What can congregations do to offset their carbon footprint, fossil fuel use / greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change impact?

Teach Others 

  • It is important to preach about our moral and ethical responsibility to live actively as stewards of creation and then seek ways to tend to the garden of creation. This can be from the pulpit, a green team, youth and adult education, or by becoming engaged in organizations such as your state’s IPL. In this way the impact of sermons, film screenings, education, and actively living as stewards shine as exemplars for others. The impact flows out through the congregation so that the individuals can adopt the same practices and they act as agents of change in the world. One congregation building becomes a community of care, and the impact is multiplied. 

Help Others 

  • Assist frontline and low-income communities to adopt practices that offset the same carbon footprints/ emissions/ impacts. Not all communities have the same resources. Working with, and I very deliberately mean with, other congregations can further directly spread the impact of your congregation’s efforts. 

Creation Care 

  • Plant trees on your congregation’s property or anywhere you can. PA IPL and the Chesapeake Bay Fund, as well as many other sources, will provide low or no cost trees for you to plant. Not only do these plantings mitigate flooding and support native biodiversity but they also serve as a natural form of carbon capture. Paralleling the plantings, the removal of invasive species and the planting native gardens further support biodiversity and carbon capture with minimal if any addition to your carbon footprint.

Community and Vegetable Gardens 

  • Not only do such projects serve as a unifying, education, and fun activity for the community which encourages mental health and a connection to our natural environment and food source it also can help reduce meat consumption as well food transportation. Much of our food is transported long distances and stored in large stores both of which produce significant carbon footprints while the growing of industrial scale crops can also produce significant emissions through the use of fertilizers and industrial equipment. This is putting aside the carbon and environmental impact of the meat industry. Gardens can serve as a further method of natural carbon capture just like tree planting.  

Investments and Divest 

  • If the congregation or its members have investments in fossil fuel industry it is important to divest and then re-invest in green sustainable renewable alternatives such as solar, wind, geothermal, etc. as well as companies which truly support these industries. The future of our economy is underway, and investments can help accelerate the transition so that we can mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. The industry and economy will follow the money.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

  • It may be cliché, but it is absolutely important that the congregation and its members take this adage to heart. When planning and holding events or regular activities it is important to consider the ways in which we can reduce our consumption, purchase things we can reuse, or at least things we can recycle. The impact of the congregation can be multiplied by the adoption of such practices by the members. This will again assist in the transition to a new economy. 

Purchase low carbon goods 

  • Paralleling the three R’s the purchase of locally grown and made goods as well as those which utilize the fewest chemicals, and the least harmful practices here and abroad is an important larger step. Even if we use less, or can reuse, or recycle an item the whole life of the products is important.

Weatherization 

  • An energy audit, especially for older structures can be an important step, and PA IPL has someone who does an initial assessment for free and has expertise in congregational structures. There are however also simple ways we can weatherize today. It is important to check and maintain your HVAC systems regularly so that it is functioning efficiently to reduce cost and waste. Additionally, congregations can install programable thermostats which control use throughout the day and according to temperature changes. The efficiency of HVAC systems and thermostats are increased by the proper door, wall, and window insulation all of which aid in the efficiency of the system.  

Energy Efficiency 

  • Other efficiency are the purchase of LED light bulbs, smart switch, and high efficiency appliances while also removing ghost loads, which draw energy even when not in use.  

Purchase Sustainable Green Renewable Energy 

  • Many competitive energy options exist through state energy exchanges which allow you to purchase part or all of your energy use from sustainable green renewable energy sources.

Installation of Sustainable Green Renewable Energy 

  • Not all congregations are in the position to purchase their own installation, but solar arrays, windmills, and geothermal systems are all viable options which offer financial benefits and serve as an example for the broader public but also are obviously large commitments to stewardship. PA IPL and others are able to assist congregations in navigating the financing options and the process. In September PA IPL is having an event with experts to specifically discuss how to purchase a solar array.

