Churches examine a greener way

By  Simon Appolloni, Catholic Register Special
  • November 27, 2003
TORONTO - How many Christians does it take to change a standard incandescent light bulb to an environmentally friendly one? Though this sounds like a comic riddle, for Christian faith communities who came to Toronto from across Canada for the National Consultation on Energy Efficiency for Religious Buildings Nov. 17-18, the issue of energy consumption was a deeply spiritual matter.
And surprisingly the message that came out was that reducing a church building's energy consumption by as much as 20 per cent is very realistic. "A parish could reduce its contributions to greenhouse emissions significantly just by replacing its incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones," said Cory Waters, executive director of the non-profit environmental consulting agency City Green of Victoria, B.C.

Other significant savings could be found simply by turning down the heat and turning off lights when not needed. More significant reductions in energy consumption can come about by replacing inefficient appliances (such as refrigerators) with newer low-energy ones. Older windows can be replaced with low-emissivity windows, which have high insulating properties.

The best part about this initiative, and one stressed by the engineers and environmental planners that also attended the meeting, is that lower energy consumption translates into financial savings for the church. These savings could be realized sooner than later, said Waters, perhaps in less than two years. Waters pointed to an energy audit his company provided for the Anglican diocese of Vancouver Island. The diocese expects a potential energy reduction level of as high as 20 per cent within a couple of years, which will mean substantially fewer expenses in the future.

The cost up front is what prevents most parishes from taking action, suggested Amy Wong, associate director of Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF). But happily, she noted, financing for the environmental retrofit of buildings is readily available from many sources. In Toronto, TAF endowment funds are available to nonprofit organizations as well as free consultations and energy audits from the Better Buildings Partnership.

At the federal level, Wong exclaimed, "there's money waiting to be had." She is referring to National Resources Canada, which has grants specifically for religious institutions. These could do much to make older church buildings more energy efficient by assisting parishes to install insulation, weather-stripping or even set up solar panels or windmills. Funds are available for the construction of new buildings as well.

All 57 Catholic parishes of Prince Edward Island have taken up this challenge to care for the earth. Sponsored by the diocese of Charlottetown, the Catholic population in the province wants not only to meet the Kyoto Protocol but to look at their entire 'ecological footprint' or environmental impact and seek ways to reduce it, said David Mackay, co-ordinator of their Enviro Church Project.

The forum, sponsored by Kairos, the Canadian ecumenical justice organization, is the first of a long consultation process. Promotion of energy efficient church buildings will take time, cautioned Joy Kennedy of Kairos. But the advantage is ours as Christians, noted one of the participants, Fr. Jim Profit of the Ecology Project of the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice: "When we say that death is not the end but that life is the end, it amounts to hope in this subject of despair."

To learn more about this initiative and to receive information, contact Kennedy, co-ordinator of the Kairos Ecological Justice Program, at (416) 463-5312, ext. 222 or <a href="http://www.kairoscanada.org">www.kairoscanada.org</a>.

(Appolloni is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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