March 22nd is World Water Day! 4 Things You Can Do To Help Conserve Water

Since 1993, World Water Day has been held every year on March 22nd to raise awareness around limited access to fresh, clean water for millions around the globe. Hosted by the United Nations, annual World Water Day campaigns have focused on improving water quality and access to freshwater for people around the world. This year’s theme is ‘why waste water’ and focuses on sharing ways to conserve this precious resource. In 2015 – and as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – a UN Initiative set a target to make sure everyone on the planet has access to safe water by 2030.

At Northwest Earth Institute, we are excited to get more involved in meeting these goals by sharing information about and encouraging sustainable use of water! We are currently revising our most popular course book, Choices for Sustainable Living, to be released later this year. The new edition will have an entirely new session on water. We’ll dive deep into the issues surrounding water, and we’ll share ways to conserve and advocate for clean, safe water for all.

Today, here are four tips to conserve water and plug into this year’s World Water Day. 

  1. Install a rain barrel this spring! A rain barrel is a container that collects runoff water from your home’s gutters, and provides an alternative water source for gardening or irrigation. Because plants thrive on natural rain water, using collected rainwater for watering lawns and gardens is a great way to conserve and re-use water.
  2. Take a bucket to the shower! Showering definitely uses less water than a bath – as long as it is a shorter shower. A five-minute shower uses 10-25 gallons of water, while a bath can use up to 70 gallons. When you do shower, take a bucket and collect water. For example, while waiting for the shower water to heat, collect the cold water and use it for watering plants or bucket flushing your toilet.
  3. Avoid the permanent press cycle on your washing machine. The permanent press cycle on most washing machines uses an extra five gallons of water for the additional rinse!
  4. Fix the leaks! Did you know a running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day? Likewise, at one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year!

As writer and activist Robert Alan Silverstein says, “Water is one of the most basic of all needs — we cannot live for more than a few days without it. And yet, most people take water for granted. We waste water needlessly and don’t realize that clean water is a very limited resource.” Let’s not take our water for granted!

A New Podcast on A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World

This month, NWEI’s Director of Learning Lacy Cagle had a conversation with our colleagues at Simple Living Works about our newest course book, A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World. 

Lacy, who led the development process of A Different Way, shares insights on simple living and media literacy – and ways to challenge consumerism. She also discusses how this new book offers us a chance to reconnect with what matters most, explore practical ways to simplify our lives, and reduce our impact.

“Today’s world can feel overwhelming, especially for those of us who want to live authentic lives in line with our values. Living simply is a way to put it all into perspective, to consciously act on our values, and to create greater cultural change and impact,” reflects Lacy.

Thanks to Lacy and Simple Living Works for this podcast on NWEI’s newest course – and why it is so important now. You can listen to the full podcast here! 


Have a Pint, Change the World: Support NWEI at Oregon Public House!

This season, we’re excited to be one of the non-profit organizations receiving donations from Oregon Public House! Since they opened in 2013, they’ve donated $195,292 to diffierent local non-profit organizations focusing on social justice, community and the environment. Currently we are one of six non-profits they are supporting and we’d love for you to help us!

For those of you in the Portland area, we’re looking for volunteers to help us with shifts at the Oregon Public House on Wednesdays in March and Thursdays in April. The shift is 4-8pm and you’ll get a drink and dinner on the house when you are done. Its a great way to support NWEI while helping us raise funds and awareness for our work. Please be in touch with to find out more and sign up for a shift!







Changemaker Interview: Miguel Arellano on Living Simply & Finding a Different Way

Miguel Arellano: A Changemaker featured in NWEI’s newest course book

NWEI’s newest course book, A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World, features interviews with inspiring changemakers who have found their own path in living a simple, values-driven life. This week we share an excerpt of our interview with Miguel Arellano, the coordinator for the Multicultural Center at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus. Miguel’s story is a reminder that living ‘simply’ is not voluntary for many people. He also reminds us to consider our own personal life, behaviors and actions – and whether they are either disrupting systems of oppression or upholding them. 

As the coordinator for the Multicultural Center at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus and a person who is committed to conscious living, Miguel Arellano often finds opportunities where his decisions impact many people. His choice to live an intentional life reaches beyond his personal decisions to recycle, not waste food or use public transportation —he recognizes his interconnectedness with the rest of the world and wants to have the most positive impact he can in all of his spheres of influence. From his personal life to his professional life, Miguel endeavors to apply an intersectional lens to all that he does. Miguel grew up in Woodburn, Oregon, a town of around 25,000 people, 60% of whom are Latino and 10-15% of whom are Russian immigrants. Born into a working class, migrant worker family, Miguel is a first generation U.S. citizen. He and his seven siblings helped their parents in the fields from an early age. By necessity, Miguel grew up living a “simple” life. But it was not at all voluntary.

Miguel remembers wanting to buy things — shoes, toys, and other things that most children take for granted. In high school and college, Miguel started becoming involved in environmental justice and social justice issues. With education, his perspective changed. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant in a very poor family, Miguel was very aware of the injustices his family and the community around them experienced.

