When most Americans think of faith communities they don't necessarily think of environmentalism. Yet across the nation groups of believers from a wide range of religions are taking steps to protect the planet for future generations.
Despite only recently rising to public prominence in America, the relationship between environmentalism and religion has a long history. According to many religious leaders, the relationship began with the first creation story. "Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because 'creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works', and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind," said Pope Benedict XVI in his January 1, 2010 message for the World Day of Peace.
The American religious community is very diverse, but the theological arguments for environmentalism are often similar between different religions: To destroy and waste the environment is to disrespect God's creations, the argument goes, so humanity should look after God's creations instead of exploiting them. Jews,Muslims, Christians, and interfaith groups are all organizing locally and nationally to protect the environment and live greener lives.
Acting locally is a major tenet of the green movement, and places of worship are a great place to spark local action. They are often focal points in their community and therefore a good place to start a dialogue about anything from climate change to the efficient use of resources. Changing how a place of worship uses energy can inspire others to do the same, and have other positive effects, too.According to Energy Star, a government-supported program that sets international standards for energy-efficient consumer products, if America's more than 370,000 places of worship were to cut energy usage by 10 percent, they could save nearly $315 million and more than 1.8 billion kWh of electricity would be available. More than 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented—that's equivalent to taking 240,000 cars off the road or planting nearly 300,000 acres of trees. Clearly, faith communities can produce huge benefits for the planet by going green.
There are already huge successes. The United Methodist-related Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, is the second institution of higher education to go completely carbon neutral. The First Baptist Church of Orlando invested in greening their facilities, and in 20 months have saved $792,000 in utility cost reductions.And St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Monroe, Georgia has managed to save 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water through their own efforts to keep their church green.
Places of worship are used for different reasons at different times, and they are even designed differently than other buildings. That can make it hard to figure out how to keep your place of worship green. Here are some tips and resources for faith communities looking to green their places of worship:
- Congregational buildings have energy-use patterns that differ from other buildings. Energy usage often fluctuates widely between days, instead of staying constant. If services happen on Sunday, why schedule a choir rehearsal on Wednesday? To cut down on energy usage, schedule events on consecutive days.
- Invest in better heating and cooling controls, like programmable thermostats with zone controls. Often, every room in a place of worship is not in use at once. You can be more energy efficient if you pay more attention to what rooms you are heating or cooling and when.
- Places of worship often have at least one large, open space for communal worship. These rooms can cost large amounts of energy and money to heat and cool due to their sheer size. To improve energy efficiency, invest in a more efficient air circulation system.
- Many places of worship require a powerful lighting system to meet the needs of their congregation. It's well worth it to invest in an efficient lighting system featuring energy-efficient bulbs, light dimmers, and occupancy sensors. If the task is to daunting to do without help, talk to a lighting professional who specializes in energy-efficient lighting.
- There are a number of resources available for faith communities to use to find ways to protect the environment. While groups like the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council and the US Green Building Council are good all-around resources for those who want to improve the energy efficiency of any building, there are also organizations and websites tailored to suit the needs of congregations. Interfaith Power and Light is an interfaith organization devoted to helping faith communities embrace environmental causes, and it features state-by-state ways to get involved. Energy Star is also a very strong option for congregations, featuring online guides and other resources.
– David Liu