Advocate 

  • While not all congregations or individuals are interested in getting involved in advocacy, it is important to remember that advocating on behalf of climate justice and sustainable green renewable energy with elected officials and policy makers is a vital part of our impact. Too often congregations are too worried to speak up for their moral and ethical commitments. If we do not speak up someone else will speak for us. If we do not act we are not protecting ourselves, others, and our environment as God expects of us. Without changes in the ways governments (local, state, and federal) and industries operate there is only so much an individual can do. People, government, and industry are the three legs of the solution. 

Other Resources

PA IPL also has a congregation tool kit which allows congregations to explore how to do this for themselves. Look for updates on our website.

IPL Cool Congregation Startup Kit

EPA Energy Star for Congregations Workbook

Clean Energy Investment Resources

Divestment Resources

Congregation Examples

In addition to the IPL Cool Congregation there are many examples of what has been done across PA and the USA. Christ Covenant Church in Harleysville for example, installed a large ground based solar array which covers on average 90% of their energy use for multiple buildings, new, old, and modified. Solar arrays at congregations such as Christ Covenant serve as an educational tool for the congregation, especially the youth education programs, and will in the course of its 30 year lifespan of the array produce more than double the value of the upfront investment of the congregation. Moreover, if Pennsylvania had a better community solar or SRAC (solar renewable energy credit) policy the energy production in the summer which is 2 to 3 times the usage would have made the solar array even more profitable. On August 27th, 2021 PA IPL held a solar tour at Christ Covenant with elected officials and others. There is a video on PA IPL’s website which is a combination of video from this tour and a second tour in Allegany County.  PA IPL hopes to invite other congregations in the future to join us at Christ Covenant and elsewhere to tour these installations and see the greening congregations are doing to reduce consumption, adopt alternative energy sources, and live actively as stewards of creation.

Contest Deadline: Cool Congregations Challenge

The Cool Congregations Challenge is an annual national contest to recognize “Cool Congregations” that are becoming energy efficient and sustainable role models within their communities. The contest is brought to you by Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit organization inspiring and mobilizing people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate. There are no fees to enter. Deadline for entries: December 15. Get ready to enter the Challenge this year, or check out the materials so you’ll be ready when the applications go live in 2021.

There are 5 entry categories: 

  • COOL CONGREGATIONS PLANNER
    Audits • Planning Reports • Fundraising
  • ENERGY SAVER
    Lighting • Insulation • Windows & Doors • Heating & Cooling Systems
  • RENEWABLE ROLE MODEL
    Solar • Wind • Geothermal • Solar Water Heating
  • SACRED GROUNDS STEWARD
    Native Landscaping • Organic Gardening • Water Conservation • Bike Racks • Wildlife Habitats • Recycling & Composting
  • COMMUNITY INSPIRATION
    Inspiring congregants to save energy at home  •  helping communities transition from fossil fuels to clean energy •  helping communities become more resilient and prepare for the impacts of climate change

Congregations can also become Certified as Cool Congregations, with increasing levels of achievement.  Certification is an “evergreen” and cumulative program — it can be done anytime, and things done over multiple years count.

Stories from the Road reflection— Peter Dugas, inaugural rider

Peter Dugas was a charter PA IPL Board member of PA IPL, and one of three inaugural cyclists in 2012. He is an engineer who knows a lot about energy efficiency, and a fine musician, which both played a part in his community connections during that 2012 ride! Peter now lives in Maine.

Share a highlight of a past bike trip. 
I had the pleasure of being one of three cyclists on the inaugural (2012) PAIPL bike trip and have so many memories. I remember the send-off in State College with the 20-plus cyclists who agreed to ride the first few miles with us. I felt a bit over my head because everyone was wearing cycling gear and shoes and I was the jerk who didn’t know any better and wore chinos and loafers.

