11 Ways to Give Back During the Holidays

We have a lot to be grateful for – last week we celebrated our 25th Anniversary at Lagunitas Community Room surrounded by friends, partners, and supporters who have helped make 25 years of individual transformation and community impact possible. We have bold plans for the year ahead and hope you’ll be a part of our journey for the next 25 years.

As we enter the busy holiday season, we encourage you to pause and take time to reflect on those things for which you are grateful, as well as how you can create a season of meaningful giving.

give back during the holidays

The holidays are a special reminder to take care of our neighbors, community, and the greater world. Here are 11 ideas for how you can give back:

  • Be a Hunger Hero: Food Banks (and food pantries) fill an important need in our communities by making sure fewer of our neighbors go to bed hungry. Groceries, personal hygiene items, and volunteers are needed this time of year. Consider hosting a food drive at your workplace to bolster your giving. Find your local food bank.
  • Hospital Visits: Check with a local hospital to see what programs it offers to provide support for those who can’t make it home for the holidays.
  • Pass on the Gifts: Instead of receiving gifts from family and friends, ask that they donate to your favorite nonprofit or an organization of their choice. Share what you’re doing to encourage others to follow your lead.
  • Bake Extras: Surprise a neighbor by dropping by with cookies or other special treats. Need recipe ideas? Try these holiday favorites.
  • Volunteer: Spend a few hours volunteering – consider a nonprofit you’ve never heard of as a way to learn something new. Share what you learn with others.
  • Create Warmth: By donating socks, gloves, hats, or blankets to a homeless shelter you’ll help your neighbors stay warm during the winter season.
  • Donate Blood: While donating blood isn’t often thought of as a way to give back during the holidays, it is always needed. Visit the American Red Cross to find a blood drive near you.
  • Spend Time with Seniors: Many seniors don’t have family or friends nearby – a visit from you can provide companionship and comfort. Consider inviting someone to your family gathering. Check with your local retirement or nursing care centers for opportunities.
  • Join a Toy Drive: Bring joy to a child by buying a new and unwrapped toy for them through the Toys for Tots program.
  • Foster an Animal: Animal shelters can be full during the winter, but you can help by giving our furry friends a warm, temporary home for the holidays. You can also offer to watch pets for friends or family while they are out of town.
  • Be Kind(er): We can all use extra encouragement this time of year, and a little kindness goes a long way. Smiling, saying “good morning,” holding doors open, or offering to pay for a stranger’s coffee are small gestures that can add up to big impact.

 

What are your traditions for giving back during the holidays? Please share your ideas for spreading holiday cheer.

Drawdown Learn: A Solutions-Based Approach to Climate Education

“Innovation. Creativity. Ingenuity. Genius. When you set bigger goals, everything opens up.” ~ Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown

Northwest Earth Institute had the pleasure of partnering and presenting with Project Drawdown, the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, and the Omega Center for Sustainable Living at the sold-out Drawdown Learn October 18-20. Hosted at Omega’s beautiful Rhinebeck, NY, campus, Drawdown Learn gathering was geared toward integrating Drawdown solutions into three areas: community/cross-sector educational and organizing efforts, K-12 education, and higher education.

NWEI’s Executive Director, David Macek and Director of Learning, Lacy Cagle, represented NWEI at the event by presenting on Drawdown EcoChallenge, learning from dozens of other community and educational organizations about how they are incorporating Drawdown’s research into their work, and organizing attendees to develop a calendar of all planned future events related to Drawdown’s work.

David and Lacy had the pleasure of co-presenting with Sarah Duffer, the high school science teacher who organized her Asheville, North Carolina high school to participate in and win the 2018 Drawdown EcoChallenge. “People loved hearing about the impact of Drawdown EcoChallenge, but Sarah’s presentation blew them out of the water,” Lacy said. “Sarah has such energy and passion – I told her she’s a better promoter of EcoChallenge than any of us! Her story of her students getting engaged in Drawdown EcoChallenge and the lessons she created for her classes around it was so compelling that the entire audience gave her a standing ovation. It was an honor and privilege to hear her story and present with her.” 

