GREEN CONGREGATION PROGRAM
BUILDINGS AND GROUNDS: Action Plan
Policy/pledge: We agree to assess the destructive impact that our activities and the use and maintenance of our property may have upon creation—in such matters as energy use, toxic products, paper use, water use, waste, transportation, among others. We will strive to make choices that lessen our negative impact on the earth and that serve to renew and restore the earth community.
People: Governing board, Property Committee, maintenance staff, purchasing agent, head of the kitchen, all members of the community.
Goal: To reduce the negative ecological imprint of the building and grounds of the congregation in regard to every aspect of the physical area of the congregation, and in turn to create an Earth-friendly zone of the congregational property that promotes restoration and sustainability.
Actions: Here are some things that can be done to carry out these commitments.
A. Consultation :
Find ways for environmental factors to become an integral part of the maintenance and remodeling projects of the congregation. Request that a Green Team member be represented at some council meetings and property committee meetings that address issues impacting the environment. Meet annually with the maintenance staff to go over various areas to address in the action plan for each year. Develop a respectful and collaborative relationship. Remember: property folks are often working with severe limitations of time and money. They have their own concerns that may trump environmental issues. Public criticism of their efforts can be counterproductive.
B. Do a Comprehensive Environmental Inventory.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. There is a Comprehensive Environmental Guide available on the Web of Creation site that can be used for this purpose. This is an extensive and thorough guide designed to enable you to do a complete survey of your property and make many important changes. You may download the guide from the website or contact us for a hard copy.
The Comprehensive Environmental Guide deals with 12 areas: Energy Use; Paper and Wood Products; Water Use; Cleaning Products; Indoor Air Quality; Recycling and Waste; Coffee Hour, Potlucks, and Other Congregational Events; Worship, Education, and Office Practices; Food Choices; Nature Inside and Out; and Transportation. The introduction suggests ways to use the guide.
This is a major undertaking, but nothing is more important than the concrete actions we take to lessen our ecological imprint on the Earth and seek to provide a building and grounds that are healthy for the environment. The guide can be used in any order and may be broken up for piecemeal assessments. Determine what areas it is feasible to address and revisit the guide regularly to assess what new actions can be taken.
Please consult the Comprehensive Environmental Guide in order to learn about many resources and links needed to do your inventory.
C. Here are some specific areas that might be addressed. All of these are covered in greater detail in the Comprehensive Environmental Guide:
1. Energy for lighting: Retrofitting current lights with new and improved lighting saves fossil fuels and money. Replacing just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light saves the burning of five hundred pounds of coal over the ten year lifetime of that bulb. LED bulbs go even further. Many states and some federal programs offer rebates and incentives for changes that will save energy for lighting. You first step will be to inquire about the services and incentives offered by your local energy company. Many energy companies have extensive programs designed to lower energy use, especially in support of non-profit organizations—free energy audits, reports about specific actions to take, free energy saving devices (such as faucet aerators), and incentives for products and labor. Make full use of these benefits.
2. Energy for heating and cooling: An energy audit for heating may also turn up some feasible ways in which you can conserve in the production of heating and air conditioning. Again, local and state energy companies are often eager to do free audits and make recommendations. Many states and some federal programs offer rebates, incentives, and tax benefits for changes that will save energy on heating and air conditioning. Pay backs will help to offset the initial costs.
3. Renewable energy: Get off the non-renewable energy grid altogether. Some congregations have gone to renewable energy. This is especially worth considering if you have a school or day care in your building or other programs that make extensive use of the facility. Some are turning to a geothermal energy source. Others are using solar energy for heating water or for outside lights. Due to advances in technology and the shorter times for payback, all of these options are becoming more attractive. It is worth looking into these options. Again, energy companies or state/federal organizations may offer incentives to assist with the upfront costs. You will be surprised by the incentives and support offered by companies and government agencies that make these options much more affordable then you might think.
4. Water use: Limit water use: install aerators on the faucets, put pressure stops on faucets, eliminate automatic flush systems for toilets, repair leaks immediately, and minimize watering of lawn and gardens. To avoid runoff and conserve, install rain barrels, put in rain gardens, and landscape with low-maintenance lawns and native plants.
