At NWEI we have long focused on the role of each individual to create positive change. We believe the little things can indeed make a big difference – and we focus on a simple objective: to give people a framework to talk about our relationship with the planet and to share in discovering new ways to live, work, create and consume. We believe no change is too small — in fact, the choices we make every day are exactly where change is most possible and powerful.
That’s why we are excited about a groundbreaking new study from Sweden that outlines what individuals can do about climate change – as well as measures the relative impact. Researchers examined what individuals can do to help address the climate crisis while also providing data about how individual actions do indeed add up to make impact. A key takeaway: individual actions still matter- a great deal.
Grist.org recently highlighted the study, which was published in Environmental Research Letters, and noted that “the researchers found that behavioral shifts could be faster than waiting for national climate policies and widespread energy transformations.” In fact, Grist author Eric Holthaus suggests the study may be the first comprehensive analysis on the effectiveness of specific individual climate actions.
Perhaps not surprisingly, lower-impact actions like recycling or changing light bulbs had less impact. Higher impact actions include buying green energy or living car free. The individual action with a highest return? Having one fewer child.
A few weeks ago, members of Unity of Beaverton Church in Oregon completed NWEI’s newest discussion course – A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World. We had the chance to connect with Pat Wolter, who organized the group and who has been involved with NWEI for over 15 years as a volunteer, course organizer and former board member.
The group was comprised of the church’s Earth Care team and upon completing the course Pat offered a reflection to the wider community. She shared, “In Unity, we are always seeking to expand our understanding and deepen our consciousness. During the past six weeks participating in the A Different Way discussion course, both have happened to me as I focused on why and how I might live more simply and in alignment with the gifts of this planet and how I use them. I now have a different way to look at things I use every day.”
What were your favorite aspects of the A Different Waycourse? Were there any “aha!” moments? Please describe.
I appreciated the timeliness and relevance of the articles. “Swimming Upstream” was my favorite article because of its depth. The simplest and yet biggest “take aways” were that the greenest product is the one you don’t buy. I also appreciated the life-cycle analysis of products. I really got into the pen vs. pencil comparison.
In Session 3, entitled “Consume Less Create More,” the steps in the life cycle of ballpoint pens is broken out from production to disposal, or as some say from womb to tomb: the oil drilling for the plastic, the mining for the metal, the chemicals for the ink, the factories for production, the trucks for transport to market and ultimately to the landfill and the resulting air, ground, and water pollution that accompanies each step. This got wanting to know more. I did some research and learned that the Bic Cristal Pen was the first disposable ballpoint pen, named for its inventor, a Frenchman named Michael Bich. They are now manufactured on every continent except Antarctica. It costs about 1 to 2 cents to produce one pen, which is sold for about 15 cents. 8.6 billion Bic pens are sold each year. The company has sold an estimated average of 57 pens per second since 1950 and they’re all designed to be thrown away. I have pens (not all Bics) in my purse, desk drawers, in a container by the phone, in my nightstand, in the car console—you get the picture—they’re everywhere. Why do I have so many, when I can only use one at time?
Here’s a piece of important trivia: Did you know typical ballpoint pens can draw a line between 4,000 to 7,500 feet long? The pencil can draw a line about 35 miles long, which is about 45,000 words, but it needs to be used to the nub because each year about 82,000 trees are cut to make the 2 billion pencils used in the U.S., most of which are made in China.
What actions did you as an individual consider? What changes do you see afoot?
The course was timely because my husband and I are beginning our down-sizing mode. He estimates it will take two years to dispatch the accumulation of farm and construction equipment. Big changes for sure. Is there a solution to this excess? Is there a different way— an alternative going forward?
So, what am I going to do with this new information about the life-cycle of pens and pencils? From now on, I’m going to use up the pencils I have for my non-important writing needs: grocery and to do lists, etc. Pens will be used for writing checks, correspondence, voting my mail, and signing important documents. To reduce the excess inventory of pens, I’ve sorted out the refillable pens I have and will look for refills. Next, I’ll call Metro to see who takes the excess of useable pens I have no need for. The dead ones I’ll send The Pen Guy in Forestville, CA to be made into art and new products.
If we are to leave this earth in good shape for future generations, then we must think about the life-cycle of products we use and different ways of living simply in a complex world.
A Different Way is a new course addressing the complexities of living simply today. The course addressed our relationship to time, media and technology – and how and what we consume. What was the most relevant for you?