Another highlight was the seven articulate and passionate young people who shared their stories, advice and requests during the Drawdown Learn youth panel on the last day of the event. They called for more encouragement, more resources, more listening, and more intersectionality from the older adults in the room. Columbia University sophomore, Silas Swanson, pointed out that every young person there was there for themselves and not because they “work for someone.” That allowed them to be more honest than if they had to represent another entity. “We are the leaders of today, and not just tomorrow,” Silas said.

David, Lacy, and other attendees were energized by the solutions focus and the big goals of the Drawdown team and the fruitful collaboration achieved from being in the same room with so many people who not only care, but are acting to make the world a better place.

NWEI looks forward to next year’s event, scheduled for October 18-20 at Omega.

And don’t forget about Drawdown EcoChallenge next year – April 3-24, 2019.

 

Photo credit: Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Asheville High School

October EcoChallenge Starts Today – Are You Ready?

Today we kicked off October EcoChallenge – with over 10,000 participants and more than 700 teams signed up so far, we’re poised to make a stronger impact than any previous year. To celebrate the start of EcoChallenge and to make sure everyone knows what’s needed for a successful (and fun) Challenge, we have a handful of tips and suggestions to share. For more details, be sure to check out our new video and the FAQs.

What are the best ways to show that individual actions add up to significant collective impact?
First, make sure you’ve invited others to join you. Are there co-workers who might like to join your team? What about friends, family, neighbors or classmates? Your network can sign up even after EcoChallenge starts. Sharing the “why” behind your EcoChallenge can motivate others to follow your lead. We encourage you to do a self-assessment to celebrate the actions you’re already doing to live more sustainably (under each EcoChallenge action, there is a box you check to note that you’re “already doing this”).

What can I do from my dashboard?
Your dashboard is your personal hub during EcoChallenge – there’s is so much you can do from it. For starters, this is where you go to add actions or indicate you’ve completed an action. You can also view your action resources, check on your points, and add personality to your dashboard by uploading a profile or banner picture and mission statement—and don’t forget about answering reflection questions from your dashboard.

Do your actions and check-in every day.
Our collective impact is in real time, so make sure you’re checking in every day and logging both your daily actions that you complete and your one-time actions. It all adds up! If you forget to check-in, you can retroactively go back and mark an action as completed. We allow you to check-in retroactively four days back, not including the current day.

Sharing makes it even more fun.
Posting to the Participant Feed is an inspiring way to share your stories, challenges, and learn from others. Your team and other participants can view your posts and offer comments—and high-fives! Don’t forget to share your EcoChallenge stories on social media, too. We’ll make even more of a splash by reminding our networks why we do what we do, and why it’s important for both ourselves personally, and the planet. 

What are EcoChallenge points all about?
During EcoChallenge we challenge you to change a habit that benefits you, your community, and the planet. You choose your challenge, and then earn points for completing your actions, engaging your community, and sharing your story. Your points add up to demonstrate your impact, and help your team win EcoChallenge competitions (if you are engaging in a friendly competition). Every time you check in on the current day, you get points. You can also earn points by posting to the Participant Feed, recruiting participants or a new team. And of course, every time you complete an action you also accrue points. For a full recap on points, click here.

Remember your “Why” and share it.
Whatever your reason for participating in EcoChallenge, remember your “why.” This is what sustains you for not only the duration of the three-week challenge, but more importantly, for a lifetime of making change for good. Take time to consider your own personal inspiration and motivation. Consider sharing your ‘why’ or your Challenge action using the EcoChallenge Selfie on social media with the hashtags #EcoChallenge and #MyEcoChallenge to inspire others.

Whatever your reason, we’re glad we’re on this journey together.

Plastic Pollution: An Interview with Krystina Jarvis, Conservation Specialist at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Northwest Earth Institute joined forces with a network of nearly 60 zoos and aquariums across the country and in Canada for a custom EcoChallenge to challenge its employees to break free from plastic for the month of July. With over 5,200 participants (and counting) taking action, the collective impact is adding up and turning the tide on single-use plastic.

