Month: October 2017

Many in the Faith Community are taking action to become Sustainable – is yours?


PJ PictureBy: Paul L. Jones, CPA
LEED Green Associate
Director, Financial Advisory Services for Emerald Skyline Corporation



churchHow do you approach your decisions — by thinking primarily of yourself? Or do you consider how your actions will affect the beliefs and lives of others? Some Christians never stop to think that their choices can hurt or destroy someone else’s faith. They justify their behavior, saying God doesn’t convict them for it.

Paul blames the “stronger” Christian for these shipwrecks. He says we’re responsible not only for our actions, but also for the effect of those actions. In the end, we are to care more about the “brother for whose sake Christ died” than about our own wants or desires (1 Corinthians 8:11).

Because our faith is on display before the world, God promises rewards but insists on responsibility. One of the rewards is freedom from condemnation. But that freedom doesn’t mean license to do as we please without considering those who watch our example. Through the Spirit, we must discern the greater good and act on it.

As St. Paul’s teaching relates to climate change and sustainability, Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, advises, “How we take care of creation will dictate how we care for one another and vice-versa. The Catholic approach holds that we are concerned about both God’s good gift of creation and the impacts of environmental degradation on people, especially those most vulnerable: the poor at home and abroad. As Pope Francis said in Laudato si; “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.’ For Catholics, this is not just about saving the polar bear but also saving ourselves from our own destructive habits.” (From “The Faith Community and Climate Change, A Q&A with Dan Misleh” by John Gehring, Commonweal, April 27, 2017)

In answer to the question, “Are Catholic bishops and clergy rallying behind the Pope’s message or has it been a cautious reception?”; Mr. Misleh replied:

“I think many are embracing the challenges of Laudato si.’ I’m encouraged by the leadership of Catholic leaders like Archbishop Dennis Schnurr in Cincinnati, who is supporting our Catholic Covenant Energies program, in which we bring our education and energy efficiency expertise along with financing to help parishes and schools reduce their energy use, save money and take advantage of the opportunity to educate parishioners, students, and parents about the importance of caring for creation and caring for the poor. I also think of Cardinals Cupich (Chicago), O’Malley (Boston), and Dolan (New York), who have benchmarked all archdiocesan buildings, begun solar installations, and systematically enrolled parishes in energy-efficiency programs.”

Also of note, “during this Year of Creation (2017) — unique to the Diocese of Burlington — Catholics throughout Vermont are encouraged to reflect upon the pope’s encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” and to discover Christ in all living things. From the red clover to the hermit thrush to the Green Mountains, all these gifts that surround us bear the stamp of God and are entrusted to our care, not only for personal benefit but the benefit of all those who share our common home and all those who will inhabit it after us.” (Vermont Catholic, Spring 2017)

The Church of England has created “ChurchCare,” a comprehensive source of information for everyone managing a church building in support of all those in parishes, dioceses and cathedrals caring for their buildings today and for the enjoyment of future generations.” It’s national environmental campaign exists to enable the whole Church to address – in faith, practice and mission – the issue of climate change. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is quoted: “Actions have to change for words to have effect.” (See

In another example of faith in action, the Florida East Coast Baptist Association has promoted “Green the Church” to amplify green theology, promote sustainable practices in the member churches and increase the power and potential of the national climate movement.

Although not all churches and dioceses are responding with the same level of commitment, the call to putting faith in action is being heard and answered by many:

