Carbon Neutral Web Resources for Congregations

As our planet warms, we need to find ways to lower our carbon emissions, particularly in our use of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). Buildings account for nearly half the carbon emitted. One way we can be good stewards of God’s creation is by working to make our church buildings carbon neutral. The Resolution on Making UCC Church Buildings More Carbon Neutral (General Synod 29, 2013) recommends that congregations aim to meet the Architecture 2030 Challenge of no net fossil fuel emissions. Furthermore, individual members are encouraged to become carbon neutral in their own homes and practices. What follows are links to specific websites that can help both congregations and individuals become carbon neutral. Examples of congregations that have made significant strides are listed at the bottom.

Getting Started and Energy Audits:

  • The Energy Star Action Workbook for Congregations 2014 is a resource and planning guide for clergy, staff, and laity. It explains how to increase the energy efficiency of facilities by implementing realistic and cost-effective energy improvement projects. You can download the workbook for free. For an appendix to the workbook, tips on talking with the congregation and examples of churches making great carbon neutral progress, check out the Energy Star Resources for Congregations.
  • For an explanation of energy audits or surveys, see the Interfaith Coalition on Energy (ICE), whose mission is “to inspire congregations to use less energy and reduce the costs of operating their facilities, to purchase energy at lower cost and to anticipate and prevent problems with mechanical and electrical systems in their buildings.” While the coalition’s services are mostly limited to Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, the ICE website offers a wealth of valuable resources. Topics include energy performance, intermittent-use building operation, guidelines for design professionals involved with church construction and renovation, facility manager recruitment and training, and the relationship of energy use to our faith traditions. Be sure to read Energy Tips for Congregations!
  • Your local Interfaith Power and Light chapter may be able to help you find a reputable auditor for performing church building audits.
  • Eco-Justice Ministries has a listing of basic tips for greening your church. Energy audits top the list as well as ideas to take next steps towards leadership and action with the ultimate goal of transformation.
  • GreenFaith has invaluable advice on how to expand caring for creation in your house of worship.
  • The Web of Creation seeks to foster the transformation to a just and sustainable world from religious perspectives. A practical introduction to their plan of action is the Environmental Guide for Congregations, Their Buildings and Grounds.
  • If your congregation has $0 for an energy audit and energy efficiency improvements, please consider using Interfaith Power and Light’s “Cool Congregations” footprint calculator for congregations as a first step. Then perhaps move to the Energy Star Portfolio Manager or the EPA Target Finder Calculator (under “Building or Renovating” and “Benchmark Standards for Existing Buildings”).

Building or Renovating:

  • United States Green Building Council / LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is recognized globally as the premier mark of achievement in green building.
  • Architecture 2030 is a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization established in 2002 in response to the climate change crisis. Architecture 2030’s mission is to rapidly transform our buildings from being the major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to becoming a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crises. Great ideas for green building.
  • Energy Star Portfolio Manager is the industry-leading, free online tool that lets you benchmark, track, and manage energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions against national averages.
  • The Passive House Institute promotes passive building, which comprises a set of design principles used to attain a quantifiable and rigorous level of energy efficiency within a specific quantifiable comfort level. “Maximize your gains, minimize your losses” summarize the approach. Examples of Passive Built houses of worship are Malcolm Rosenberg Hillel Center, Blacksburg, VA and Seventh Day Adventist Church, Kinderhook, NY.
  • The UCC Cornerstone Fund stands ready to help your congregation finance energy-efficient renovations or construction projects for your church through its EcoLoan Program. Download the Going Green Workshop Book here.

Benchmark Standards for Existing Buildings: For a quick and easy understanding of how your church building compares to the regional average energy consumption performance standard for houses of worship and similar-sized buildings in your region, Architecture 2030 recommends the EPA’s online, free Target Finder Calculator. With some basic information about building square footage, the number of electric and gas meters and the yearly utility bills, a basic comparison can be made in an hour or two. Information on the right hand of this linked page helps you decide whether you want to use the Portfolio Manager or Target Finder Calculator. Results from Target Finder Calculator can be saved in Portfolio Manager if desired.

Electricity/Energy Choice:

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Locator gives detailed information and links on where to purchase wind and solar electricity in your state.
  • Green-e also gives links to electricity choices for all states. It certifies environmental commodities and products that mitigate climate change and help build a sustainable energy future.

Federal and State Rebate/Incentive Programs for Purchasing Energy-Efficient Items:

Making Your Home Carbon Neutral / Carbon Footprint Calculators:

  • Cool Congregations’ Carbon Footprint Calculator for Households helps you to calculate your carbon footprint and to take steps to improve it.
  • Cool Congregations’ 25 simple steps under $25 suggests that one of the best ways to share the idea of carbon neutral with others at your church is to take steps in your own home and life to decrease your family’s carbon emissions.
  • The US Department of Energy’s Home Energy Saver Calculator empowers homeowners and renters to save money, live better, and help the earth by reducing home energy use. It includes recommendations on energy-saving upgrades that are appropriate to the home based on climate and local energy prices.
  • Energy Star’s Energy Assessment for individual homes takes into account your actual utility bills.
  • Or try the EPA’s Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.
  • The Earth Day Carbon Footprint Calculator for individuals has interactive questions about lifestyle and does not take into account actual utility usage. The results are given in the number of planet Earths required if everyone on earth lived a similar lifestyle to yours.

Carbon Footprint Calculators for Church Buildings:

Ways for churches to get the word out about what they’re doing so other churches can learn and be encouraged:

  • Spread the news via church newsletters, association/conference articles, local news stories, clergy networks, ecumenical associations in your area, etc. Do a press release and invite the media to a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
  • Notify the UCC Minister for Environmental Justice.
  • Tell local affiliates of Interfaith Power & Light as well as secular environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.
  • Throw a party and invite the community to celebrate completion of building/renovation projects.

UCC congregations that are modeling how to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Mayflower UCC in Minneapolis, MN aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. This congregation has installed 204 solar panels, which generate 35% of the building’s power. Members have created a film called “Journey of Hope” about their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Trinity UCC in Chicago, IL is in the midst of a “Raise the Roof” campaign to install a green roof and make other updates.
  • When First Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C. needed to replace its building, it got creative. The result: a Gold LEED building.