We caught up with Krystina Jarvis, Conservation Specialist and zero-waste advocate at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, to learn more about Plastic-free July EcoChallenge, how it originated, and her journey to a plastic-free lifestyle.

How did you end up working at a zoo?
For most of my life, I wanted to be a zoo keeper. I grew up going to the Cincinnati Zoo and fell in love with zoos—and animals. While studying wildlife science at Ohio State University, I got an internship at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Through this internship I learned that I didn’t want to be a keeper, but I was still immensely passionate about conservation. The following summer, I was again an intern at the Zoo – this time for our Registrar in the business office, which turned into a full-time administrative position. I sat next to the conservation team, which gave me the opportunity to learn more about and engage with their work, and I later had the opportunity to transfer into my current role.

Krystina Jarvis, Conservation Specialist at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

What was the motivation for engaging this network of employees in Plastic-free July EcoChallenge?
Last August, we held our first plastic-free challenge for staff and volunteers – it was more of an awareness campaign and pledge to refuse single-use plastic for the month. We had 193 participants, and pre/post surveys showed the challenge was effective. I presented the results at the annual Zoological Registers Association conference. Deanna Snell from the Calgary Zoo approached me and challenged our zoo to a competition. From there, we decided to extend the challenge to other zoos and aquariums throughout North America.

Deanna and I knew we needed a platform to track our efforts. Our sustainability director here at Columbus was familiar with NWEI’s Discussion Course books and found EcoChallenge—it was everything we had been looking for in a platform. Next year, we’re hoping to extend Plastic-free July EcoChallenge to the public, our visitors, members, and social media followers.

How does plastic affect animals, and what message do you want to send with Plastic-free July EcoChallenge?
The biggest thing we’re seeing with plastic is its impact on our oceans. It’s predicted there will be more plastic than fish in our world’s oceans by 2050. I’ve always thought of our oceans as vast ecosystems, so hearing this stat is heartbreaking. Plastic is also negatively impacting land animals. I try to remind myself and others it’s not all doom and gloom. Plastic pollution is a human-based problem; therefore, it has human-based solutions. We have the power to make change individually – and our individual efforts are putting pressure on large corporations to implement sustainable practices.

What has surprised you about EcoChallenge so far?
The community that has formed around the online Participant Feed. It has been amazing to see everyone sharing their challenges, successes, and experiences. They’re helping each other and celebrating one another. I’m little addicted to the Feed, and I know my counterpart, Deanna, at the Calgary Zoo is too.

How has the EcoChallenge platform contributed to your learning?
What I love about EcoChallenge is it allows you to see what you’re already doing and areas where you can push yourself further. The EcoChallenge platform has nudged me to establish practices I’ve been wanting to implement, such as bringing my own containers for takeout. I typically avoid takeout because of the waste; but now thanks to EcoChallenge, I’ve created the habit.

What is the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium doing to reduce plastic waste?
We’re doing everything we can to get away from single-use plastics. For as long as we can remember, the Zoo has never had plastic straws or bags available. We use compostable cups, plates, and utensils at most of our dining facilities and for all of our events. We also have water refilling stations around Zoo grounds to encourage the use of durable bottles. We’re working on increasing recycling and composting to decrease what we send to landfill (we currently have about a 70-75% diversion rate from landfill). We use TerraCycle for hard-to-recycle items.

What has been the most challenging lifestyle change you’ve made to reduce your plastic footprint?
Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store was difficult at first. As soon as you go into the center aisles, everything is packaged! I have now gotten in the habit of bringing my own containers for bulk and deli foods. Alternatives exist for most single-use plastics; the hardest part is getting started and turning practices into habits.

What’s your favorite “hack” to reduce waste or best advice for reducing plastic?
It’s more of a tip than a hack. I’ve found acting confident with your reusables is important. It can sometimes be intimidating to ask the person behind the counter to use your container or bag. Remember – you’re often teaching them and breaking the status quo. I’ve found most people are willing to use your reusables if you ask in a confident and friendly way. Learn more from Krystina in this short video.