Sendoff after the blessing in downtown State College!
Made it! arrival at the national IPL conference at the Kellogg Center on the campus of Gallaudet University

How has the bike trip continued to impact or sustain you? 
I often remember the outreach we made to the kind folks along the way who opened their homes for us. No matter their opinion of climate action they were moved by our commitment, and we were moved by their hospitality.

In what ways are you continuing to reap inspiration and energy from your experience of the trip? 
I continue to lobby my national lawmakers for climate action and I will always carry with me the lesson I learned on that trip that caring for our common home is a bridge issue not a wedge issue.

Between appointments in Pennsylvania legislators’ offices on Capitol Hill.

What you are doing right now to support the work of PA IPL in raising climate change as a moral issue.
Though I no longer live in PA I continue to support PA iPL and enjoy reading about their recent outreach efforts and bike trips

What “call to action” would you encourage others to take regarding climate change at this time?
Call your Senators and Representatives, ask for specific policy like a carbon fee and dividend, invoke the climate stewardship messages from your faiths, share the En-ROADS Climate Simulator* with others and talk about climate care as often as socially acceptable!

Peter with the inner workings of the green Quaker Welcome Center across from the U.S. Senate.

*Note: The En-ROADS Climate Simulator is an online policy simulation tool that gives users the ability to explore the likely consequences of a variety of factors  that affect climate change, such as  energy, economic growth, land use, and other policies and uncertainties.

Friends, did you know?
PA IPL includes a “Discussion Hook” in every monthly policy call update. These are timely articles that provide an entry point for learning and conversation around climate impacts, climate justice, climate solution, and related policies. There is always a little intro, a link, and often a little excerpt. They are suitable for conversations with neighbors, friends, family members and even congregational study or action groups! For a sample, check out the discussion hook in the end-of-April summary here.

Climate scientist and climate communicator Katharine Hayhoe has said that talking about climate change is one of the most important things that anyone and everyone can do. If we’re not talking about climate change, we’re not talking about solutions, and our policymakers aren’t hearing about their constituents’ concerns or hopes.

MEDIA: EnergyStar for Congregations workshop

Join your hosts at Reformation Lutheran Church, Media to learn about a powerful tool to help track energy stewardship and energy savings in houses of worship.

The energy we choose and use has impacts on vulnerable people, and on the ecosystems on which we all depend. Even when we choose renewables, when we use no more than we need, we are better stewards of one another and our Common Home, and we can better light the way for others on the same path!

Invite members of your house of worship’s property committee,  business office, and building stewards as well as clergy and interested congregants — including those who may have small businesses!   RSVPs are helpful, but not required.

ENERGY STAR® Pennsylvania Stewardship Tour

Virtually every faith tradition teaches stewardship: Out of gratitude and appreciation for what we have been given, we are taught to make wise use of gifts and assets such as financial and natural resources, the time and talents of congregation members, and the house of worship, itself, in ways that are responsible and accountable.

  • However, like most U.S. commercial buildings, the typical worship facility wastes about 30 percent of the energy for which its congregants pay.

No-cost efficiency actions and careful investments can earn substantial savings to be returned to the mission of the congregation. What could your congregation do with funds equivalent to 30 percent of your annual energy bill? Also, while saving money, the pollution related to this wasted energy will be reduced—pollution that impacts human life and health. Further, natural resources will be conserved for our children and generations to come.

ENERGY STAR is the nation’s voluntary program helping congregations, businesses, schools, homeowners, and tenants save energy and water—and therefore money. Local Pennsylvania faith communities are hosting ENERGY STAR presentations on tools, training, and technical support freely available at www.energystar.gov/congregations.

Get a flier for this event. See all the events.

TOOLS:

  • Action Workbook for Congregations (PDF) for savings facts and strategies, action lists, no-cost/low-cost “Sure Savers” and more
  • Free, online Portfolio Manager® tool for tracking energy, water savings, and recycling/material management, and the resulting pollution prevention at energystar.gov/benchmark

HARRISBURG: EnergyStar for Congregations workshop

Join your hosts at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg to learn about a powerful tool to help track energy stewardship and energy savings in houses of worship.

