By Richard Gasaway
Wouldn’t you rather save those collection plate donation dollars for ministry rather than using them to pay the utility company?
It isn’t what most church staff tend to think about, but let’s face it: Few find saving energy a core part of stewardship. But saving energy—or even generating your own energy—is an effective way to save money and be a good steward of God’s creation.
Different congregations have their own circumstances and level of interest in environmental issues, but all congregations can financially benefit from wasting less, using energy and water more efficiently, and self-generating power onsite.
The younger members of the congregation are often passionate about “green stewardship” and can be enthusiastic drivers of these projects, which can also be an enticing way to engage the next generation.
Here are five ways your congregation can tackle energy challenges and take practical, economic, and environmentally beneficial steps.
Wasting energy and water is squandering money. Conservation is, in its simplest terms, “doing without.”
Any modification of behavior in order to reduce the consumption of energy or water is, by definition, conservation. Saving on operating expenses by finding ways to plug leaks of air or water can go a long way to bring extra dollars back to ministry.
Calking, upgrading insulation, sealing leaky air ducts, and repairing leaking water pipes are relatively cheap and easy to do by handy church volunteers. Even recycling aluminum cans can lead to a value benefit for the congregation.
For example, the “Green Team” at the church I attend has collected aluminum cans and taken them to metal recycling centers for cash that can then be used for a variety of mission-related purposes.
We’ve used the funds to purchase and plant a beautiful red maple on Arbor Day at the church’s elementary school and we’ve also used money raised to arrange for tree plantings on a mission trip to Kenya, providing fruit and shade trees for an orphanage.
2. Make minor changes for energy efficiency
Often confused with conservation, energy efficiency is different in that its use of technology or improvements in design perform similar results with less energy. The upfront costs can be more expensive, but the long-term savings in money and pollution emissions are substantial.
One example of a simple way to be energy efficient is to replace incandescent lighting with LED bulbs that use approximately 75 percent less energy to produce the same amount of light, but with less wasted heat.
Depending on the location of the church facilities, one of the greatest energy savers is often replacing heating and air conditioning equipment with higher efficiency models. Another great place to find savings is replacing refrigerators and hot water heaters with Energy Star rated models, which brings us to the next item.
3. Utilize Energy Star for congregations
The Energy Star label is well recognized on home appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, but did you know there’s a tab on the Energy Star website specifically for congregations?
There’s an action workbook and free online tools that address many of the typical concerns of congregations and ways to apply best practices to guide successful solutions. Many congregations can cut energy costs by 30 percent through efficiency upgrades of equipment and better operating and maintenance practices.
4. Solar power
One of the best ways to reduce those energy bills is to rely on a God-given resource—the sun.
The energy of the sun is free and with the use of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) modules, electrical power generated onsite reduces the amount of power purchased from the utility company. In some places, power generated by the sun can be sold to the utility, called net metering, or the solar energy can be stored in a lithium-ion battery system to save the power generated for a time of greater need.
Solar PV power generation is more ambitious than pursuing conservation or energy efficiency but it can generate more excitement with the congregation and also the surrounding community since it’s more visually apparent.
It’s liberating to generate your own energy onsite and satisfying to know it is likely cleaner than the energy that would otherwise be purchased from the utility power grid. Costs for rooftop solar PV systems have dropped drastically over the last three to four years and are more affordable than ever.
Paying for it all
Since congregations don’t have the tax appetite to take advantage of some of the financial programs offered to encourage the use solar PV, battery energy storage, energy efficient heating and air conditioning, or different appliances, it’s worthwhile to search for grant programs to help defray the initial costs.
One method of cost offsetting is a contract with an Energy Services Company (ESCO) that can be arranged to defray the upfront cost or even make it zero. The trade-off is the savings in operating expenses don’t immediately go to the church; they’re first used to pay the ESCO.
ESCOs aim to provide a comprehensive strategy of energy efficiency savings, using their expertise and connections to equipment suppliers to contractually guarantee the project will save enough to cover the costs of financing, thereby reducing congregational risk. The ESCO can often provide financing or arrange third party financing at attractive rates.
All in all, using a service such as an ESCO can be a way to reduce financial risk and follow the stewardship goals of the congregation, even if large financial savings aren’t as immediately imminent.
For any non-Energy Star rated appliances your church owns that still runs well, consider selling them through local trade-and-sell sites—or donating them to a family or another ministry in need.
No matter the reasons for energy stewardship, if the congregation believes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a primary environmental goal, or if stewardship of financial resources as the most important, common ground can be found in Scripture that God has put humans in charge of the earth to “…work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
God is glorified whenever we pursue wise stewardship and demonstrate care for His creation by being conservative, efficient and resourceful. It sets a wonderful example to the congregation and is an outreach to the community that shows we care about the beautiful creation we all share.
This can be a powerful message of leadership to non-believers that we value this earth and our resources—both gifts from God.
Richard is a registered professional engineer in Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin and a LEED ® Green Associate.