Sustainability organization has big changes in store for 20th year

The Northwest Earth Institute is planning to have a lot more than cake and punch when it observes its 20th anniversary today, May 16.

The sustainability organization is launching Change for Good, a campaign that is intended to greatly accelerate the pace of reaching people about changing their lives and having a positive impact on the health of planet Earth.

The NWEI has already had a big influence on making Portland an oasis of sustainability. But zeal for change is stronger than ever.

"We have 8,500 people participating in our events every year," said Mike Mercer, NWEI executive director. "We would like to get that number to 20,000 within the next few years."

The first thing people will notice is that the NWEI logo will change. But the real deal changer is a transformation of the organization's website and online platform with NWEI Online. Usually, people are motivated to join NWEI through contact with a member. Starting today, Mercer expects people to join because of the platform.

"It will inspire people," Mercer said. "It will connect them to a larger movement. We want to make it easy for them to connect to NWEI, then make it easy for them to influence their circle of influence."

To do this the NWEI must bridge the immense "Say-Do Gap."

"People are not lazy hypocrites," Mercer said. "They just have such busy lives. We want to elevate the importance of issues and make it fun, creative and impelling."

Basically, Mercer wants to have a lot more people in NWEI like Betsy Arias. She has been active in the organization almost from the beginning and has helped make the Lake Oswego-West Linn area one of the main bastions of support for NWEI.

"I really like the NWEI model," said Arias, who is a pharmacist. "It is really part of my community. I've learned there is only so much you can do on your own to make yourself healthier. To make yourself really healthy you need to help make the world healthier."

With that motto in mind, Arias has spent the last 17 years mentoring, teaching classes and heading up special projects. She is optimistic about the changes planned for NWEI's anniversary.

"They're changing with the times," she said. "They're becoming more savvy with the Internet and getting younger people involved."

The anniverary party will start at 6 p.m. today at the Leftbank Annex in Portland. NWEI has influenced people around the world to make small steps that lead to big changes for our planet.

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