Our Common Dream – NWEI’s Commitment to Equity

This photo was taken by NWEI staff member Lacy Cagle, who lives in St. Louis. After unrest in her neighborhood last fall, the South Grand Community Improvement District invited local artists to paint the plywood on all of the broken windows. This was one of the paintings.

By Lacy Cagle

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” – David Orr

“I have a dream…” In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered one of the most famous and moving speeches in our history. In this speech, Dr. King repeated again and again his dream of an America that was just, equitable and truly free for all of its citizens.

“I have a dream…” In 1993, NW Earth Institute founders Dick and Jeanne Roy took a giant step in realizing their dream, a dream of a sustainable world, where humans work in collaboration with the systems of the natural world, and founded the NW Earth Institute. NW Earth Institute’s original  mission was “motivating individuals to examine and transform personal values and habits, to accept responsibility for the Earth and to act on that commitment.”

As an organization committed to systems thinking, we constantly find ourselves growing, changing, and understanding things differently. In the past twenty two years, our idea of what sustainability encompasses and should encompass has evolved. We have always seen justice as an integral part of our sustainability vision. But in recent years, it has become clear that a successful sustainability movement must reflect the true diverse landscape of our communities. The trouble is, many communities across this nation have a history of systematically denying people of color access to healthy environments and important decision-making processes, as well as important resources needed to combat environmental inequities. For NWEI to continue inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth, we must make a conscious effort to include all community members at the table as we collect and share stories of change. We as an organization have come to realize that we need to more intentionally make a commitment to justice in our programs and policies. We have come to see Dr. King’s dream and our founders’ dream as inextricably connected. And we’ve realized that we need to roll our sleeves up and work harder to make these connected dreams a reality.

Here are a few ways that we’ve been working toward this goal:

  • In 2011, NW Earth Institute intern Melanie Horton conducted an environmental justice survey with NW Earth Institute course participants. She found that 90% of respondents agree or strongly agree that environmental issues and social justice issues are inextricably linked. She also found that 88% of respondents wanted to learn more about how to create more inclusive organizations through relationship building and collaboration.
  • In April 2014, NW Earth Institute released Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability, a discussion course that connects the dots among three of the most pressing problems the world faces. With this course the NW Earth Institute turned in a slightly new direction, intentionally articulating that peace and justice are inextricably linked with environmental sustainability.
  • A little over a year ago, we published a blog with this title: “We Stand with Ferguson – The Connections of Peace, Justice and Sustainability.” In the blog, NW Earth Institute called on the environmental community to “disturb the false peace of the status quo, the false peace of injustice and inequity.”
  • This year, NW Earth Institute participated in an eight-month Equity Cohort through the Intertwine Alliance. As a participant in the Equity Cohort, we created an NWEI Equity Task Force (comprised of staff and board members), completed and internal equity assessment, and made a commitment to use an “equity lens” when creating new programs. And here we are today, still working toward a world that is environmentally sustainable, truly peaceful, equitable and just. We are still putting our hope into action and working toward this big Dream.

This is NW Earth Institute’s Equity Vision:

  • NW Earth Institute seeks to ensure that people have a systems view and act on that view, realizing the impact of their actions on other communities.
  • We seek to tell stories — stories of people from a variety of ethnicities, races, experiences and backgrounds; and stories that speak to people from a variety of ethnicities, races, experiences and backgrounds.
  • NW Earth Institute aspires to a world in which the human circle of compassion, in thought and deed, extends to all people, where skin color, daily experience and opportunity differ widely.

This vision will drive our efforts to integrate equity into our policies, programs and practices and our continuing work toward a future that is just, equitable and free. We invite you to join us in working toward this vision, this Dream.

*Do you have resources, thoughts or ideas for us on these issues? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at contact@nwei.org or leave us a comment here. 


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