holiday season, David DeSteno (a professor of psychology at Northeastern University) tells us that with holiday shopping, curbing the impulse to buy isn’t always possible with willpower alone. However, being thankful for what you have can help! As DeSteno writes: “If you’re looking to avoid impulse-buying this year, take time not only to celebrate with your friends and family, but also to count your blessings. You may find that the easiest way to thwart retailers’ enticements as you peruse the shopping aisle isn’t to try to resist what you want; it’s to be thankful for what you have.” We here at NWEI concur! For his full article, click here. 

As Thanksgiving approaches, so does the holiday shopping season. Once again, a day traditionally meant to celebrate gratitude will inaugurate a month of rampant consumerism. As a psychologist who studies decision making, I’m acutely aware that marketers know how the mind works, and they aren’t hesitant to use that knowledge to stoke consumers’ desires and lessen their self-control. Tactics emphasizing scarcity (“only 10 televisions at this price in stock”) and delayed cost (“0 percent interest until 2016”) are employed to great effect.

Such tactics prey on one of the mind’s greatest vulnerabilities: the innate human preference for rapid reward, or immediate gratification…Can we, as shoppers, resist? Of course we can. We all have a proclivity for immediate gratification, but we are also all capable of self-control. The real question is: How do we ensure that we exercise that control?

A natural suggestion is to rely on willpower. But when it comes to holiday shopping, that is likely to fail. Research has shown that willpower tends to be limited. Each successful exercise of it actually increases the likelihood of subsequent failure if temptations come in quick succession (as they do, for instance, in shopping malls).

So rather than trying to override your decision-making impulses, a better strategy might be to try to change them. And recent research suggests that an effective way to do that is by cultivating the emotion of gratitude.

That’s right: As hokey as it sounds, the solution to the shopping season’s excesses may lie in the very message of Thanksgiving itself.

Psychologists have long known that negative emotions like anger and fear can alter decisions (often for the worse), but until recently, we haven’t focused on the effects of positive emotions on decision making. The emotion of gratitude, viewed from a cost-benefit perspective, stresses the long-term value of short-term sacrifice (e.g., If I’m grateful to you for a favor, I’ll work hard to repay it and thereby ensure you’ll help me again in the future). Consequently, my colleagues and I suspected that gratitude might also enhance patience and self-control…

To read the full article and learn more about DeSteno’s research, click here


What’s Next for Climate? Carbon Emissions Likely to be Priced


Today, hot on the heels of the Senate’s vote on Keystone XL, Grist blogger David Roberts shared the following post: Within two years, a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions are likely to be priced. While the Keystone XL vote is critical to the green lobby, and all eyes have been on this issue – Roberts reminds us that change is underway, and often not discussed in the headlines. 

It often surprises people to hear that big companies like Exxon use a “shadow carbon price” when assessing future investment opportunities (in other words, they assume a price on carbon even where/when there isn’t one). After all, if you only pay attention to the headlines, it sounds like the big story on climate change is that nobody’s doing anything and we’re all doomed. Why would Exxon think carbon will be priced any time soon?

Well, it turns out that carbon is getting priced, not in the big, dramatic, simple way climate hawks would prefer, but incrementally, piecemeal, country-by-country, region-by-region, still inadequately but in a way that’s starting to add up.

The always-excellent folks at the Sightline Institute have done the world a favor by pulling all the world’s carbon pricing systems into one place… (See their map). As you can see, the big story (as usual) is China, which is planning on rolling out a nationwide cap-and-trade system in 2016. That system will instantly become the largest in the world, covering some 5,000 million metric tons worth of emissions, about 13 percent of the the world’s total. Once that’s in place, about a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions will be priced. Not bad!

The next biggest systems after China’s are the EU’s and Japan’s. America’s — RGGI on the East Coast and California’s on the West Coast — are comparatively small, especially relative to total emissions in those areas.

How high are the prices on carbon? Sightline explains:

Prices range from $1 to $168 per ton, but most cluster between $10 and $30 per ton. For example, California’s price is currently around $13 per ton, and British Columbia’s price is currently around $28. The price outlier at $168 per ton is Sweden, where a high and persistent price has helped reduce pollution 13 percent in a decade. A carbon tax of $28 plus other policies have helped Ireland slash pollution more than 15 percent since 2008…

For David’s full post, click here. 

