Join Us for the EcoChallenge Launch Party!

unnamedIf you’re in the Portland area, we hope you’ll join us at our launch party to kick off the 2016 EcoChallenge! We have a lot to celebrate with the launch of this year’s EcoChallenge, and would love to see you at the party on Thursday, October 6th. Drinks, appetizers and music will all be provided, as well as inspiration for your 2016 EcoChallenge and some fun door prizes.  RSVP here, and feel free to bring a friend, family member or coworker — the more the merrier!

The Launch Party is being sponsored by our friends at Wanderwell, and hosted by Airbnb’s Portland office. Wanderwell is a pending B Corp and1% for the Planet member, and we connected with their CEO, Erin Fish, about how they are creating positive change in the world by providing “travel insurance for good.”

What is the story behind Wanderwell?
Wanderwell is a social enterprise travel insurance agency committed to guiding travelers towards comprehensive, yet cost-effective plans that provide peace of mind. Wanderwell serves single-trip adventurers, multi-month trekkers, intellectuals studying abroad, and Ex-Pats.

We are passionate about and driven to promote and practice environmental conservation. We pledge to contribute 10% of annual revenue to established non-profits supported by 1% for the Planet, which focus on social impact and environmental stewardship, and organizations that promote sustainable travel.

What inspired you to launch Wanderwell?
People who are about to take off on an adventure are generally stoked. It’s fun to work with clients who are happy and eagerly anticipating something meaningful. Wanderwell was launched from the desire to bring even more meaning to the overall travel experience.

My co-founder and I have both been traveling internationally for decades. We believe that the more we travel the clearer our lenses become to view how interconnected the beings and elements of our planet are to each other. We discover the need to conserve, contribute, and sustain; and our responsibility to act in such a way expands. It feels visceral that traveling breeds environmental consciousness. We believe that, as a business, we have the obligation to affect positive global environmental change, so we set out to create a business that services global travelers.

Travel Insurance isn’t sexy, but it is very reliable and generally affordable. Most importantly, it provides peace of mind and can save you a bundle of money should you get ill and need medical attention while traveling abroad, or should you need to cancel or interrupt your trip, or should your trip get delayed, your baggage lost or stolen, and more. These things happen.

By contributing 10% of our revenue from your travel insurance purchases to non-profits that focus on social impact, environmental stewardship, and sustainable travel, Wanderwell brings peace of mind to peaceful minded travelers. This is only the beginning for us though and we’re excited to have more ways for people to do good and promote good in the works.

Erin and his family traveling this summer
Erin and his family traveling this summer

How are you engaging your network with the EcoChallenge this year?
So far our focus has been on recruiting companies and individuals to participate in the EcoChallenge. The act of simply signing up to take part in the Challenge is the first step in setting a realistic goal to live intentionally, even for two weeks. And when friends, family, and colleagues are pushing you to continue to make and expand on small lifestyle changes, they could start to become habit. I think of it as positive peer pressure. Our habits can resemble snowballs that gather momentum and grow and expand with each rotation. The EcoChallenge gives us an interactive venue to ask ourselves, “Are my habits snowballing to promote a sustainable lifestyle?” Then it can show you easy it is to adopt new habits and make the answer to that question “Yes!”

What inspires you to keep working toward a more sustainable future?
My daughter is four years old. It’s easy to feel a bit scared for her to grow up in a time when our planet’s climate seems to be majorly changing, and when social stresses are significantly impacted by negative environmental changes that are human-induced. My wife and I intend to do our best to have her develop to be an active participant in a global attitude of sustainability and inclusiveness. We have to model this. Humans are a species that can achieve enlightenment, and even when or if we do not attain it, we can envision it. It takes tiny steps of intentional living to make big, positive changes because they inspire those around us to mimic.

Join us, and Wanderwell, at the EcoChallenge Launch Party on October 6th! 


Over 150 Teams Gear Up for the 2016 EcoChallenge! Inspiring Stories from the Field

captureEcoChallenge 2016 is just around the corner! In exactly one month we’ll be kicking off our ninth annual EcoChallenge and we hope you will join us! With over 900 participants and 156 teams registered so far, we are gearing up for what will undoubtedly be our biggest, best EcoChallenge yet. Join us today, and engage your coworkers, family, or community in proving that small actions add up to real change!

Here are a few stories from participants and teams who are poised and ready to go:

Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon is joining us for the first time this year, with a team of 22 strong already. Team members will be reducing food waste, cutting back on unnecessary purchases, engaging in water saving measures and curbing waste. Fort George’s Zack O’Connor chose not one EcoChallenge – but twenty-one! He’ll be using only muscle-powered transportation and implementing energy saving measures, as well as joining a CSA in October.

Mercedes Salles, Team Captain for the Ruby is the New Green EcoChallenge Team, will be volunteering in her community as well as completing an energy audit as one of her EcoChallenge actions. She was one of the first people to register and notes that “being registered for the event in advance has already made me super eco-conscious!” Her team is engaging in a friendly EcoChallenge competition with Pacific Continental Bank this year. And the heat is on – some Pacific Continental Bank team members are already trying on their EcoChallenge actions early – like Camille Staley who is already biking to work and Nicole Tessin-Mason who is “starting some of the challenges early and will try to continue to do them after the challenge.” She is cutting her shower time in half, turning off the water when brushing her teeth and washing her clothes with cold water to name a few actions she’s committed to!