What is your favorite zoo animal?
It’s a tie between lions and okapis (okapis look like a cross between zebras and horses). I’ve always loved big cats – lions are why I got into conversation work. Lions were my first animal love, but then the okapi stole my heart.

 

In honor of Plastic-free July, we’re having a fun contest to spread the plastic-free message, and we’d love to hear from you. We want to see how you’re choosing to refuse single-use plastic. Get all the contest details here.

Asheville High School Students Step Up for Drawdown EcoChallenge

In April students from Asheville High school in Asheville, North Carolina wowed us with their performance in Drawdown EcoChallenge, a three-week challenge to reduce global warming. The group of 512 students (representing nearly half the student body) came in 1st place out of 767 teams. They showed us students today are smart, care about the environment (and other issues), and are powerful advocates for our future. The students’ reward for 1st place: a one-hour video chat with renowned environmentalist, Paul Hawken, founder and executive director of Project Drawdown.   

Today’s guest blog post is from Sarah Duffer, a teacher at Asheville High School and coordinator of the impressive student team.

News of Drawdown EcoChallenge came across my email early in the spring of 2018. Hungry for an engaging way to teach my content I enrolled our school. I pitched the competition to students the week before our spring break (which also happened to be the first week of the competition). To my surprise, a handful of students used their spring break, like me, to delve into EcoChallenge. Asheville High School logo

Their work quelled any questions I had about teenagers’ reception to the competition. Once we returned from break, our work began. I created ten assignments that aligned with my curriculum and were focused on five of the seven Drawdown sectors: energy, land use, food, women and girls, and materials. Momentum was building on campus, and soon students in other classrooms and even clubs were getting involved.

Tragedy struck our school community on April 18 when one of our high school students, his middle school sister, and their mother were shot and killed at home. Our community was jarred in shock and grief. The two siblings were well known and loved by many of our students, and for the rest of that week learning took the backseat to grieving. This time, for me, was marked by the dichotomy of monumental loss on one hand and the promise of winning a competition that by then spanned 767 teams worldwide.

By Monday, April 23, it was clear that as the Earth rotated we were leapfrogging with anothert team for first place. Students were getting excited about the possibility of teenagers outcompeting a multinational corporation. I sent out campus-wide emails on the last day of the competition with a plea for a final push to earn over 22,000 points to secure first place. That morning was one of the most jaw dropping moments of my career as I periodically checked the dashboard and saw the massive gains we were earning. Students were learning about tangible, everyday solutions to arguably our planet’s greatest problem. On an emotional level, I saw smiles on faces for the first time in a week. I will never forget how our Asheville High School students bound together in the midst of enormous heartache and worked toward a common goal while learning how to create a more promising future.

Asheville High School students participating in a live video chat with Paul Hawken.

When the possibility of winning Drawdown EcoChallenge became real, I was in awe that we would have an hour of Paul Hawken’s attention. I was first introduced to his business paradigm-shifting The Ecology of Commerce as an UNC-Asheville student in Dr. Dee Egger’s Strategies for Sustainability in Business course. To educate students on who Mr. Hawken is and what he has done for the social justice and environmental movements, we researched his past accomplishments and read his Drawdown essays.

Students wrote at least two questions they wanted to ask him. The top fourteen questions were selected from standard, honors, and AP students. Students asked questions and Mr. Hawken gave thorough, candid answers. Many students and faculty were deeply inspired and affirmed in their quest to continue the work we have ahead of us as we adopt the solutions in Drawdown.

Asheville High’s greatest accomplishments, in my opinion, were matching and surpassing every minute of the three-week competition with minutes spent learning.

Our work together not only earned us the honor of being the first place team in the inaugural Drawdown EcoChallenge, by a groundbreaking 31,000 point lead, but reinforced to teenagers and adults alike that today’s youth are indeed changemakers.

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