The energy we choose and use has impacts on vulnerable people, and on the ecosystems on which we all depend. Even when we choose renewables, when we use no more than we need, we are better stewards of one another and our Common Home, and we can better light the way for others on the same path!

Invite members of your house of worship’s property committee,  business office, and building stewards as well as clergy and interested congregants — including those who may have small businesses!   RSVPs are helpful, but not required.

ENERGY STAR® Pennsylvania Stewardship Tour

Virtually every faith tradition teaches stewardship: Out of gratitude and appreciation for what we have been given, we are taught to make wise use of gifts and assets such as financial and natural resources, the time and talents of congregation members, and the house of worship, itself, in ways that are responsible and accountable.

  • However, like most U.S. commercial buildings, the typical worship facility wastes about 30 percent of the energy for which its congregants pay.

No-cost efficiency actions and careful investments can earn substantial savings to be returned to the mission of the congregation. What could your congregation do with funds equivalent to 30 percent of your annual energy bill? Also, while saving money, the pollution related to this wasted energy will be reduced—pollution that impacts human life and health. Further, natural resources will be conserved for our children and generations to come.

ENERGY STAR is the nation’s voluntary program helping congregations, businesses, schools, homeowners, and tenants save energy and water—and therefore money. Local Pennsylvania faith communities are hosting ENERGY STAR presentations on tools, training, and technical support freely available at www.energystar.gov/congregations.

Get a flier for this event. See all the events.

TOOLS:

  • Action Workbook for Congregations (PDF) for savings facts and strategies, action lists, no-cost/low-cost “Sure Savers” and more
  • Free, online Portfolio Manager® tool for tracking energy, water savings, and recycling/material management, and the resulting pollution prevention at energystar.gov/benchmark

STATE COLLEGE: EnergyStar for Congregations workshop

Join your hosts at the State College Friends’ Meeting to learn about a powerful tool to help track energy stewardship and energy savings in houses of worship.

The energy we choose and use has impacts on vulnerable people, and on the ecosystems on which we all depend. Even when we choose renewables, when we use no more than we need, we are better stewards of one another and our Common Home, and we can better light the way for others on the same path!

Invite members of your house of worship’s property committee,  business office, and building stewards as well as clergy and interested congregants — including those who may have small businesses!   RSVPs are helpful, but not required.

ENERGY STAR® Pennsylvania Stewardship Tour

Virtually every faith tradition teaches stewardship: Out of gratitude and appreciation for what we have been given, we are taught to make wise use of gifts and assets such as financial and natural resources, the time and talents of congregation members, and the house of worship, itself, in ways that are responsible and accountable.

  • However, like most U.S. commercial buildings, the typical worship facility wastes about 30 percent of the energy for which its congregants pay.

No-cost efficiency actions and careful investments can earn substantial savings to be returned to the mission of the congregation. What could your congregation do with funds equivalent to 30 percent of your annual energy bill? Also, while saving money, the pollution related to this wasted energy will be reduced—pollution that impacts human life and health. Further, natural resources will be conserved for our children and generations to come.

ENERGY STAR is the nation’s voluntary program helping congregations, businesses, schools, homeowners, and tenants save energy and water—and therefore money. Local Pennsylvania faith communities are hosting ENERGY STAR presentations on tools, training, and technical support freely available at www.energystar.gov/congregations.

Get a flier for this event.  See all the events.

TOOLS:

  • Action Workbook for Congregations (PDF) for savings facts and strategies, action lists, no-cost/low-cost “Sure Savers” and more
  • Free, online Portfolio Manager® tool for tracking energy, water savings, and recycling/material management, and the resulting pollution prevention at energystar.gov/benchmark