During turbulent economic times, houses of worship may grapple with tighter budgets just as congregants must at home. When members are striving to manage energy costs, can congregational leaders [also make do with less]?
Those responsible for facility operations can increase monthly cash flow by reducing utility bills through energy efficiency. But how are efficiency improvements financed in a tough economy?
You don't necessarily have to upgrade or replace equipment to start saving. Better stewardship of what you have is the place to start.
Think of reducing energy costs as the financial equivalent of increasing donations. You may think of your utility payment, for example, as cash flow you can tap. Most houses of worship can cut utility costs about 30%, so a congregation with a $50,000 annual utility bill can probably free up about $15,000. And, much of this reduction comes from lowor no-cost solutions. What is 30% of your utility bill?
The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Energy Star program has tools, guidance and best practices to help you get started. The Putting Energy into Stewardship guide at www.energystar.gov/congregations offers "sure energy savers" and helps you establish an energy management strategy. EPA's free online Portfolio Manager tool helps you to measure and track energy use and savings.
Here are some quick ideas to get started.
No cost: Are lights or office machines left on when not in use? Are existing timers or thermostats set correctly? Are facility use times consolidated or at random?
Low cost: Are hot water faucets dripping? Are incandescent bulbs still in use instead of Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)? Are filters in your air-conditioning/heating system changed monthly during high use? These "little things" can add up to big savings.
Generally, you should use cash for less expensive improvements such as programmable thermostats, or occupancy sensors. A more expensive improvementsuch as a complete lighting upgradecan be financed to pay for itself over time. Which upgrade is most important? "Simple payback" is a good guide; compare the lengths of time for your savings to repay the cost of various improvements. Usually a payback under four years is worthwhile; a payback of less than 1.5 years should be implemented as soon as possible.
Your utility may provide free energy audits or equipment rebates. Many vendors of energy efficient equipment offer financing for their productsoften with credit at favorable rates.
Another popular strategy is to use the savings from low- or no-cost upgrades to help finance more costly investments. For example, if you spend $1,000 to make small changes that save you $4,000 in energy costs, that leaves you with a $3,000 "profit" to invest in larger equipment.
Increasingly, your members, especially youth, are interested in becoming "green" and learning about "creation care" and environmental stewardship. As part of a financial stewardship or capital campaign, you could request donations dedicated toward specific energy efficiency improvements. It may appeal to potential donors to know exactly what they are financing. A one-time donation for an efficiency improvement can have a positive impact on your cash flow that will last for years to come.