Greening of the Parish - Making the Congregation a Model for Environmental Justice by Alix Pridgen PDF Print E-mail

Greening of the Parish - Making the Congregation a Model for Environmental Justice
A Plan of Action for Concerned Pastors

by Alix Pridgen

Often we pastors find ourselves alone in our passion for eco-justice: serving congregations that do not yet consider environmental stewardship a major priority. Without forcing the issue, we can in good conscience at least work with what we do have some control over... our own office and desk... hoping that some of our passion will spill over into the wider community (and the rest of the building).

Following are suggested "steps" that a concerned pastor can take to foster environmental stewardship in the parish. Pick what works for you and don't worry about what doesn't. Every step makes a difference - so just begin!

  1. First Steps for a Pastor - Beginning Now
    1. Preach a "green vision"
      1. Include images from nature in as many sermons as possible.
      2. Use concrete examples from nature (rocks, branches, etc.) in children's sermons.
      3. Publicly acknowledge all current "green" practices in the parish.
    2. Include a "green quote" in every church newsletter.
    3. Write a short article including "green facts" for each newsletter.
    4. Purchase 100% recycled or tree-free stationary and use it for everything from your desk.
      1. Letters, memos, etc. should be on recycled paper.
      2. Print a notice at the bottom of everything stating that this paper is 100% post-consumer waste or a tree-free product, etc. This has two outcomes:
        1. To plant seeds of awareness
        2. To advertise your concern and commitment.
    5. Improve lighting in your office.
      1. Replace the light bulbs in your office with energy-efficient compact florescent bulbs (CFLs).
      2. Take advantage of natural light from windows by minimizing window coverings.
    6. Include plants in your office d├ęcor. (They like florescent light.)
    7. Put bird feeders outside your office window and keep them filled.
    8. Set up your own recycling center for office paper & trash - at least in your office, and take it to a recycling center yourself if there is no recycling pickup in the area.
    9. Seek to reduce paper waste.
      1. Print and use both sides of the paper.
      2. When only a few copies are needed, print multiples rather than photocopying as copiers use more heat and electricity.
      3. Talk to people rather than sending memos. Document conversations in a notebook if you must.
      4. Write meeting agendas on a blackboard/dry erase board rather than handing out paper.
      5. Keep coffee cups on hand for yourself and visitors rather than using disposables.
    10. Whenever possible, hold meetings and appointments out-of-doors.
      1. Arrange to meet in a garden, park, or on someone's porch.
      2. Hold worship outside on occasion.
      3. Consider some alternative liturgies & services that use elements of nature.
    11. Reduce your water consumption.
      1. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator.
      2. Ask the custodian if the toilet you use is a water conservation model. If not, put a brick or full water bottle (2-liter soda bottles usually work well) in the tank to reduce water use with each flush. This has two outcomes:
        1. word will get around - which will generate conversation & teachable moments
        2. maybe they'll put a brick in all the toilets - it's practically free.
    12. Subscribe to at least one journal or newsletter on ecology & sustainable living.
      1. Keep it in plain view on your desk where someone will pick it up.
      2. Keep the past issues in the "waiting area" where visitors can read it.
    13. Have someone artistic make an amusing sign to display in your office stating that it is a "green zone" - or whatever designation you intend to use.
    14. Ride your bicycle, walk or talk public transportation as often as possible.
      1. Ask others to give you a ride when you're heading to the same meeting.
      2. Offer to pick others up if you're driving and will pass their way.
      3. Car conversations are more enlightening than office conversations!
    15. Beware of inks.
      1. Use only refillable pens in your office - don't buy 100-packs of BICS.
      2. Send all copier cartridges off for refilling rather than buying new ones.
      3. Consider soy inks for printing.
    16. Keep a record of the date you begin so you can show the church council the $avings in water, electricity and office expenditures!
    17. Make your home a green zone as well.

(We have to begin somewhere and we cannot motivate others to change if we are not willing to change our own behavior. Let's do the walk before we do the talk.... This will have the additional benefit of setting up a visual example of what we're aiming for in the parish and the larger community. If people are piqued into seeking information they are much more likely to receive it than if it is unsolicited.)