1% for the Planet is joining us for the EcoChallenge this year for the first time too, and team members are committed to cutting back waste by saying no to disposable bags and cups, buying carbon offsets for air travel, and commuting by bike instead of car. The cities of South Bend, Indiana and Iowa City, Iowa are also joining us for the first time – with South Bend already kicking off an internal competition between departments. South Bend’s Alyssa Alstott is “so excited to get this challenge started and make a difference!” She will be saving water and energy and reducing waste during the EcoChallenge, while also focusing on simplicity.

University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Portland Community College are leading the colleges and universities registered so far. PCC’s Russell Lampton has already started his carpooling EcoChallenge and says he is “so ready to be Eco-Challenged! Time to get involved.”

Yes, indeed! If you haven’t yet, check it out and join us for what will be two weeks of great fun – and big impact! You can create a team and invite your network, or we’re always welcoming new people on the Northwest Earth Institute Community Team. We can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish together in a few short weeks!




Walking our Talk With a New Sabbatical Benefit for Employees

NWEI's Deb McNamara's sons and friends in the Rocky Mountains during her sabbatical this summer
NWEI’s Deb McNamara’s sons and friends in the Rocky Mountains during her sabbatical this summer

Voluntary Simplicity was the second discussion course that NWEI published in the early 1990s, and over the past twenty-plus years we’ve inspired thousands of people to integrate simplicity and intentionality into their lives. Living with intention is a value that we hold as a staff too.

This year we gave some thought to how we could “walk our talk” around our intentional living values, and implemented two new employee benefits that reflect our dedication to ensuring that staff are able to fuel their passions and dive deeper into the personal and community development work that NWEI promotes. These two benefits, sabbaticals for long-tenured staff as well as a personal retreat benefit, provide staff with an opportunity to identify their personal priorities and take time and space to align values with action.

This summer Deb McNamara and I took the first NWEI sabbaticals, and today we offer a few reflections from our time away from the office.

Kerry Lyles’ children enjoy the great outdoors during her sabbatical

In 2008 my husband Mark and I spent the entire month of July and part of August backpacking in Glacier National Park before moving to Portland. I started at NWEI shortly after we arrived in Portland, and in the 8 years since that epic trip, we’ve had two kids and taken family camping trips, logged many miles on our bikes (but far fewer miles on the hiking trails) and focused our vacation time around visiting family.

When I was planning my two-week sabbatical for this summer, that month in Glacier was in that back of my mind — the open-ended nature of days on the trail, and the connection with the world around me were both things I was seeking to integrate into my sabbatical. The constant busyness of being a working mother to a four year old and a one year old was at the forefront of my mind as well, and as I planned out my sabbatical time I wanted to find a sense of space in my days off.

I created a list of things I wanted to do on my sabbatical – like going to yoga classes and spending time browsing the bookstore for a book to spend the evening reading.

I managed to accomplish many of the things on my list, while being attentive to leaving enough unplanned time to lean into the days as they arrived. One afternoon we spent some time as a family on the shore at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers here in Portland. It’s not the dramatic vistas of Glacier, but the kids don’t seem to notice, and I’m always aware of how being in nature seems so good for their souls – and ours! I also spent a night at the Oregon coast by myself, and discovered how rejuvenating one day spent walking on the beach alone can be. My sabbatical was exactly what I was hoping it would be, and it made me realize how grateful I am to be doing this work at NWEI too!

My colleague Deb McNamara also took a sabbatical this summer and she had similar things to share. “The main thing I take away from my sabbatical is gratitude for the extra time with my family and most importantly, my three young boys. We are always talking about how important time in nature is – especially for children – and this summer I was able to be outside more than ever with them. We enjoyed many hikes in the Rocky Mountains, days spent swimming in lakes, wading in creeks, taking a first pontoon boat ride and even soaking in nearby hot springs. It was a reminder about the simple joys of life and the importance of making time for the simple pleasures of life: family, friends, time in nature – and time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of our world.”

Need to reboot with a reminder about living simply? Even if you can’t take extra time off of work, you can integrate intentionality into your life by choosing the new Simplicity Challenge during this year’s EcoChallenge! Learn more here. And stay tuned for more about our forthcoming course on intentional living too.

Our Summer 2016 EarthMatters Newsletter is Here!

The Summer 2016 Edition of our EarthMatters Newsletter is here! Click here, or the image below, to download the EarthMatters newsletter. This issue’s lead article is on ways to find happiness without costing the planet. As author Sarah van Gelder reminds us, the starting point is to realize we have choices: meaningful work, authentic relationships, and gratitude. Enjoy!

Summer Newsletter Image

Choose a Nature Challenge & Celebrate 100 Years of National Parks!

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA — Bull Elk Standing on Banks of Snake River — Image by © Buddy Mays/Corbis
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA;   Image by © Buddy Mays/Corbis

It is time to pack a picnic and explore the natural beauty of our amazing planet! If you are in the United States, this week is a perfect time to visit one of the 413 National Parks as the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of preservation, conservation and service.

The centennial will celebrate the achievements of the past 100 years, but it is also a reminder about continuing the practice of preservation well into the future. As the National Parks Foundation says, “It’s about kicking off a second century of stewardship for America’s national parks and for communities across the nation.” And, it’s about remembering to make time to enjoy and protect these beautiful places.

At the Earth Institute we often talk about how we are most inspired to care for what we love. With an increasingly busy and technology-oriented society, time outdoors and time spent falling in love with our natural places can come at a premium. Yet it is more important than ever to forge these connections to place. As Gary Snyder says, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Yes indeed!

*If you need a kick-start getting outside and connecting with nature, join us for our October EcoChallenge and choose a Nature Challenge. Pick an action like going for a daily walk, eating meals outside, or exploring your natural places and commit to it for two weeks. 


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