The most relevant was how living simply is now about not only living with less stuff, but also about living with fewer digital distractions; living simply has become more complex and challenging.
Interested in learning more about NWEI’s newest course book? For more information about A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World, click here.
Last fall, Caroline Cohen joined the NWEI team as a graduate student intern implementing an Applied Leadership Project with NWEI. Caroline spent the academic year working with us to research the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and mapped how NWEI’s work connects with the SDGs. We were excited to find many overlaps – and are looking forward to continuing to weave in the SDGs into our work. We had a chance to connect with Caroline on her project with us, and solicited her advice for others looking to effect change.
1. Tell us about the project you did with NWEI. What were your goals and why did you think it was important?
The goal of my work was to help increase the reach of NWEI’s work by linking their programs with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and communicating that to potential partnering organizations. This is important because the work of NWEI is an impressive tool to shrink the gap between our daily lives and universal sustainability challenges and opportunities.
Additionally, highlighting NWEI’s connection with the Sustainable Development Goals increases the exposure of the SDGs, normalizing them as part the discussion around sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
2. What drew you to working with NWEI? What was one of the main things you learned during your tenure with NWEI?
I chose to work with NWEI for two reasons. First, because I know the power of transformative-learning communities and personal behavior-change experiments, and they are the reason I am dedicating my life’s work to environmental sustainability. When I learned about NWEI’s discussion course books and EcoChallenge I wanted to do anything I could to help NWEI reach more people. The second reason is that I saw an environmental non-profit functioning extremely well with a long history of success and wonderful people on board. I wanted to be a learning-sponge in that environment.
3. Tell us more about the SDGs. Why do you think the SDGs are a good tool for the sustainability movement? Businesses?
The SDGs are critical because they are a unifying target that connects us with a global community working for sustainability. The goals recognize that marginal progress is not enough, and that the whole world needs to work together to steer us in the right direction. The United States and other developed nations are responsible for so much of what’s causing global warming, but the impacts are being felt in undeveloped nations. The SDGs give us some tangible targets to relate with and address the toughest struggles in the world, which are primarily far away. It is SO difficult to connect our daily lives to these enormous issues, and that’s where I got excited about my research: the SDGs bring the big-picture perspective, and NWEI brings the connection to the individual, together they can bridge a great divide.
4. In your opinion, what does the sustainability movement need most now?
I don’t often form opinions on such large-scale issues. However, with this prompt what comes to mind is a truly global perspective and network. Environmental sustainability has the power to unite people across any sort of boundary physical, political, or spiritual. What an incredible opportunity! There are already diverse people, who may think themselves opposed in every other manner, who agree on the importance of environmental sustainability. Experiencing a sense of working together for a massive common cause can catapult the environmental movement, and, in my opinion, soften so many other sources of conflict in the world.
5. What advice for other young changemakers do you have?
Start doing something now! Cultivate a passion for sustainability, practice it in your daily life, let it guide your decisions, and let it emulate from you. People around you will see that your life is more happy and satisfying and want to join you. Helping others to change is all about attraction not promotion. Don’t preach but invite.
This week we are excited to share one of our Changemaker Interviews with Veronica Hotton and Kate Sanderson Holly, who recently co-organized NWEI’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course at the Yoga Refuge yoga studio in Portland, Oregon. They wrapped up the course last month and we had a chance to connect with both of them to hear about their experience. Veronica is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Portland State University. Kate, a mom of two young children, is a theater artist and is also the owner and director of Yoga Refuge.
We asked them to reflect on their discussion course experience and the changes underway as a result. Kate shared that her biggest take-away from the discussion group was remembering that “I can still make small changes in my own life to live in accordance with my values and in a way that is more sustainable for the world.”
1. What drew you to participate in the Seeing Systems discussion group? Why was this important to you now?
Veronica: While being a Fellow for NWEI in 2016, one of my goals was to coordinate a Discussion Circle in the community, and after being a regular participant at Yoga Refuge, I thought Kate would be interested in hosting a series.
Kate: I love teaching yoga and being the director of my own studio, but I have often wished for a more direct way to support social justice, progressive activism and culture change through my work. After the 2016 presidential election I decided to be more intentional in this mission.
I think we have a cultural epidemic of short-term thinking, so learning to see systems is more important than ever. When Veronica proposed that we do a Seeing Systems learning group at the studio I was thrilled to have the opportunity to host it, and the NWEI book and discussion guidelines made it easy and effective to have meaningful conversations.