  1. Second Step - Expansion to the Rest of the Parish
    1. Meet with the congregation's Council or other governing body and share your desire to make the parish a Green Zone. (Maybe a retreat?)
      1. Ask for their commitment to the project, as leaders.
      2. Invite the council to brainstorm their ideas for immediate changes.
      3. Note ways the parish is already practicing "green" stewardship.
      4. Don't overlook the financial incentives - projected savings!
      5. Let them know you are going to approach the congregation to find interested persons who can form a task force.
      6. Seek to keep the project from being pigeonholed under "property committee" concerns. (This should be a project of the entire community!)
      7. Provide each committee chair with a list of suggestions and resources which they can take to their committees (education, worship, property, social ministry, etc.).
    2. Immediate actions the Council can take.
      1. Write "meeting agendas" on a blackboard & e-mail them in advance of the meeting rather than handing out separate printed copies.
      2. Only file one copy of the minutes. Circulate them for approval rather than giving each Council representative a separate copy.
      3. Have them approach their committees with the vision and to brainstorm.
      4. Hold a meeting out-of-doors.
      5. Make a field-trip to visit another "green parish" if there is one in the area.
      6. Lead a worship service & do something create in place of a sermon.
    3. Reduce Energy Consumption
      1. Replace every incandescent bulb that burns out with a compact florescent bulb (CFL).
      2. Turn off lights when not in use.
      3. Install light or motion sensors on exterior lights if possible
      4. Install light or motion sensors on interior lights where possible.
      5. Run the dishwasher less frequently.
      6. When appliances need replacing, purchase energy-saving/energy star models.
      7. Put thermostats on a timer to heat and cool during times of occupancy only.
        1. Heat and cool building zones rather than the entire facility.
        2. Keep the building a little cooler in winter and a little warmer in summer.
      8. Use fans rather than air conditioning as often as possible.
      9. Adjust thermostats on refrigerators so they are not overcooling.
      10. Use printers rather than photocopiers when only a few copies are needed.
      11. Weatherize windows and doors (weather stripping, caulk, plastic film, etc.).
      12. Use reflective tinted window shades in the summer on windows that take on too much heat. (These permit light and visibility but reflect ultraviolet rays.)
      13. Consider using solar-panel lights along walks or in gardens.
      14. Insulate the water heater and turn the thermostat down to 110 degrees.
      15. Consider an "unplugged worship" that doesn't require amplification and electronic instruments, etc. (use acoustic guitars, flutes, drums, etc.). Great in smaller settings!
    4. Reduce Water Consumption
      1. Put a bottle filled with water or a brick in every toilet tank (if it's not a water-saver model).
      2. Do not run dishwashers until they are full.
      3. Replace appliances with water-saving appliances as needed.
      4. Put reminders near sinks not to let the water run unnecessarily.
      5. Replace existing faucets with ones featuring an auto-on/off sensor.
      6. Water lawns and gardens at night using a timer device. This has two effects:
        1. Less evaporation.
        2. Less chance of scorching plants.
      7. Use soaker-hoses rather than sprinklers to water plants, reducing evaporation.
      8. Replace lawns and plants that require water with less thirsty vegetation. Consider species native to the region - they evolved without additional watering or fertilization.
        Minimize paved areas on the property to prevent rainwater runoff.
    5. Reduce Paper and Plastics Consumption
      1. Do not use disposable dishes at all.
        1. Purchase a set of dishes for the church (plates, saucers, cups & silverware).
        2. Encourage members to bring their own coffee cups to the church.
        3. Use a spoon to stir coffee rather than plastic stir-straws.
      2. Purchase a copper-mesh reusable coffee filter rather than using paper filters.
      3. Do not print or copy anything that can be handled by e-mail or stored on a computer.
      4. Circulate reports rather than supplying individual copies.
      5. Put up dry-erase boards rather than flip-pads and markers in meeting rooms.
      6. Use both sides of paper for notes, printing, etc.
      7. Do not use zip-lock bags.
        1. Use plastic food-storage containers that are reusable.
        2. Buy food covers with elastic bands to fit over bowls & casseroles.
        3. Wash and reuse storage bags until they wear out.
      8. Install hot air hand dryers rather than paper towel dispensers in rest-rooms.
      9. Purchase only 100% post-consumer papers and let people know.
        1. Stationary and printer paper.
        2. Toilet paper.
        3. Paper towels (minimally).
      10. Use rags (worn out towels, not purchased rags) for janitorial work & cleaning.
      11. Use newspaper for window cleaning rather than paper towels. (This not only saves resources, it also works better!)
      12. Use pew bibles and hymnals rather than bulletin inserts (for prayers & lessons).
        1. Have members help visitors by handing them books opened to the right page and guiding them through the service by sharing books, etc.
        2. Beware the all-in-one bulletin... it goes into the trash at the end of the day.
    6. Reduce Waste / Garbage
      1. Reuse everything possible.
      2. Recycle everything possible. (Lobby for a citywide recycling program if none exists in your area.)
      3. Become a recycling drop-off center for areas that do not have curbside recycling pickup programs.
      4. Start composting on-site.
      5. Do not bag grass clippings unless they will be applied to a compost pile.
