The Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI), a local member nonprofit of EarthShare Oregon, was founded in 1993 with a simple objective: to give people a framework to talk about our relationship with the planet, and to share in discovering better ways to live, work, create and consume. NWEI provides fun, interactive tools and platforms, including Sustainability Discussion Courses and team-fueled EcoChallenges. As their October Challenge kicks off, we asked the team at NWEI to share more about their program.
Q: What inspired the creation of the NWEI EcoChallenge program? Why is it important?
We have been moved by the feedback on our Discussion Course books for the past 25 years. We knew they made a difference in the lives of individuals and communities but we did not know how much. EcoChallenge is a way to share out all the good actions people are taking and inspire new actions and new behaviors among a larger community of people across the world. This is important because we need to focus on the things we can do, the solutions we can implement, and the things we can accomplish collectively.
Q: Why is the EcoChallenge an effective way to get people to make changes in their daily lives?
Most people have something they’d like to do differently – eat less sugar, bike to work, throw fewer things away – but they just need a little extra incentive to turn intention into action. EcoChallenge meets people where they are to help them take that first step to change. EcoChallenge is built on four qualities that research shows lead to successful behavior change: it is sequential (one step at a time), rewarding, social, and personally transformative. By connecting people with those around them, we start the shift from individual behavior change to broader cultural change. We see cultural change as absolutely essential in creating a more sustainable world.
Q: What are some of the most commonly adopted Challenge activities that people opt into?
People really connect with opportunities for personal transformation, like reducing food waste; spending more time outside; committing to five-minute showers; incorporating meatless meals; and exercising daily.
Q: What has EcoChallenge achieved so far?
More than 60,000 people have participated since the program began in 2010. The program has grown considerably in the past three years, with participation for 2018 alone expected to approach 40,000. Thousands of workplaces, schools, and communities have participated in the EcoChallenge. In our 2017 October EcoChallenge, 83 countries and 2,100 cities were represented!
More than a million actions have been taken since 2014, resulting in up to 1,260,038 gallons of water being conserved, more than 120,000 plastic bottles saved from landfills, and more.
Q: How do participants feel about their involvement? Do they see real impact in their daily lives?
The Feedback has been inspiring! Some have shared that learning to do one small thing a day for their community may seem minor to them, but is a big deal to someone in need. Others appreciated that the program pushed them to learn and do more, even when they considered themselves to be fairly aware of their habits and impact. They’ve also shared tangible results from their workplaces as the result of participating. One company, for example, reduced its distribution of straws at all three of its pub locations by more than 38% and at one location by more than 60%.
We always like to hear that the program has inspired healthier decisions, too. One participant shared: “I learned that you really need to invest in yourself first. If we would all take the time and effort we could do so much more for others because we are rested, at peace, healthy, and focused.”
Perhaps most importantly, people are encouraged to discover that despite the overwhelming challenges our environment faces, what they do on a personal level really does matter: “After completing this challenge I learned that it doesn’t matter if you are the only one doing something for the world because small actions make big changes!” said another participant.
Q: What are other ways people can get involved?
NWEI offers a suite of Discussion Course books that are designed to be self-led and flexible to meet any group’s size and goals.
And of course, everyone is invited to participate in our free, public EcoChallenge events twice each year! In addition to our October EcoChallenge, in April 2019 we’ll be partnering with Project Drawdown to offer another Drawdown Challenge.