2. If you had to identify one or two key take-aways from having participated in the course, what would those be? Or, share any new perspectives you may have gained.
Kate: I graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2002, and during that time of my life I lived in a very conscious way. I rode my bike everywhere, I washed all my plastic bags to re-use them, I was a vegetarian and a proud dumpster diver (doing the good work of liberating food waste!). In the last few years I bought a house in a neighborhood many miles from the center of my city, I had two children and I opened a business. The increase in stress and personal responsibility along with managing the logistics of my life have caused me to compromise many of the lifestyle values I used to be committed to.
My biggest take-away from the discussion group was remembering that these things are still important to me and that I can still make small changes in my own life to live in accordance with my values and in a way that is more sustainable for the world.
Veronica: I have participated in a few Discussion Courses, but in those situations it was with people I already knew or knew pretty well. What I enjoyed about this series was that I was able to have discussions with people I did not know, or know well.
3. Did the course connect with your practice of yoga? If so, how?
Veronica: Kate guided the group through an opening/closing sequence of yoga that connected to the weekly readings, which worked in a similar way as an opener within the discussion course model. I think this helped the group be more present during the conversation and be ready to discuss peace, justice and sustainability. This included guided breathing, thought, and a few poses/movements.
Kate: It was my job (as the resident yoga instructor of the group) to provide some guidance on the connection between yoga and the discussions we were having, and that was a natural fit for me. The most important aspect of this is remembering that what is in the macrocosm is in the microcosm also, so if we want to live and practice non-violence we must also learn to be non-violent with ourselves.
If we want to understand the deeper, holistic systems of the world around us we must also learn about our own inter-connected systems of body, mind and spirit. We tend to take care of ourselves in a short-term thinking way, but tending to the sustainability of the ecosystem of Self is as vital as tending to the ecosystem of the world.
Also, learning to relax and be present with what is happening is a vital skill for staying engaged and active in issues that are very difficult to face in the world.
4. Are there any actions you plan on taking as follow up? For example, new groups you will join, organizations you will support or specific action steps you will take?
Kate: I plan to host more discussion courses with the NWEI work books in the future at my yoga studio. I would also like to integrate the Seeing Systems book into my yoga teacher training program, which focuses on social justice in the context of yoga.
Overall, the course helped to renew my commitment to the values I have held all along, and reminded me how important it is to live those values and speak openly about them.
Veronica: I hope to keep coordinating Discussion Courses at Yoga Refuge in collaboration with Kate!
Thanks to Veronica and Kate for inviting others to connect, reflect and act – and for engaging in a deeper dive into systems thinking and connecting issues of peace, justice and sustainability to daily life and practices. For more info on NWEI’s Seeing Systems discussion course book, click here.
Happy first day of summer! As author Gary Zukav says, “Each solstice is a domain of experience unto itself. At the Summer Solstice, all is green and growing, potential coming into being, the miracle of manifestation painted large…”
We invite you to join us in manifesting new potentials – spending more time outdoors, reconnecting with local, seasonal foods and taking action on what matters most in your life. Are there trails you’ve been wanting to explore? Work to do in your own garden or a community garden? A project you’ve been wanting to undertake?
Whatever you choose, take a pause to celebrate the season. As inspiration, we share the following question for reflection and accompanying activities, excerpted from our Reconnecting With Earth discussion course book. Wishing you a wonderful start to the summer season!
Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, believes that we need the beauty and mysteries of the natural world for our spiritual and emotional development. Does that ring true for you? What are the implications for a culture that spends most of its time indoors?
After reflecting on the above question, choose at least one of the following activities to reconnect with nature this summer:
Set aside time to nurture your connection with the natural world: daily walks, gardening, whatever renews your bond with Earth.
Find a special place in nature where you can keep the built environs and other people out of view. Spend five or ten minutes being aware of what you experience with all your senses. Notice color, motion, touch, sound, temperature, form, and smell. Write down your impressions.
Find at least one new hike or scenic view that you can visit in your local bioregion each month. Keep going back to your favorite ones.
Establish a new ritual honoring your place in the web of life. It can be as simple as thinking about all the natural elements and beings that were involved in producing the food for your meal and then expressing gratitude.
Think about your role in the political system, educational system, and economy. Take one action that enhances the human-Earth relationship.
Happy summer! For more ideas, activities and food for thought, learn more about NWEI’s Reconnecting With Earth course book by clicking here.