      6. DO not purchase single-use disposable items.
        1. Try to use refillable pens.
        2. Have copier cartridges re-serviced.
      7. Purchase in bulk to avoid packaging waste.
      8. Reduce the use of Sunday school curriculum materials that are handed out and usually thrown away right after church.
      9. Give away anything still usable rather than throwing it out.
    7. Reduce Consumption of Products with High Environmental Impact
      1. Buy only recycled papers.
      2. Purchase cleansers that are environmentally sound in production & disposal.
      3. Invest savings in "Green Funds."
      4. Use lumber from recycled plastics rather than virgin wood for outdoor projects. This is both
        1. Insect and rot-proof and
        2. Maintenance-free: no painting or sealants needed.
      5. Use rechargeable batteries (maybe a solar battery-charger?).
      6. Share resources between members or with other congregations or groups.
      7. If lawn areas are small, use a push-mower rather than an electric or gasoline-powered lawnmower. This has three effects:
        1. Reduces emissions.
        2. Reduces noise pollution.
        3. Mulches the clippings back into the lawn, reducing the need for fertilizers.
      8. Consider using a lawn service (and paying a fair wage) rather than investing in hedge-trimmers, weed-eaters, edgers, and lawnmowers for the congregation.
        1. Or, invite members to bring their own to the church for yard days.
        2. Avoid using power equipment - use hand trimmer rather than electric trimmer, for example. This has two effects:
          1. Avoids noise pollution, emissions and energy consumption.
          2. Provides beneficial exercise.
  1. Long-Term Projects (Building & Remodeling programs)
    1. Replace appliances with energy-efficient models.
    2. Replace faucets in rest-rooms. with sensor-activated faucets.
    3. Hire a lighting contractor to analyze lighting needs & offer alternatives.
      1. Consider installing skylights, glass block, or windows in low-light areas.
      2. Replace old systems with energy-efficient systems.
        1. Make sure there is no noisy buzz or hum coming from lights.
        2. Be sure lighting is zoned so that only needed lights are on.
        3. Consider dimmers to provide a wide range of lighting possibilities.
    4. Replace furnaces and old boilers with alternative heating sources.
      1. Wood-chip stoves/heaters which can heat one to three rooms.
        1. Use wood-chips made from sawdust.
        2. Cost of $3.00 for a 40 lb. bag = 30 hours of heating on average.
      2. Radiant heat from hot-water circulation) hopefully from solar energy).
    5. Consider wall-mounted gas water heaters that instantly heat water on demand rather than traditional tank models. These are
      1. Much more efficient as you aren't paying to keep the water hot when not in use and
      2. Excellent for low-volume hot water usage such as in rest-rooms. & sinks.
    6. Replace single-pane and older double-pane windows with ones that have high insulation ratings and low maintenance.
      1. Make sure windows have screens and can be opened. This will
        1. Allow in fresh air and improve ventilation and
        2. Reduce cooling costs during Spring and Autumn.
      2. Consider energy-efficient French doors that open onto garden spaces.
    7. Install weather stripping around windows and doors.
    8. Insulate the ceilings (and walls if possible).
    9. install fans, particularly ceiling fans, in almost every room.
    10. Replace older cooling systems with energy-efficient air-conditioning.
      1. Install separate smaller units to cool the building in zones of usage.
      2. Systems are available that re-circulate cooled water through the building.
      3. Look for alternatives to the use of freon gas in refrigeration.
    11. Hire a landscape architect & horticulturist to evaluate current use of land space.
      1. Plant or relocate deciduous trees so that they block sun in the summer and allow sunlight through in the winter.
      2. Consider including a labyrinth (made of dirt and vegetation rather than paving).
      3. Consider space for outdoor worship.
      4. Consider seating areas for private meditation/contemplation.
      5. Make sure the garden is child friendly - allows for climbing or running, and is nonpoisonous.
      6. Include hardy plant species native to the area.
        1. Plants that attract butterflies or other beneficial insects.
        2. Plants that attract birds and provide needed habitat.
      7. Consider space for mulching and perhaps for a community garden.
    12. Use alternative means for construction of new building facilities.
      1. Earth-bermed, strawbale, rammed-earth, adobe, cob, etc.
      2. Solar or wind power to generate electricity.
      3. Hire contractors committed to environmentally sustainable methods.
      4. Look for government grants for alternative building programs.
      5. Use only sustainably harvested lumber.
    13. Design the building to minimize the division between indoor and outdoor spaces.
      1. Rooms that open out onto courtyards or patio areas (stone, not cement).
      2. Ample use of windows that have a green view.
      3. Open space rather than cubbyhole construction of rooms.
      4. Multi-use spaces to reduce the overall square footage of the building.

(This list is not intended to be comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, but simply provides a starting place and fuel for creative thinking.)


Co-op America. "The WoodWise Consumer." Dana Harmon, Editor and Project Manager.

Krause, Tina B., ed. Care of the Earth: An Environmental Resource Manual for Church Leaders. (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1994.)

Web of Creation, Religious Education section.

Co-op America. "National Green Pages 2000."

"Conscious Choice: The Journal of Ecology and Natural Living."

Gaiam, Inc. dba HARMONY. "Harmony: Products in Harmony with the Earth." Holiday 1998 catalog.


Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.