Over the past 23 years, NWEI has evolved into an organization that lives its values by providing a flexible, family-friendly work environment, encouraging staff to recharge with annual personal retreats, offering a sabbatical for long-term employees, and revisiting our practices and policies regularly to ensure that we continue to evolve and grow. We aspire to be sustainable in all that we do, which includes creating a work environment that is sustainable for the long-term.
This year marks Deborah McNamara’s, NWEI’s Director of Organizational Partnerships, 10th year on staff with NWEI! Deb is currently taking the first NWEI staff sabbatical, but before she headed out I had a chance to ask her how NWEI has shaped her life over the past decade.
What inspired you to work with NWEI and what was your role when you started in 2006?
I actually applied three times for different positions at NWEI before I was hired. I had the strong sense I was meant to work here – and I was drawn to NWEI’s model of meeting people where they are: at work, in the neighborhood, at church, or with friends and family. I started as a National Outreach Coordinator, working with the growing network of people outside of the Pacific Northwest who were organizing NWEI discussion courses and forming regional partner organizations or “sister earth institutes.”
Your persistence paid off, Deb! You’re the longest-tenured employee and at the 10 year mark, which is incredible. What are you most proud of in your tenure at NWEI?
I’m proud to have stayed with NWEI throughout several significant transitions – and to be part of NWEI’s transformation and evolution into becoming what I think is one of the most amazing places to work. I’ve always known I am in environmental work for the long haul. It is some of the most important work of our times, and the Earth Institute is playing a key role in engaging and inspiring people to make choices with sustainability in mind. I’m honored to be a part of this work, and to have played a part in creating the impact we have had. When I came on board we had reached 70,000 participants in our programs. Now we are at over 175,000 and growing. I love being part of an organization that works with all kinds of people, and not only people who necessarily identify as being ‘green.’
What is your favorite NWEI discussion course?
My favorite NWEI course is Voluntary Simplicity. I appreciate that this is a cornerstone NWEI offering, especially as it points to some of the deeps roots of the environmental challenges we face: rampant consumerism and being in a culture stretched to the limits in so many ways. We are asking people to take greater responsibility for Earth – and an essential first step is to offer ways for people to clarify their values and prioritize making time for what is truly important. For me, Voluntary Simplicity does just that. It reminds me to create space for what is most important in my life, and to put my time, energy and money towards these things. It’s a message that cuts though the vast cultural noise, along with a reminder to slow down and reassess over and over again how I’m living (or not) in alignment with my values.
You’ve participated in the EcoChallenge every year since it started. What’s one action that you’re still doing now that started as an EcoChallenge?
The power of the EcoChallenge each year is that it gives me and my family a chance to try something new – or to recommit to something that has fallen off the radar. One year I didn’t drive my car and committed to taking the kids everywhere by bus. Another year we went zero waste. Other years we’ve cut out plastics or I’ve focused on different advocacy initiatives, such as encouraging companies to eliminate non-recyclable packaging. Each EcoChallenge gives me the opportunity to be an activist about something I care about, and to engage my kids in joining me to make a positive difference.
Perhaps the most lasting EcoChallenge was the one I did last year, which was to involve my three boys in taking care of the places we love. We committed to picking up trash at the parks we visit, and to helping to keep our community clean and beautiful. The habit has stayed with us. My three boys are now very astute in noticing garbage on the ground anywhere we go and they know they can do something about it. It was simple, but it has empowered us for the long term.
When you think ahead another ten years to 2026, what do you hope for the world? For yourself?
I am hopeful that the climate movement will continue to pick up steam, and that more and more people globally will join the massive efforts already underway to reverse current patterns of ecological degradation. I’m rooting for more and more people to connect with the places they love, and in turn be inspired to take action. I’m rooting for a massive slow down on all fronts. For myself, I’m committed to a lifetime of working in service of life. Ten years from now, my three sons will be teenagers! I hope I will be able to tell them that all of our efforts have indeed culminated in a thriving, sustainable future – where there will of course be more work to undertake – but we will be fully on track in preserving and protecting this beautiful place we call home.