  • In addition to evaluating all of the buildings for water use, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, the Archdiocese of Chicago has done a significant amount of work in making its buildings energy efficient. St. Joseph College Seminary, for example, has high-efficiency lighting control and heating systems and is LEED Gold certified.  The field operations center for Resurrection Cemetery has been heated with a solar system since 1978. The rooftop solar system deployed at Old St. Mary’s School generates an average 40 percent of the building’s energy needs during the summer months.
  • As part of the effort to adapt St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to the structural and environmental standards required of the 21st century, the building has been integrated with a state-of-the-art geothermal plant. The new plant allows the cathedral and adjoining buildings which total 76,000 square feet to regulate temperature with increased efficiency and a reduction in CO2 emissions. The Cathedral’s new plant is capable of generating 2.9 million BTU’s per hour of air conditioning and 3.2 million BTU’s per hour of heating when fully activated. Richard A. Sileo, Senior Engineer with Landmark Facilities Group, a member of the design team, says in a release: “We conducted a feasibility study and found that a geothermal system let us meet our goals with the smallest impact.”
  • At a more grass roots level, The Record, Archdiocesan news for Central Kentucky Louisville) reports on green practices of parishes and faith communities its September 21st, 2017 issue highlighted in an educational and inspirational event held on September 12th entitled “Caring for Creation: Stories of Success from Several Faith Communities:”
  • The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (Kentucky) said during the event that they have made significant strides in developing and implementing green initiatives sincethey added a commitment to care for creation to their mission statement in the mid-1990s. The statement reads in part: “Sisters and Associates are committed to work for justice in solidarity with oppressed peoples, especially the economically poor and women, and to care for the earth.”
  • The Congregation of nuns has committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2037.
  • They have also committed to becoming a “zero waste campus,” meaning that everything is either compostable or recyclable and nothing is sent to a landfill. They are already performing “waste audits” to determine how to eliminate waste.
  • Francis of Assisi parish has created an Ecological Stewardship committee that has held educational presentations on ecological sustainability, encouraged recycling and reusing cups, instead of foam cups, at parish events (which infuses a sustainable mindset among parishioners); and provided funds to convert lights at its homeless shelter from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lights and is currently working to switch to LED lighting.
  • The parish cluster of St. James and St. Brigid reported at the Sept. 12 event that parishioners created a Creation Care Team last year under the guidance of the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  • The Creation Care Team has focused on decreasing overall energy usage, expanding recycling and supporting the St. James School Green Club, which tends anorganic vegetable and pollinator garden on campus, said Cynthia Dumas, one of the members of the Creation Care Team.
  • The parish bulletin also includes weekly articles on environmental issues and updates about what the care team is doing, Dumas said.

Whether it is at the direction of the archbishop, bishop or other Church leadership, or from the motivation of parishioners seeking to bring sustainability to their faith community, every action that puts into practice the Pope’s teachings on the care of creation contributes to making the world a better place for all. As the mission outreach and communication coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington envisions: “If the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation is successful in raising awareness of and action toward ecological justice, it can serve as an encouraging example for other Catholic dioceses and communities of faith throughout the country and the globe. There are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics on Earth — just think of what could be achieved if we committed to caring for the created world together.”

Then, as all faiths and faith communities grow in awareness and begins to truly adopt sustainable practices – not just at the parish, but also in the home, at work or school, and make it a priority in our politics – we can change, and quite possibly, save the world.

Faith-based organizations that help religious communities become sustainable include: Catholic Climate Covenant, Florida East Coast Green Union, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Interfaith Power and Light, The Green Seminary Initiative and Green Faith.

The Religions of the World Agree: Being Sustainable Is a Moral imperative; So, How Can We Bring the Ecology of Faith Home

PJ PictureBy: Paul L. Jones, CPA
LEED Green Associate
Director, Financial Advisory Services for Emerald Skyline Corporation

“Climate change is the most serious issue facing humanity today. It is already seriously impacting economies, ecosystems, and people worldwide. Left unchecked, it will cause tremendous suffering for all living beings.” From the International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change, 1/8/2014

Because creation was entrusted to human stewardship, the natural world is not just a resource to be exploited but also a reality to be respected and even reverenced as a gift and trust from God. It is the task of human beings to care for, preserve and cultivate the treasures of creation.” Saint Pope John Paul II, The Church in Oceania, 2001, n.31

“For the Church of the 21st Century, good ecology is not an optional extra, but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian.” Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church Care, Church of England

“We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.” From the Joint message from Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the World Day of Prayer for Creation, September 1, 2017

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‘Ecology’ (from the Greek oikos) refers to the Earth as our home; our place of wellbeing. For Christians, ecological stewardship is the conviction that every gift of nature and grace comes from God and that the human person is not the absolute owner of his or her gifts or possessions but rather the trustee or steward of them. These gifts are given in trust for the building of the Kingdom of God. Christians are called to appreciate the spiritual and theological significance of the Earth and to exercise ecological stewardship of the Earth and its resources. The gifts of creation are not simply there for human use, but have their own dignity, value and integrity.

In April 2016, Muslim leaders delivered the Islamic climate change declaration. From an article announcing its’ release, “Islam teaches us that ‘man is simply a steward holding whatever is on earth in trust’,” says Nana Firman, Co-Chair of the Global Muslim Climate Network. “The Declaration calls upon all nations and their leaders to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and support vulnerable communities, both in addressing the impacts of climate change and in harnessing renewable energy.”

