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Seeing is Believing

Congregations are realizing they have a responsibility to set an example and be stewards of the earth. While environmental stewardship may be implemented in a variety of programs such as purchasing eco-friendly cleaning supplies, planting an organic flower and vegetable garden on the grounds, and recycling, the opportunity with the largest potential impact on the bottom line is energy conservation.

There are approximately 350,000 houses of worship in the United States. Energy use represents the greatest negative environmental impact of the average house of worship.[1] Greenfaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment, believes it’s time for communities of faith to become leaders in the fight against climate change through energy conservation – saving valuable funds to invest in religious activity and outreach.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, congregations collectively spend close to $2 billion on energy annually and energy costs are the second highest fixed cost after personnel. But energy use, specifically lighting, is a way to reduce costs. Tremendous advances in technology and engineering make it possible to achieve a significant reduction in energy use and expenditures. Most congregations can cut utility costs by up to 30 percent through strategic investment in energy efficiency.[2]

If America’s houses of worship reduced their energy usage by just 10 percent:

  • Nearly $200 million could be saved
  • More than 5.4 billion in kWh would be available without additional cost or pollution
  • More than 2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented [3]

Religious Organizations Take the Lead
Numerous religious organizations are in the forefront of energy conservation. For example, Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), is an organization that began in California in 1998 whose mission is “to help churches become good stewards of the earth.” To become a member, churches must sign a covenant and pledge to “green” their congregations through various means. Churches who sign IPL’s covenant gain access to resources like a professional energy audit, and support to make changes that can add up to lower bills, less energy waste and a more informed congregation.

The Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition “assists faith groups to preach, teach, model and advocate for sustainable living and ecological justice for all creation. The group works to extend a helping hand to congregations of all denominations that are interested in going green but don’t know where to start.”

Another example is Philadelphia’s Interfaith Coalition on Energy, comprised of the city’s Archdiocese, Board of Rabbis and the Metropolitan Christian Council. The organization’s mission is to inspire congregations to reduce the costs of operating their facilities by guiding them to use measurably less energy and to purchase energy at lower cost.

In a 2008 survey by the National Association of Temple Administrators, nearly 95 percent of Reform (Judaism) congregations in North America have investigated or initiated some form of greening their facilities; and of those that have engaged in major construction recently, 64 percent attempted to use sustainable materials.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution in 1997 calling on members to practice energy efficiency in response to climate change concerns. Leaders in the Church established Episcopal Power and Light to combine the purchasing power of churches and their congregations to buy green power. The aim was to unite communities, empower congregations, and build bridges among different religions with the goal of reducing the threat of climate change. The US National Council of Churches, with about 340,000 congregations, and the World Council of Churches are developing similar programs.

These are just a few of the many faith-based organizations leading the drive to reduce congregations’ energy consumption and expenses.

The Calling
Demand for sustainable houses of worship is being driven on multiple fronts. The need for healthier environments, the role that religious institutions should play to lead this charge, and the ever increasing energy prices, coupled with a challenging economy, has grabbed the attention of congregations’ clergy and lay leaders. But certainly not all 350,000 congregations are looking to build new, sustainable facilities; many are in need of smaller-scale ways to reduce energy costs.

Typically, lighting can account for a large portion of a congregation’s electricity cost. This means that significant cost savings can be achieved with energy-efficient improvements, and due to continually improving technology, lighting usually provides the highest return-on-investment of major upgrades.[4]

Parking Lot Illumination
One key to making day-to-day operations more energy efficient and more sustainable is through the installation of exterior LED luminaires. Most congregations have parking lots that require illumination and use traditional parking lot lights that consume a staggering 22.2 billion kilowatt-hours per year.[5] Parking lot energy needs could be reduced by more than 40 percent, and maintenance costs could potentially be cut by more than 80 percent with the installation of LED lighting, according to the US Department of Energy.

[1] “Energy Conservation.”
[2] National Council of Churches’ “Bottom Line Ministries that Matter.”
[3] “Congregations: An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities,” Environmental Protection Agency, NationalServiceCenter for Environmental Publications.
[4] Energy Star®: “Putting Energy ito Stewardship, Congregation Guide.” December 2007
[5] Facilities Engineering Journal, March/April 2009 issue, page 34, “Parking Lot Lighting System Saves Energy.”

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