Living Faithfully – Living Green
Steps to Greening is intended to give you and your faith community a quick overview of what is possible as you plan to green your sacred spaces.
Download Steps to Greening (0.3 MB).
Steps to Greening is intended to give you and your faith community a quick overview of what is possible as you plan to green your sacred spaces (your religious building, community buildings, and your homes). While the various projects and goals are presented as a numbered process, your greening process can begin anywhere in the circle. Many activities may happen more than once as you deepen your engagement. For instance, there are all kinds of green events, large and small, to raise awareness, promote and celebrate achievements.
Learn, change, expand, enjoy! Greening sacred spaces is meaningful, important work that contributes to a sustainable, spiritually-fulfilling future.
2. Expressing Interest
It only takes a few individuals working together to make things happen. Steps to Greening demonstrates what many faith communities have already done and guides you along your greening path.
Whether you are a small group of people meeting in an old rural church, or someone’s home, or a large urban grouping gathering in a great temple, mosque, or cathedral, there are specific day-to-day and long–term things your faith community can do to address the problems of climate change and open the doors to a more sustainable future.
Our religious buildings are a concrete symbol and vivid reminder to ourselves and the broader community, representing our values and commitment to care. We construct them in ways that bring us closer to the Divine and that inspire sacredness and reverence.
Most religious buildings constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries did not pay much attention to our connection with the Divine in the natural world. As we re-awaken our true Divine-Nature connection there are many architectural issues we need to consider to reestablish right relationship with the Earth by becoming better conservers.
If we are not being good stewards of our buildings, how can we claim to be good stewards of creation? As the Green Rule Poster demonstrates, all of our faith traditions have ecological stewardship as a core value and calling.
3. Gathering Interested People Together
An important starting point is gathering a small group of concerned people together to discuss what needs to be done. Our web page on creating a Green Team and our Green Team Guide can help you with this organizing.
Decide where you want to begin. Whether by asking the administrative group of your faith community for permission to do a building energy audit or waste audit, planning a special worship service, or organizing a green event such as an Eco Fair, you have begun the greening process. Start with an achievable objective. You are involved in a long-term process of learning, growth, and change that will transform your whole way of thinking and being in the world, individually and as a faith community.
4. Getting Decision-Makers Involved
To ensure ongoing success, it is important to bring key decision-makers from your faith community along in this transformative process. You may encounter some hard questions and resistance to your ideas. Decision-makers have to consider many things in deciding to change existing policies, property management, or worship practices. Your role is to open them to the benefits and opportunities of change. Present it as an experiment, an opportunity to save money, a spiritual journey that many, many others are committing themselves to as part of the greatest global movement humanity has yet known.
For small faith communities who already feel pressed to just keep the doors open, any kind of change will often seem too much. Go slowly and be willing to help fund-raise to pay for projects such as an energy audit and potential retrofits. Often a work party of volunteers can make significant conservation gains by caulking, insulating, and changing light bulbs. Keep positive about your commitment to the faith community and its desire to serve the community.
Big faith communities can have lots of committees and decision-making processes to work through to enact change. Be prepared to go to a few meetings with different decision-makers as you work towards change.
Working with the volunteer structures of faith communities is different from business and other sectors of society. Volunteers can often be more risk-adverse in this setting than they would be in a business milieu or other aspects of their lives. They want to preserve a good thing and not be reckless with donated money. The challenge is to help them see that you have the same objectives and you want to enhance this good thing and be better stewards of people’s generous gifts.
5. Let everyone know what you are doing
A key to success, and positive change, is keeping everyone in the loop on developments. Make regular announcements, write newsletter articles, and talk about your ideas at coffee or meal times. You only need a small group actually involved in the change process, but the broader the interest and potential support, the further you will go. People like to hear about the good things that are going on around them so they can talk about it and share in some of the good vibe. You want the least involved member of your faith community telling their friends about the greening going on in their faith community.
Let folks know what you are thinking about doing, then let them know when you are making the changes, and thirdly, report on the success of your initiatives. Short, upbeat announcements work well. Celebrate each accomplishment.
