A Match Made in Heaven: Green Energy/Sustainability and Religion
October 23, 2012

?"You must treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children. II - Kenyan Proverb

?"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof 11 Psalms 24:1?

These passages instruct that humankind should be stewards of this earth. As stewards, humans and church bodies are called to protect, care for, and cultivate the earth. There are many specific opportunities for individuals and institutions to invest in clean energy and sustainability.

While conservation and giving back to the earth is consistent with the philosophy and mission of many religions, it also makes good business and economic sense. "We cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past." the Pope wrote, calling for "a new ecological awareness" that leads to "concrete programs and initiatives." In May 2007, the Vatican announced it was "going green" and had expanded its mission for saving souls to include saving the planet.

Many churches and religious organizations own, maintain, and operate numerous worship, educational, community, and administrative facilities. As such, they face similar concerns regarding energy costs as do other property and large asset owners. In addition, many religious organizations have significant land holdings and a large audience of followers to which they can exemplify environmental stewardship. In recent years, various parishes around the United States have increased efforts to become sustainable church communities; these parishes have improved water use and energy efficiency and have implemented environmentally conscious programs such as recycling and composting to reduce energy bills and encourage sustainability.

But there is still much more that religious organizations could do. For example, according to Kristen Hannum, author of Our Lady of Waste Management from the March 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic, if all of the 307,000 Christian congregations in the United States cut their energy consumption by 25% to 30%, the congregations would save nearly half a trill ion dollars and 13.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. Undoubtedly, a large-scale environmental sustainability movement on church lands, unused or otherwise, would have a lasting impact on both the church and the globe.

Some examples of both large- and small-scale environmental efforts that religious organizations should consider include placing wind turbines on vacant properties, building solar farms, initiating church construction projects with a "green" focus, planting community gardens, or even simply placing a recycling bin in the church cafeteria and using recyclable materials. All of the suggestions below would require careful planning and analysis of legal considerations, such as zoning, property ownership, leasing, construction, health code compliance, Insurance, and a host of other issues. For starters, here are some ideas to foster significant discussions within your religious institution:

Wind energy - Wind energy is one of the most environmentally sound sources of energy. It is an affordable, efficient, and inexhaustible source of electricity and it is harnessed by an effective mechanism: the wind turbine. Currently, many farms and ranches lease a portion of their land for wind turbine systems, a profitable and sustainable arrangement. For example, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, on a 250-acre piece of land, a lease for wind turbine systems can generate more than $14,000 of profit per year without using more than three acres of land. What's more, the energy being used is pollution free. Consequently, wind energy leases on underused or unoccupied church lands would be both financially and environmentally responsible. While some wind turbines are large (l 43-ft blades [just under 1.5 acres] on a 256-ft tower, totaling 399 feet), and wind turbine farms can be used o n larger acreages, there are also smaller wind turbines that can be placed on roofs of churches, administrative buildings, or even residences that would produce the same desired effect.

Solar energy - Solar energy can be captured to create electricity or heat, it is free and infinite, and it produces no polluting emissions. Because this is another effective and environmentally sound method of harnessing energy, homeowners, farms, and businesses across the United States are installing solar water heaters and solar panels to reduce electricity bills. Solar panels can also be installed over many acres of land- called solar farms. An organization with open acreage o r large buildings can install solar panels to offset their electric bill. If churches with large open land resources were to follow suit and install solar panels on the roofs of some of their buildings or on some of their open acreage, it could save churches a great deal of money. It would also serve as proof that churches care about dean, renewable energy.

Community Gardens - Religious organizations often support and organize food drives and food banks, and provide meals to the needy. An additional mechanism to promote sustainability would be to start community gardens. Gardens have the dual effect of advancing both environmental and social justice agendas because they help promote healthy and sustainable communities while also producing healthy food and increasing environmental awareness. Furthermore, community gardens provide food for low-income families, strengthen community bonds, and serve as a source of community education on health and sustenance. Two examples of successful community gardening programs are the "P-Patch Community Gardens" and the "Denver Urban Gardens," located in Seattle and Denver, respectively. These city-wide programs create significant and lasting change at the community level: they offer people the opportunity to fight hunger and poor nutrition, and to improve their lives and neighborhoods. Religious organizations could implement community gardens on their lands and serve as a beacon for not just the faithful, but for entire neighborhoods and communities. These gardens could be viewed as valuable church service projects that teach their youth how to build greenhouses, and provide a general understanding of agriculture and horticulture. If your organization has an interest in creating a community garden, please be aware that you may need to address local zoning and health code issues prior to starting such a project.

?"Green" Building - Green construction is not just a fad; many businesses are requiring that their construction projects have an environmentally sustainable focus. They understand that consumers and business partners value efforts such as the U.S. Green Building Council's push for LEED certification. This certification affirms that construction projects are environmentally responsible, profitable, and provide a healthy environment for people to live and work. Every church has gone through a capital campaign and building project in some form or another. Adding a green component at the outset of any future building project is simply a smarter, more economical starting point. The Mormon Church recently debuted a pilot building program which features bike racks, preferred parking for electric or environmentally friendly vehicles, low-water landscaping, and even sensors that track the weather and shut off sprinkler systems if need be. In this way, the Mormon Church is both reducing its imprint on the environment and setting an example for others.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Other simple sustainability mechanisms include initiating a recycling program and using recyclable materials (e.g., recycled paper for church bulletins and recycled paper cups for communion or coffee during fellowship). Others might consider purchasing a hybrid vehicle for the church. In addition, water-saving technology and energy efficient lighting will help make church buildings more environmentally friendly.

There are many ways religious institutions can improve their own carbon footprint. The question of "why" just plain makes sense -- economically and morally. Humans are stewards of the earth.

?"Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity." Titus 1:7-9

We can assist religious institutions in leading a discussion or implementing any of the initiatives mentioned above -- please give us a call.

?"Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." 2 Corinthians 9:6