5. Recycling: Seek to develop a comprehensive recycling program for the church buildings—plastic, cans, glass, office paper, card board, among others. You may also want to set up a small recycling corner for members to recycle items at church that they might otherwise throw away, such as cell phones, printer cartridges, household batteries, plastic bags, and so on. Post instructions near the receptacles. Encourage members of the congregation to participate actively. Designate certain Sundays for members to bring their recyclables. Once recyclables are collected, your church will need to provide a regular way to dispose of them safely.
6. Lawn maintenance: Avoid pesticides and herbicides; avoid chemical fertilizer; where feasible mow with a hand mower or one that is battery powered; consider planting low maintenance grass; avoid watering, especially during a drought. There are many resources now available to create and maintain healthy and attractive lawns in Earth-friendly ways.
7. Green Cleaning products: Do a comprehensive inventory of products used in the maintenance of the church. Reduce or eliminate toxic products used in the maintenance of the buildings. Environmentally safe products are now available for most cleaning jobs at competitive prices.
8. Coffee Hour and Potlucks: Offer Fair Trade coffee and tea; provide snacks that are healthy; offer organic and/or locally grown food. Make efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper products. Provide a mug rack. Wash dishes and utensils with eco-friendly dishwashing liquid. Purchase an Energy Star dishwasher. Consider cloth napkins and tablecloths. Avoid food waste and compost leftover food. Eliminate soda machines.
9. Paper products: Do an inventory of paper purchases and seek to purchase recycled/ post-consumer waste paper for worship and office use as well as for bathroom and kitchen use. Develop guidelines for the use of office paper by staff and volunteers—to reduce, use fully, and recycle. Make use of paperless electronic means of communication where feasible.
10. Green Your Worship Practices: Here are some ideas to make your worship practices more Earth-friendly: use beeswax candles instead of oil-based candles; place plants on the altar instead of cut flowers; send them home for planting; use local wine that does not require transportation from a distance; provide organic, whole grain communion bread; use recycled paper for printed materials; reduce/reuse/recycle or eliminate bulletins; place recycling baskets at the exits; practice intinction, common cup, or provide reusable glasses (not plastic) for communion; wash communion vessels in eco-friendly dishwashing detergent; purchase fair trade palms for Palm Sunday; consider the origin of material used to make paraments.
11. Make the most of your property: Assess the possibilities for land use. Consider having a community garden with produce given to local food pantries. Return a section of your land to prairie with native plants. Plant an orchard or a tree sanctuary. Put out benches for meditation. Create a labyrinth.
D. Conservation practices: In addition to providing efficient, energy-saving devices and appliances, take opportunities to foster conservation among the use that members make of the building: recycling bulletins after services, turning off lights when leaving a room, not letting the water run unnecessarily, not putting recyclable items in trash bins, and so on. Go around the building and post friendly signs to remind members to do these practices.
E. Institutionalize It: If some new initiatives begin as a voluntary effort, seek to institutionalize the effort as quickly as possible, so that it becomes part of the regular work of the staff. Volunteers come and go and have periods when they cannot do the work. Make it a permanent part of the life of the congregation. Write it into the job description of an employee or a committee of the church or the standard procedures of event planning.
F. Monthly Emphasis: Set up a calendar to organize a monthly emphasis to care for God’s creation. Choose relevant concerns: water month, energy month, transportation month, forest month, and so on (see http://www.webofcreation.org/congregational-theme-months). Correlate the months with the natural seasons and/or the seasons of the church year: green Christmas preparations for Advent, lighting energy for Epiphany, heat energy in winter, transportation for a summer month, green gardening for spring, and so on. For each month, use the resources in the Environmental Guide to educate people about the problem, name actions they may take at church and at home to alleviate the problem and to restore creation, and invite people to covenant to do such actions. Then use newsletters, bulletin announcements, personal testimony at worship, bulletin boards, e-mails, and means to encourage people to participate.
G. Promote what you do!
Be sure to announce actions to the congregation. Use each environmentally-friendly practice that is adopted as a means to educate people generally to the importance of greening your institution. If the parish building and grounds function as laboratory and model for members and visitors, then you need to display the efforts being made. Remember also that the comings and goings of members of a congregation make it necessary to re-announce actions and efforts each year.