By Rachel Reiff Ellis
Stewardship campaign season is a time of nurturing generous giving within our congregations. But there’s an angle you may not have considered as you craft your stewardship messages: Mindful use of resources as a means for stretching donated dollars to their fullest.
The word “steward” means “caretaker,” or “custodian.” As caretakers of our church facilities we have the opportunity to model Creation care to the larger community. But can an intentional focus on sustainability also enrich your church’s existing work in the world?
Absolutely, says Brandon Pelissero, certified ZERO WASTE Business Associate and Chief Value Officer of EcoLink, an environmental solutions organization that helps people use less energy and fewer materials. He sees sustainability initiatives as essential for the church to be able to fulfill its larger call.
“Using less energy, less water, and fewer resources saves congregations money,” he says. “Do you want your church’s tithes to go to the power bill, or would you rather free that money for church missions and outreach?”
If the concept of “going green,” feels daunting, or you’re not sure what steps your congregation would need to take to put a plan into action, here are some concrete suggestions for moving in a more sustainable direction:
1. Replace your exit signs.
Exit signs are a standard—and likely overlooked, for those familiar to the building—part of any church. But consider this: replacing bulb-lit exit signs with photoluminescent options will reduce your church’s energy usage notably. How? “Exit signs are on 24/7 and affixed by every exterior door and hallway,” says Pelissero. Photoluminescent signs, he says, require zero electricity, wiring, or operating cost. What’s more, replacing 50 exit signs reduces air pollution by a quarter of a million pounds of CO2. At $50-$75 a pop, that’s a one-time investment of $2,500-$3,750 for long-term sustainable change. (You can find photoluminescent signs here.)
2. Install water-efficient fixtures.
“This is a great change to make, especially for churches operating a preschool where hand washing happens multiple times per person per day,” says Pelissero. Water aerators and other faucet accessories labeled “WaterSense” by the EPA reduce the amount of water that flows through faucets when they’re in use. Average water savings can be 700 gallons a year or more. Churches with industrial kitchens can also benefit from replacing their pre-rinse spray valve in their dishwashing area. The best part? Many of these replacement accessories cost as little as only a few dollars.
3. Switch to programmable thermostats.
Using a programmed thermostat that will operate only when you tell it to can reduce your heating and cooling bill by 20 percent. “Both weather and church occupancy vary widely during an average week,” says Pelissero. For some congregations, large portions of their buildings need climate control only once or twice a week. “In some instances, power rates fluctuate during peak and off-peak hours, so timing cooling and heating to coincide with variable rates is an immediate payback.”
4. Shop natural gas rates.
Churches can choose the best option for them when it comes to natural gas. “Electric power is regulated in Georgia, so churches don’t have a say in their electricity provider,” says Pelissero. “However, natural gas is deregulated, giving churches and church members lots of choices.” Gas rates vary annually, so it pays to shop before renewing every year.
5. Insulate outlets and light switches.
Just like exit signs, outlets and light switches abound in church buildings. But with just an easy fix to small fixtures, you can make a big difference. “There are dozens, if not hundreds, in every church,” says Pelissero. “All you need is a flat or Philips head screw driver to do the job.” Holes in floors and walls are also source for bugs, dust, and pollen, Pelissero adds, so while outfitting outlets for conservation purposes, you’ll also improve indoor air quality.
6. Assemble a “Green Team”
A church is its people, so any initiative needs member support and ownership. “Church green teams or committees play a vital role in educating youth and congregations on their role as stewards of God’s creation,” says Pelissero. It only takes a dedicated few to motivate and mobilize many.
7. Use outside help.
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light is a Georgia-based organization that equips congregations to care for Creation through worship, education, and the stewardship of natural resources. For as little as $100 to $300, GIPL’s Power Wise program will provide a professional energy audit of your church’s facilities to help determine how and where you could be saving energy and money. And any congregation that participates in a Power Wise energy audit is eligible to apply for up to $10,000 in matching grants to implement the energy-saving strategies GIPL suggests.
Many of these goals are easily broken down into per-item price, which is an easy way to inspire sponsorship for initiatives. It’s helpful for congregants to know, for example, that X dollars will reduce water usage by X gallons, or reduce the church’s carbon footprint by X pounds. Giving specifics provides a visible trail from donation to action.
Rachel Reiff Ellis is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga. Contact her at email@example.com.