Consider for a moment why eliminating wasteful energy consumption is vital—-and should be a high priority for every church:
And at the same time, estimates by the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency are that up to 30 percent of that energy consumed is wasted, according to Colby May, founder and president of LIT, a consultancy that provides energy management services focused on faith-based facilities.
Cutting down on this waste and capturing the resultant savings through sound energy management/conservation efforts frees up dollars for other church-budget line items, he notes but there's a lot more to it than that.
"Sound energy management is a way to promote stewardship," says May. "By being good stewards in this regard, we free up financial resources that we can use to empower those who are the most vulnerable. Isn't this a big part of what church is all about?"
Efforts to minimize energy waste can also be part of a church's stewardship of the environment, something that has recently generated a lot of buzz in the faith-based community.
"There's no one out there that could have missed Pope Francis' encyclical ["Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home"], where he specifically addressed, among many other environmental issues, energy efficiency in buildings and industry," says Jerry Lawson, national manager of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR program for congregations.
ENERGY STAR helps all types of organizations and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency
The energy audit
The first step a church can take to minimize energy waste is to conduct an "energy audit," i.e., an inspection and analysis of the energy-efficiency of a building or buildings. And should (ideally) facilitate the creation of a "to-do" list of recommendations for tackling problem areas.
Energy audits can take a number of forms, according to Lawson. At the most basic level, a low-cost/no-cost effort can be an examination of a facility by members of the congregation in order to find opportunities to save money on energy. Once these opportunities are found—-and they can be as simple as turning off lights and office equipment when not in use—-members of the congregation can be enlisted to do simple tasks such as weather stripping, caulking, installing water conservation exercises, putting in ceiling fans, etc.
Energy audits increase in cost and complexity as the analysis grows to include building systems such as HVAC and lighting. At this level your audit contains more detailed energy calculations as well as financial analysis of proposed energy efficiency measures. At the top of the heap are audits that include detailed analysis of major building modifications.
More complex/more extensive audits can require the services of a consultant. But typically, according to Lawson, small to medium sized churches can often start with no-to-low-cost audits, assisted by the expertise of members of the congregation and that of utility company representatives.
Energy auditing is all about stewardship, according to Hardie Morgan, executive director of Ministry Support at Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, which has recently completed an energy audit with LIT.
"It's about how we can make better use of the kingdom dollars we are entrusted with," he says, "and if we can reduce our energy costs, there are more of those dollars that can go towards much more meaningful causes.
Grace Presbyterian's facilities, built in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, total around 180,000 square feet. This includes the church itself and a building for some 500 pre-school through eighth-graders.
The church's energy audit report highlighted a number of points about potential energy-saving actions.
"A lot of it involved tasks that instinctively make sense, such as turning off lights in a room that is not being used," says Morgan. "There were items listed which we previously knew we could do about our HVAC system but it was good to see these quantified in writing by a knowledgeable consultant in regards to what our actual savings could be."
Major elements of the report that gave Grace new ideas included those related to advances in lighting technology, he notes, among the list were potential benefits of installing a LED (light-emitting diode) system to replace florescent lighting.
The potential to save money through lighting systems was also one of the major findings in a recent energy audit at Aldersgate Church in Lubbock, Texas.
"One of the biggest things we found were the savings projected by changing out our lighting to an LED-based system," says Ryan Smallwood, lead pastor at Aldersgate.
"We'd enjoy savings of around 25 percent on our lighting costs by doing this," Smallwood says. "Of course, you do have up-front costs but these are significant savings over the long run."
Prior to their energy audit, Aldersgate had not done a lot when it came to energy-saving programs, "except normal, common-sense stuff, like turning the thermostats up when we're not inside, turning off lights, etc.," according to Smallwood.
The church wanted to do better and the audit gave them a roadmap to do that.
"We want to be good stewards of our resources, and our facility is our biggest resource," Smallwood says, "so we wanted to look into what we could do to save some money."
Smallwood says that one thing the church found surprising was how cost-effective it was to make changes, as well as the benefits to be gained.
"It didn't cost nearly as much as we had thought," says Smallwood, "and we think following its recommendations will really pay off in the long run."
There are plenty of resources available for churches that want to start out on the road to better energy efficiency.
Aim your web browser at www.energystar.gov/congregations and enter EPA's portal for resources for worship facilities. These include ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, an online (www.energystar.gov/Benchmark) tool you can use to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as compare the performance of your church building to some 370,000 other such facilities in the U.S.
Other resources here include a one-page tip sheet for congregations that outlines EPA's seven steps for strategic energy management, top tips for saving energy and water, and links to more detailed information.
Also included is ENERGY STAR's Action Workbook for Congregations (a summary and appendices), a highly detailed resource and planning guide for clergy, staff and laypersons of houses of worship who want to increase energy efficiency of their facilities by implementing realistic and cost-effective energy improvement projects. The page also contains a number of success stories from various houses of worship that have undertaken energy-efficiency projects.
Other resources include Green faith (www.Greenfaith.org), an interfaith organization that provides tools to help religious institutions and their members adopt sustainable consumption habits; Interfaith Power and Light (http://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org), whose stated mission is "to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy,"; and the U.S. Green Building Council (http://www.usgbc.org/), dedicated to promoting buildings "that save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy."