line decor
Road with trees on both sides
simple living for a sustainable future  
line decor
line decor


discussion circles | what they discuss

choices for sustainable living (csl)

The readings in Choices for Sustainable Living promote reflection about how our lifestyle choices impact the Earth. Circle participants:

  • explore the meaning of sustainablity;
  • consider the ties between their lifestyle choices and their impact on the earth;
  • learn about steps that can be taken to move toward ecologically sustainable organizations, lifestyles and communities.

This discussion guide was created and last revised by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in 2009. Topics covered in 8 sessions:

1. A Call to Sustainability: The goal of a sustainable society is popular, but difficult to define. How does the way our society functions affect the earth, and how can we be "a blessing to the planet? Excerpts and Readings:  “Definitions of Sustainability”  ~  “Easter’s End” by Jared Diamond  ~  “Making Other Arrangements“ by Howard Kunstler  ~  “Why Bother?” by Michael Pollan  ~  You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn.

2. Ecological Principles: Some argue that the earth is the best teacher of sustainable practices. How can nature's organizing principles be applied in design, production of goods, and everyday living? Excerpts and Readings: “Footprints to Sustainability” by Professor William E. Rees  ~  “The Technology Factor” by Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich.  ~  “The Personal Impact of No Impact” by Colin Beaven  ~  “Mother Nature’s School of Design” by Janine Benyus  ~  Case Study: “Bear River’s ‘Living Machine’” by Dave Redwood and Sean Kelly

3. Buying: Daily messages tell us to buy, buy, buy. How can we escape from these cultural pressures, and instead only purchase what we truly need, from the most sustainable sources available? Excerpts and Readings: “A Spending Wake-Up Call” by Stacey Burling and Carolyn Davis  ~  “Saving the Earth on the Cheap” by Paul Rauber.  ~  “Buy Now, Pay Later” by Jess Worth  ~  “Plastic Bags are Killing Us” by Katharine Mieszkowski  ~  “What Does ‘Not Buying’ Really Look Like?” by Anna White  ~  “Get What You Need Without Money” by Andrew Korfhage

4. Food: According to one author, our food travels an average of 1300 miles before reaching our plates. How can we lessen our impact on the earth through conscious choices about the way we eat? Excerpts and Readings: “What’s Eating America” by Michael Pollan.  ~  “The Carbon Hoofprint” by Austin Gelder and Lauren Wilcox  ~  “Stalking the Vegetannual” by Barbara Kingsolver.  ~  “Organic Farming May Be the Best Route to Global Food Security” by the Rodale Institute.  ~  “The Dirty Dozen List”  ~  “Five Reasons Not to Drink Bottled Water” by Chris Baskind

5. Communities: Change does not come without people coming together and taking action.  In what ways can your community work towards sustainability?  How can you make your community a sustainable one? Excerpts and Readings:  “The City After Oil” by Richard Register  ~  “If You Build It, Will They Change?” by Bill McKibben  ~  “Building Green Community on a Budget” by Liz Walker  ~  “Cook One Meal, Eat for a Week” by Joelle Novey  ~  “The Common Life” by Scott Russell Sanders  ~  “Forging Friendlier Neighborhoods”

6. Business and Economy: Is a growing economy equivalent to a healthy economy? What are other ways of measuring success, and how can we encourage businesses to adopt sustainable practices and perspectives? Excerpts and Readings: “Detroit Speech” by Robert F. Kennedy  ~  Eco-Economy by Lester R. Brown  ~  “It’s Folly to Save Jobs by Risking a Resource” by Donella Meadows  ~  “Feeding the Beast” by John Ehrenfeld  ~  “The Extravagant Gesture” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart  ~  “Bridging the Green Divide” by David Kupfer  ~  “Breaking Down Buildings, Building Up a Neighborhood” by Holly Dressel

7. Visions of Sustainability: Choices we make today are shaping the world of tomorrow. What are the possible outcomes, and how can we create the most sustainable society for ourselves and our children? Excerpts and Readings: “Tools for the Transition to Sustainability” by Donella Meadows, Jørgen Randers and Dennis Meadows  ~  “Las Gaviotas” by Richard E. White and Gloria Eugenia González Mariño  ~  “Understanding the Social Transformation Process” by Christopher Uhl  ~  “The Great Turning” by Joanna Macy

8. Wrap-Up. This last meeting may happen at a different place and time, and is often a potluck meal. Your group will start by evaluating the circle experience. Then, you'll decide what you wish to do next (together or separately). You will also learn of many ways to stay involved in our wider community of like-minded people. If your group is so inclined, the wrap-up is also a great time to plan a community project together.


see our monthly announcement or get in touch with your neighborhood's volunteer point of contact to find out about circles who are about to discuss this guide. Or, order a guide and start your own.

Cover of Choices for Sustainable Living guide

local opinions about this guide

csl 2-sided description (PDF, 133 KB), with reading list

csl flyer to advertise an intro meeting: Editable (in Word) or fill out by hand, in B/W (PDF 278 KB) or in color (PDF 346 KB)

csl 2009 evaluation form (PDF, 112 KB) and csl 2009 blank charts (PDF, 134 KB) - If you're sharing or re-using a guide

csl circle schedule PDF, 50 KB | MS Word, 75 KB

how to reduce your carbon footprint (PDF, 100 KB), useful resource developed by SMEI volunteers Michael Hartman and Lore Rosenthal

discuss these issues online in one of our four yahoogroups

videos about sustainability issues discussed in this guide

Introducer / mentor sampler CSL 2009 (PDF, 996 KB), includes all action plan charts from several sessions