“Mahatma Gandhi urged, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ If alive today, he would call upon Hindus to set the example, to change our lifestyle, to simplify our needs and restrain our desires. As one sixth of the human family, Hindus can have a tremendous impact. We can and should take the lead in Earth-friendly living, personal frugality, lower power consumption, alternative energy, sustainable food production and vegetarianism, as well as in evolving technologies that positively address our shared plight.” From the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change

“In the Jewish liturgy there is a prayer called Aleinu in which we ask that the world be soon perfected under the sovereignty of God (le-takein ‘olam  be-malkhut Shaddai). Tikkun ‘olam, the perfecting or the repairing of the world, has become a major theme in modern Jewish social justice theology. It is usually expressed as an activity, which must be done by humans in partnership with God. It is an important concept in light of the task ahead in environmentalism. In our ignorance and our greed, we have damaged the world and silenced many of the voices of the choir of Creation. Now we must fix it. There is no one else to repair it but us.” by Rabbi Lawrence Troster

So, all of the world’s major religions and all of the spiritual leaders of the world agree: Being a faithful steward in the care of His Creation is a religious and spiritual mandate: It is our obligation. But then we see churches that run the air conditioning full blast – when only a few people are present or we witness waste in water consumption, food preparation and other church, school and ecological waste in related parish activities. I think this lack of prioritization among every pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, swami and teacher, not just the leadership of a few, as evidenced by the failure to make every building occupied by a religious or spiritual institution sustainable.

As Saint James tells us “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of Wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. This estimate relies on the RCMS 2010 religious congregations census. Of those, about 314,000 are Protestant and other Christian churches, and 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox churches. Non-Christian religious congregations are estimated at about 12,000.

According to the Catholic Climate Covenant in their presentation on the Catholic Covenant Energies program, “there are an estimated 70,000 Catholic-owned buildings in the United States.” Considering that the Catholic Church represents less than 10% of all religious congregations in the U.S., the opportunity for reducing the carbon footprint through sustainable practices in our churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, day care centers and other facilities operated by religious congregations is enormous. The Covenant calculates that by implementing proven and affordable conservation measures, Catholic-owned buildings can reduce energy use in buildings owned by 25% saving the Catholic Church $630 million in energy costs, “reducing energy use by an equivalent of 8.7 million tons of coal.”

Now, imagine if all faith denominations practiced what they preached – and not just in the United States but throughout the world! The Church and all religious denominations would then make a real – and positive – impact on the lives of all people, reducing suffering and promoting the cause of social justice. Further, the savings from lower utility bills and other sustainable practices can be diverted to core Church ministries like education, youth outreach and the care of the least in their community. Finally, through the implementation of sustainable practices, parishioners would learn how to be sustainable in their personal lives – saving on their utility bills helps the poor afford other necessities – life food or medicine.

So, what is a congregation to do?

In his book, “Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development,” Gary Gardner, provides five capacities in which religion can help meet the challenge posed by climate change and sea level rise:

  1. Engage members of faith-based groups
  2. Moral authority – offer ethical guidelines and religious leadership
  3. Provide meaning by shaping world views and new paradigms of well-being
  4. Share physical resources; and
  5. Build community to support sustainable practices

And then there is the key to the Kingdom, be sustainable. Here are some of the most cost-effective steps any parish can take to begin the process of becoming a sustainable religious community. These steps can help reduce energy bills, tackle climate change and build a more sustainable future.

  • Air seal doors, windows and any other drafty locations which reduces the waste of energy used to heat or cool the facility;
  • Employ energy efficiency technology that optimizes energy performance which includes LED lighting, occupancy sensors, and insulating hot water storage tanks.
  • Be prudent in energy use: adjusting the thermostats 1 degree lower in the church, parish hall or other facilities can cut heating costs 5 percent over the course of a heating season. Setting the air-conditioning a few degrees higher has an equal effect; and
  • Improve water use efficiency by using low-flush toilets and urinals in parish facilities, landscaping with plants that don’t require a lot of water, collecting and reusing water for irrigation, employing detection devices to fix leaking pipes and plumbing (Installing high-efficiency plumbing fixtures and appliances can help reduce indoor water use by one-third, saving on water and sewer bills, and cutting energy use by as much as 6 percent);
  • Choose local suppliers and contractors who employ sustainable practices like energy efficiencies and use of “green” products;
  • Identify and employ wider, imaginative ways – like a temporary farmer’s market, reversible accommodation for classes, meetings and other uses to use church properties when not engaged in worship; and
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle.

Then, pewsthere are larger projects – like replacing HVAC equipment and appliances that are near the end of their functional life; adding solar panels, installing a geo-thermal plant, replacing vehicles with fuel-efficient, electric, hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles and encourage use of mass transit, carpooling and telecommuting.

The Catholic Climate Covenant and its sister organization, Catholic Covenant Energies, a non-profit organization which is working with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and similar for-profit organizations like Commons Energy which is working with the Archdiocese of Vermont are available to provide financing.

Now is the time for our religions to take the lead in bringing sustainable practices to their properties, to their parishes and to their community… From the first letter of Saint John (3:18), “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in Truth.”