7 Responses to Churches going green
Excerpting the book Greening Our Built World
More and more communities of faith””including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Quaker groups”” are embracing green design and green building. While beliefs, traditions, and practices vary in many respects, care for the earth is a value that transcends religious distinctions and emerges as a common motivation for incorporating environmentally friendly designs into construction projects. Belief in a higher being, respect for creation, and a mandate to care for one’s neighbor are at the core of many faiths. Many religious traditions call upon members to be good stewards of the earth and its resources.
The results of a more qualitative survey in Greening Our Built World of 17 faith-based institutions that have built green buildings reveals a common sense that building green is a way of committing an entire community to the moral imperative to care for the earth and help all people share in the benefits of a healthy, sustainable environment. For a growing number of religious institutions, building green has become not just a cost-effective investment but, more importantly, a way to embody and demonstrate a religious and moral commitment to care for the earth and for life. The process of learning about and undertaking greening, in turn, commonly reinvigorates the religious community. According to Rose McKenney, a faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma Washington, the presence of the green building on campus is a major recruiting tool for new students.
That’s an excerpt from a fact- and chart-filled book, “Greening Our Built World: costs, benefits and strategies” (Island Press) by my long-time friend and former DOE colleague Gregory Kats. Greg is director of climate change at Good Energies, a multi-billion dollar global clean energy investor, where he leads the firm’s investments in energy efficiency and green buildings. Greg is a founder of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). He is founding chair of the Energy and Atmosphere Technical Advisory Group for LEED, and was the principal advisor in developing Green Communities, the national green affordable housing design standard. Previously, Greg served as the director of financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Felician Sisters convent and school in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh recently built green. Sister Mary Christopher Moore, one of the community’s members noted that the more the community learned about green buildings, the more they began to realize that renovating their building to be LEED certified had a moral dimension: “building green was the morally right thing to do, because it not only considered the sustainability of our community but also the sustainability of our world.”
The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois completed its synagogue in 2008 as a LEED Platinum building. In both cases, the decision to build green began as a grassroots effort, driven by interest from within the community and guided by leadership of the rabbis. According to Temple Rabbi Rosen, environmental concerns are inherent in the Jewish principles of bal tashchit, meaning “do not destroy or waste,” and tikkun olam, which means “healing the earth.” Rabbi Rosen observed that “it goes back to the Torah, a value we’ve inherited in our own spiritual tradition . . . energy efficiency, not destroying natural resources. The world does not belong to us. . . . We’re reminded repeatedly of that in the Torah”.
At Calvin College, a Christian institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the decision to construct the Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center as a LEED Gold building
Stemmed from the biblical concept of stewardship of the earth within various departmental curricula. The Department of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Web states that: “faculty, students and staff: analyze Earth’s environmental systems and foster the commitment to serve God in their care and preservation.” According to Frank Gorman, college architect, this focus on the integration of Christian principles and academics is at the heart of Calvin College’s Statement on Sustainability, which declares, “Our purpose is to infuse Calvin’s vigorous liberal arts education with thoughtful, Biblically based practical guidelines that lay a foundation for living in away that honors the Creator and his beloved creation.”
The Washington DC-based Quaker Sidwell Friends School (attended by the Obama girls) found a similar congruence between green building and institutional values. Michael Saxenian, Assistant Head of School and Chief Financial Officer at Sidwell comments that; “Building green substantially altered our culture. Environmental stewardship is now seen as one of the pillars of the school philosophy, along with academic excellence and diversity.” The Sidwell Web site states: “With the decision to construct a new Middle School, Sidwell Friends chose sustainable design as a logical expression of its values. We believe that a ‘green building’ provides an opportunity to achieve an outstanding level of integration between the curriculum, values and mission of the school.”
Green renovations significantly reenergized community life at the Muslim Khatri Association in Leicester, England. The process of planning the renovations and becoming educated as a community on green features, such as solar panels and energy efficiency, brought together younger and older generations of the community. While interest and energy from younger community members inspired and drove initial inquiries into green design, the older community members were able to provide guidance and education on Islamic values and stories dealing with issues of sustainability. Use of the center increased by more than tenfold after the renovations, from 150 users per week to 2,000 users per week.
The cost-effectiveness of green building among a wide range of faith groups represented in this study had a significant impact on broadening the potential spiritual and material contributions each faith community could make.
The Green Initiative for Environmental Evangelical Renewal (GIVER) is being launched as a partnership between the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. The founding document for GIVER states that
Energy efficiency offers the largest potential opportunity to slow global climate change and limit global warming. A broad consensus of scientific experts warns that avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require that we sharply reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. The most important of these is CO2, caused primarily by burning fossil fuels. Cutting energy waste in buildings is one of the largest and most effective potential ways reduce greenhouse gasses. GIVER will rally the Evangelical Church around this potential. Greening churches and other religious buildings has recently been demonstrated to be cost effective and to provide large financial and other returns to church communities and to society at large.  We believe an average 30% to 35% reduction in energy and water use in religious buildings is achievable and cost effective and represents a morally and financially compelling opportunity for religious groups to improve their facilities while reaffirming their mission and social commitments.
For more information please contact: The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, President/C.E.O. The Evangelical Environmental Network; email@example.com
 World Energy Outlook, International Energy Agency, Paris, 2009.
 Greg Kats, Greening Our Built World; Costs, Benefits and Strategies (Island Press, Washington DC, 2009)