This essay is a (slightly) longer version of the back-page GRID Magazine article (June 2016) entitled Web of Life, and is reprinted here with permission of the author, Jane Dugdale. Our thanks to Jane, and to GRID for reaching out!
I think of myself as a pretty savvy environmentalist. After I read Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb in the 1970s I volunteered with Planned Parenthood. My Sierra Club card says I’ve been a member since 1976. But when the Ecology Mission Group at my congregation, Central Baptist Church in Wayne, decided to focus on climate change as a moral and spiritual issue, including a campaign for “Getting to Zero” emissions, I was in for a pretty steep learning curve. My participation in that effort connected me to efforts going on nearby and far away, made me aware how differently people of good will think about what can be done, and led to some happy realizations.
A BHAG is a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal (pronounced “bee-hag”) Pretty great, right? Read on for Central Baptist Church’s story of dropping BELOW zero, including member transportation to and from church. There are a few links to previous stories here, and we hope to have some more pictures and some follow up pieces as time marches on, but this story just couldn’t wait any longer.
Getting To Zero (CO2 Emissions) at Central Baptist Church
Summary: On Sunday, October 11, 2015, Central Baptist Church (CBC) in Wayne, PA, celebrated achieving “minus Zero” in its Getting to Zero campaign to reduce congregational carbon emissions. The campaign was designed and conducted by the Ecology Mission Group (EMG) at CBC.
CBC’s EMG decided to offset its CO2 emissions several years ago, and focused at first on offsetting emissions from the operation of the building; i.e., the emissions from the use of electricity and natural gas, which the EMG estimated to total 41,000 pounds per year. The EMG developed three programs, described below, to offset these emissions: solar panels, light bulbs, and wind energy.
After these programs brought building use to carbon neutral in 2014, the EMG realized that an even greater carbon footprint than building use was probably congregational travel. During 2015 the Getting to Zero campaign encouraged families to estimate and then to purchase offsets to their own CBC-related travel. With help from the congregation, EMG estimated these emissions at 66,000 pounds per year. Over the summer of 2015, more than enough offsets were purchased to declare the congregation “minus Zero”.
Details: To offset the building emissions, CBC has three programs. One is a set of 48 solar panels installed on the flat roof of a wing of the church building. The panels were started in May 2009 and, since then approximately 71,000 Kwh of electricity have been generated. This is only an offset program because it lowers the electricity that CBC purchases from PECO. CBC does not count as offsets the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) it receives and sells, because the sale of the credits allows someone else to emit carbon dioxide.
CBC also offsets building operation CO2 emissions through a program called Bright Idea under which CBC yearly gives approximately 800 compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to social centers which then give the CFLs and LEDs to their clients to install in their homes or apartments. Based upon a survey done of the hours that the replaced bulbs operated, those emission offsets amount to 7,800 lbs. per year.
It also occurred to the EMG that a lot of people drive vehicles to church every Sunday and that there are a lot of trips to church for meetings during the week, a lot of staff trips to and from church and several members and the pastors take long distance trips to Baptist board meetings and other conferences and events. The EMG felt that these CO2 emissions be counted also as an effect of operating a church. In fact, EMG did a gross estimate of these emissions and they were at 66,000 lbs. per year while the emissions from the electricity and gas were 41,000 lbs. The EMG also decided to find an emission factor for paper as a proxy for all of the emissions from the purchasing of products that support the worship services and communicate with members, like paper. The emission rate found for paper manufacturing was 27.5 lbs. of CO2 per ream of paper for 112 reams per year.
Having determined that travel-related emissions exceeded all other emissions, CBC decided to embark on a program called Getting To Zero. Each person or family unit was asked to complete a form that would result in an emissions figure for their church-related travel. More than one-half the people did not complete their form but gave the committee permission to fill it out for them. This detailed emission inventory was very close to the gross estimate of emissions made for CBC. The range of CO2 emissions for most people/families was from about 100 lbs. per year up to 2200 lbs. per year. The staff emissions were from 800 lbs. per year up to about 3500 lbs. Next, the committee produced the table shown below as Table 2 and a set of instructions that help individuals and families chose how to offset their emissions. Not going to church was not offered or encouraged. The choices were installing LEDs or CFLs, buying wind energy from a supplier, or any other option the family/person could choose (e.g., geothermal energy).
The options have subtle differences. For example, the tree plantings must be done every year while the LED lights offsets occur for as long as the bulbs are used. The option chosen the most was tree planting. We are working with a non-profit organization called Trees, Water, People in Fort Collins, Colorado. The cost only amounts to $1 per ton of offset which we will pay for each year. The organization is not certified for their tree plantings because of the large cost it would take for a relatively small non-profit to become internationally certified. TWP plants trees in several counties, one of which is El Salvador. CBC has a sister church, Shekina, in Santa Anna, about 12 miles from one of TWP’s tree nurseries and forests.