6. Green events
Green events are intended to educate, build interest, answer questions, and create momentum and hope for a better, sustainable future. A green event can be anything from a 15-minute information session after worship to a day-long gathering with plenaries and workshops. We offer a couple of workshop guides to help with the planning of these events.
As with most events at your faith community, you want people to feel they have engaged in something of significance. You have provided the opportunity for them to be moved, challenged, and encouraged. This will happen if you organize your event to involve them rather than tell them what to think or do. You are inviting them into a conversation about how all of us can work together to address issues of climate change and seek a more spiritually-enlivened future.
Begin and end, if possible, with a religious ritual, prayer, song, or something to connect your gathering to the larger realm of concern that is being discussed. Be heartened that your gathering of a few people is part of a worldwide movement towards harmony, peace, and sustainability.
For some ideas of green events that were held by various GSS participating faith communities, take a look at our page of case studies.
7. Energy audits
An energy audit provides you with some basic information about current energy use in your building and the potential for more efficient usage. An audit can range from a simple walk-through, pointing to obvious leaks and potential savings, to a full engineering study of your mechanical systems so that major upgrades can occur. Download our Audit Comparison Guide (0.3 MB).
GSS offers a low-cost Green Audit service which provides a walk-through audit of your faith community building by a trained professional green auditor who identifies areas that could be greened within the building. Participants receive a comprehensive report, including recommendations for saving energy, money, heat, and water.
If budgets are really tight, some faith communities recruit congregation members with energy or building backgrounds to conduct a walk-through audit using the GSS Practical Guide to Improving Energy Efficiency in Religious Buildings. It covers how to ‘tune-up’ your building through regular maintenance actions and details a wide range of retrofits that can help you save energy and money without sacrificing your comfort.
There is a range of possible retrofits that can make your building more energy efficient and comfortable to use. Everything from caulking around doors and windows, to insulating the basement and ceiling, to new mechanical systems that are more efficient and effective. The GSS Practical Guide details a great number of these options.
Based on the over 100 faith building Green Audits that GSS has conducted, we understand the costs of retrofits to religious buildings, their savings in money and energy, and how long it will take for the faith community to pay back their investment. In most cases, it is under ten years, and for buildings that last for generations, this represents substantial long-term savings.
The simplest building upgrade, that often offers great benefit, is working to seal the air leaks around windows, doors, ceilings, and so on. Lots of buildings have many small air leaks that, added together, are the equivalent of leaving a door open in winter months.
9. Community Involvement
Our sacred spaces are important to our broader communities and convey a strong message about who we are and how we relate to our neighbours. If viewed through a “green” lens, what message does your religious building send to the community? Is the building well-maintained and kept running efficiently? What kind of lawns and gardens do you have? Is there the opportunity for a public display of your commitment to caring for creation, such as solar panels or other renewable energy sources? How can your building convey to the community that your faith community cares about humanity’s place in creation? How can you be a leader and set a good example for all your neighbours and other buildings?
Many faith groups are going solar. Some faith communities have converted their landscaping to use more Indigenous plants that are low maintenance and friendly to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. One church converted its parking lot into raised-bed gardens to help feed low-income people in the neighbourhood. There are many examples of how faith communities have begun to take seriously how their property and presence can contribute to greening the broader community.
Indoors, we also know that many faith community buildings are used for a variety of community functions all week. This opens the door to your faith community demonstrating to these people your green values.
10. Greening your sacred home space
This is an invitation to view your home and surroundings as sacred spaces. We can imagine our religious buildings as sacred because they are intended to draw us into relationship with the Divine but why not our home as well? Our homes are places of rest, beauty, feasting, gathering, loving, and so on. All are sacred activities if we make the connection between the Divine impulse towards goodness and wholeness and our well-being. Recognizing this link helps us to make choices about our homes with the same conscious awareness as we are developing with our religious buildings. We need our homes to be as “green” as possible, not only to save energy and money but because it is a more healthy, holistic way to live.
Thinking of our homes as sacred space helps us to draw connections between the Divine-Nature and our day-to-day living. Rather than thinking of our personal space as a retreat from the natural world, how can we invite an interrelatedness with the natural world?