Photo credit: Oregon State University

As a child, Miguel grew up regularly asking the question, “What do we truly need to survive?” As he became more privileged through education, that perspective helped him to become a conscious and critical consumer. When he bought things, he was aware that there were people who grew or made those things, including kids like him and his siblings. He was aware of the environmental and health issues they might have had to endure, like his father and siblings who have health issues even today because pesticides were sprayed on the fields they worked while wearing no protection. He was also critically aware of the “consumerist, capitalist messages everywhere we turn.”

As Miguel’s values started to shift, he wanted to make sure his actions were in congruence with his values. As he grew in his realization of interconnectedness, he became more aware of how all of his actions impacted others. As Miguel puts it, “I don’t live in a vacuum. Even my words, even what I say, impacts others…Learning about all of these things can be really difficult. While complexity is easy to see, it is also easy to fall into despair when we become more aware of the negative impacts of our actions and the large, complex systems that uphold injustice.” Miguel believes that recognizing our shared humanity can keep us going. “Learning about social justice and environmental justice makes me more human,” says Miguel. “I had the privilege of
starting to think about all of these things at an earlier age than a lot of people who start asking these questions (later in life).”

Miguel’s intentional decisions go beyond personal ones. He practices intentionality in the decisions he’s responsible for at the Multicultural Center. He has worked to get healthy, locally grown food to people who need it most. He does his best to make all of their events zero waste. And he sees that we are all tied together in the struggle to create a sustainable world. By building relationships with other organizations like the campus Environmental Center and Learning Garden, sitting on the Sustainability Council, and having conversations with many other people, Miguel builds partnerships and friendships across disciplinary lines.

Through the Multicultural Center, Miguel works closely with student leaders who he trains to become peer educators. The student leaders “begin to see that if we are truly trying to have a just society and eradicate one –ism, such as racism, we cannot do it without addressing other issues such as classism, sexism and environmental injustice. I also try to get them to think about their own personal life, behaviors and actions, and analyze if they are either disrupting systems of oppression or upholding them…I believe instilling hope in these students is very important, letting them know that we can all make a difference. Oftentimes, when we begin to learn about social injustices and our society, we can fall into despair.”

Miguel’s personal and professional decisions to live with intentionality aren’t exactly convenient. Both he and his partner are new professionals, often working more than 40 hours a week, and caring for their 5 month old daughter, Luna Love. What is easiest and most convenient is not often what is most sustainable. Public transportation takes more time and planning than driving, and zero waste events and local sustainable food cost more money than their alternatives. Miguel can face the same discouragement as his students — sometimes it is hard to maintain hope in the face of the complex injustices of our world.

Now that he is a parent, Miguel strives to be intentional in how he parents his daughter. “We used to work 60 hour weeks in 100 degree weather. That was a hard life, but I learned so many valuable lessons. How do I teach my daughter the same values and perspective without her having to feel the pain of that struggle?”

“Family and people come first,” Miguel says. “I think it’s easy for us to forget that sometimes…My daughter’s smile and laugh are the best part of my day.” He stays in close contact with his siblings, and he values being an educator. He loves seeing students make the connections and learn “to be better citizens of the world.” Keeping his values and actions in alignment in his personal life, in his larger spheres of influence, and with the people that are closest to him helps him to move forward with hope and courage.

Read more stories of individuals finding their own way to live simply and sustainably in NWEI’s newest course book: A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World. Thanks to NWEI’s Director of Learning, Lacy Cagle, for interviewing Miguel and for sharing his story. 

A New Film from The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Microfibers

Since the launch of our newest course book, we’ve been looking for new ways to curb consumption and make an impact. Luckily, the Story of Stuff Project (who joined us for our annual EcoChallenge in 2016) is releasing a new movie this week on plastic microfibers, and what we can do to take action.

The Story of Microfibers launches Wednesday, March 1, and will explore how plastic microfibers are adversely impacting our oceans, marine biodiversity, and our own bodies. Microfibers and other small forms of plastic pollution absorb toxins found in the ocean, and some are consumed by microorganisms such as plankton. As these fibers move up the food chain, the toxins that have been absorbed bioaccumulate. As The Story of Stuff Project notes, “It turns out we might be eating our clothing thanks to a big, tiny problem called microfibers.”

The majority of clothing produced today is made from synthetic fabrics like polyester which is made from fossil fuel chemicals. When you wash those synthetic fabrics, tiny particles of plastic called microfibers are washed down the drain and released into the environment. Microscopic plastic particles like microfibers act like sponges in the ocean, soaking up other synthetic chemicals and organic pollutants. Studies have found that plastic particles in the ocean can be a million times more toxic than the surrounding water – and one study found plastic debris in 25% of fish purchased in the US.

So, what should we do about this issue? One place to start is by buying less synthetic fabrics, and only washing your synthetic clothing when necessary. Unfortunately, synthetic textiles are everywhere, and they’re only getting more popular. That’s why we need to come up with a lasting solution. Our friends at The Story of Stuff Project are shining a light on the microfibers problem with their new movie, The Story of Microfibers, and are calling on the clothing industry to fix it. You can add your voice here.

The film will be released tomorrow, and in the meantime, here’s the trailer:

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