Another Reason to Reuse Your Bags


We here at NWEI think it is important to reuse and recycle as often as possible: including clothing! That’s why we’ve partnered with Buffalo Exchange on Burnside Ave as part of their ‘Tokens for Bags’ program. You can help us by getting any needed clothing items there before December 1st, when our partnership for this year ends. And, don’t forget to bring your own bag and donate that nickel to NWEI! Thanks to Director of Membership and Engagement Liz Zavodsky for today’s blog post.

Here in Portland, we have what seems to be an endless option of consignment stores and access to perfectly good, gently used items. Through December 1st, NWEI has partnered with one of these consignment clothing stores — the Buffalo Exchange on 1036 W. Burnside in Portland. Every time someone shops at this Buffalo Exchange location and either brings their own bag or does not use one at all, they will be given a wooden nickel to place in a box of their nonprofit of choice. NWEI is one of these organizations and will get a nickel for each wooden nickel placed in our box.

For those of you in the Portland area, it’s easy to participate. If you have gently used items to give away, you can take your men’s or women’s clothing (in good condition, of course!) into Buffalo Exchange and shop while you wait for them to go through your items. You can take store credit or cash for the clothes, shoes, belts, and bags you bring in, and if they do not take all that you have, you can leave it with them to donate. Just remember, take your own bag, and please place your wooden nickel in the NWEI donation box.

If you are not in Portland but still want to support NWEI, there are many ways to do so: become a member, give a gift membership, or organize a discussion course. If you like the concept of consignment stores, explore what options you have in your own city. Are there consignment options for furniture, clothing, books, or shoes? Find out how they support local programs and organizations in your area. These community-oriented businesses usually embrace the opportunity to support others, so if they do not have a wooden nickel system or something else set up, talk with them about the possibility.

Reusing your bags can be better for the planet, and can help your community, too!

*Through their Tokens for Bags® program, Buffalo Exchange has raised nearly $550,000 for thousands of local nonprofit organizations since 1994, saving 10.9 million bags from polluting the environment.

Why Transformative Learning is Critical

NWEI's Director of Learning and Engagement, Lacy Cagle
NWEI’s Director of Learning and Engagement, Lacy Cagle

We here at NWEI believe that creative solutions are required to solve the problems facing humanity and our planet. And we know that the way we learn and engage is critical to fostering the skills and motivation needed to rise to each challenge. We believe a systems perspective is key. We also know that gathering together to connect, reflect and take action is a perfect starting point.

We’ve worked hard for the past 21 years offering transformative learning resources and experiences. But what exactly does that mean? Our Director of Learning and Engagement, Lacy Cagle, recently published a white paper on the topic – offering an easy-to-digest primer on what transformative learning is and why it is so important. Below is an excerpt. You can download the full paper here.

In our society, education has historically functioned to reproduce society and societal systems. Sustainability education aims to follow a new path: to re-create society and shape human systems and approaches to the rest of nature that are just, equitable, and regenerative. Instead of continuing to educate for the current environmentally- and socially-degrading global marketplace, education can transform and renew society by helping citizens discover new ways of thinking and being and by modeling collaboration and critical thinking. In so doing, educational institutions can shift our current destructive and unsustainable societal paradigm to one that is creative and life-sustaining. In essence, sustainability education aims to transform students into leaders who are critical thinkers and active doers…



So what does transformative education look like? Transformative learning is centered on “the notion of recreating underlying thoughts and assumptions about the systems, structures, and societies that we are part of” (Moore, 2005, p. 86). Through critical reflection, participants make visible their invisible assumptions about the way the world works and their places in it. In short, “transformative learning develops autonomous thinking (Mezirow 1997, p.5).” The goal of transformative education is to empower individuals to change their perspectives, and the educator’s role is to create an environment that is supportive and open to critical self-reflection.

Transformative learning requires practitioners to take risks, be willing to be vulnerable, and possess openness to having their attitudes and assumptions challenged. Within this paradigm of learning as change (as opposed to learning for acquisition), learning is understood as a creative, participatory, and reflexive process.

NW Earth Institute offers programs that encourage systems thinking and inspire participants to make positive change in their own lives. All of NW Earth Institute’s programs are centered around three important elements of transformative learning: collaborative discovery, personal reflection, and opportunity for action.

*To read Lacy’s full paper, click here. To learn about NWEI’s discussion course books, click here. We offer 9 discussion courses that help you create your own community of change. We give you the tools to talk through big issues with your peers – at work, at school, in your neighborhood or center of faith. We also offer customized courses and online facilitation options. We’d love to hear from you if you are looking for ways to bring transformative learning into your classroom, workplace or community!

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