Skip to content
Kim Smith (1).jpg
Blog / Then & Now: Uniting Education + Climate Action

Then & Now: Uniting Education + Climate Action

“With the discussion courses, Northwest Earth Institute helped explain why you should change how you think and live when it comes to sustainability,” Kim says. “Now, focuses on how to make that change. People need to know both to make a difference.” From understanding the 'why' to executing the 'how,' Kim Smith's journey with, from its early days as NWEI, embodies this evolution of thought and action.

As an early leader of discussion book sessions, Kim Smith took’s behavior change foundation to heart – her own home now has high-efficiency insulation, solar panels, triple-paned windows, and her yard uses permaculture practices. Recalling her early experiences, Kim shares a memory of Mike Mercer, the former Executive Director, who inspired her to embrace simple, actionable steps towards sustainability. She notes, “My first Ecochallenge was to put a bucket in the shower to collect the water as it heats up.” One small step that led her to a lifelong commitment to broader change.

When she began teaching at Portland Community College in 1996, Kim didn’t leave her ethos behind. She integrated discussion book materials into her curriculum and developed a framework for other educators to do the same. With the launch of the first Ecochallenge itself, she made participation a part of her course requirements – with over 1,000 of her students participating over the years. All of this, along with her work with PCC’s Green Team and later the Teaching Learning Center propelled Portland Community College to be voted No. 1 community college in the nation for their sustainability and climate change efforts – now with a sustainability office and a five-year action plan to achieve climate justice.

“We were trying to change the culture of PCC,” Smith said, “and we did.”

Kim’s impact extends beyond the classroom through her work with the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network (GPSEN), with NWEI as one of its original co-founders. GPSEN was later recognized by the United Nations University for its contributions to sustainable development education. Through GPSEN, Kim has helped spread's model globally, earning accolades for its innovative approach to community engagement and behavior change.

Kim reflects, “The social nature of is unique. The core mission is all about community building, and that is an incredible tool. The team-building piece is so important to its success. My students said they needed the structure, the timeline, and the encouragement to take actions and change habits. Team building is so powerful.

Have a story to share?

Click one of the buttons below to either record a short video or answer three brief questions about your journey.

Transportation - DD - SizedforWeb.jpg

Write Your Story

Answer three brief questions about your journey

Write Your Story Write Your Story

Video Your Story

Record a short video of your experience

Record Your Story Record Your Story

Consider making a donation to

Whether it's for #GivingTuesday or your end-of-the-year giving plan, considering supporting Donations go directly to keeping our public Ecochallenges free and open to the public.

create more environmental + social good