CBC estimates that for the first year of this program, the baseline CO2 emissions of 108,000 pounds per year have been exceeded by the offsets of 123,000 pounds of carbon dioxide; getting to minus zero.
Table 1. Estimated CBC Carbon Dioxide Emissions
CO2 Emissions Rate
Emissions of CO2
Source of Data and Comments
36,000 kwh per year (PECO bills)
0.44548 Kg CO2 per kwh
16,037 kg*2.214 lbs=35,507
2012 EPA data.
6228 CCF gas consumed per year (PECO bills)
0.1848 Kg CO2/ccf
2548 lbs. + 876 for mission house= 3424
2012 data. AP-42 shows 0.12 lbs per ccf.
#reams = 135. *3 pages/copy*54 services=44 reams plus 20 newslttrs *5 sheets*50 copies = 10.0 reams plus copies of 2 reams per week * 52 weeks
12.5 Kg CO2/ream of paper = 112*12.5 kg*2.2 lbs per Kg
This December, as world leaders meet in Lima, Peru our future is on the line. Time is running out for our leaders to reach an agreement that saves us from devastating climate change. This is why faith communities worldwide are joining OurVoices and organizing#LightForLIMA – a global, multi-faith prayer vigil. These vigils will show our leaders that we as people of faith are praying for their efforts to bring forth valid actions to start reversing the affects of climate change.
Leader after leader at the UN meetings in New York in September spoke of the size and vibrancy of the People’s Climate March, where people of faith formed the largest contingent of all. That moral message was heard, and provided courage for leaders to speak boldly. Now is the time to shine our lights again, urging those same leaders from speech to action.
On Sunday, December 7th, from 8:00pm-8:30pm worldwide, people from diverse faith and
spiritual communities will gather for public vigils — lit by solar lamps. There are currently vigils
being planned around the U.S. as well as in Russia, India, South Africa, Israel, England and other countries. Of course it’s 8-8:30 somewhere anytime, so if that time doesn’t work for your faith community, know that your vigil will “join” a vigil elsewhere no matter what time you hold it.
In PA, we can pray particularly for Don Brown‘s participation. (Twitter, blog) Don will be in Lima leading sessions on the Ethics of Climate change, and has promised us a webinar on his return. May his sessions in Lima be full, and may his words urge hearts and minds to urgent, hopeful action.
Since time is short, the solar lamps make a great followup to a candlelight vigil, instead — when each lamp is purchased, that purchase also provides 2 solar lamps to energy-poverty areas of Africa, where they will provide indoor study light — brighter, safer light than kerosene can shed. Here in PA, the high-charge models with USB ports for charging phones make an excellent backup system during power outs caused by powerful storms.
If we’re to stop climate change we need a strong meaningful agreement that everyone can commit to. Lima is where our leaders have to nail down the fundamentals of this agreement, so that at next years’ key Paris climate talks we get a climate treaty that protects our planet and our future. Together we can show our support for this vital work.
“Solar Shingles” Roof Installation at Main Line Unitarian Church On February 27, 2013 Main Line Unitarian Church (MLUC) in Devon, PA turned on the largest solar shingle array in the Northeast US. As a Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary congregation, when MLUC’s sanctuary roof need work in 2011, this earth friendly, carbon emission conscious , environmentally activist congregation naturally noticed that the South facing, unshaded expanse would be a perfect place to further reduce their carbon footprint. The Green Sanctuary/Earth Concerns Organization committee sponsors many education, hands on, and community creation centered programs. They also participate the Mainline Interfaith Green Group, many PA IPL activities and IPL national efforts, and together with other congregational leadership had already completed efforts to provide energy efficient lighting, renewable energy sourcing, motion sensor controlled lights in most rooms, programmable thermostats, and other energy saving changes as well as environment friendly landscaping. MLUC also worked with Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA to distribute low energy CFLs to low income families in Radnor County. MLUC continues to provide financial support for the ongoing CBC program.
Solar Panels of Central Baptist Church, Wayne PA During the week of April 6, 2009 Conergy of Paoli (formerly Mesa Environmental) completed installation of solar panels on the roof of the education building at Central Baptist Church (CBC) in Wayne, PA. On May 5th of that year PECO Energy, CBC’s utility, installed a sell-back meter that made the panels fully functional. When the panels are producing more energy than the church is using Continue reading Longest Day Solar: national day of action.2