2019 Cool Congregations Winners

Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.

Congratulations to the 2019 Cool Congregations Challenge Winners and Runners Up! You have truly gone the extra mile and are leading the way to a brighter future for us all!

Thanks to our expert panel of judges this year! By category they are:  Community Inspiration: Ashaki Scott, IPL National Office Manager and Program Assistant and Elena Bettis, Communications Director from Faith in Place, IPL’s affiliate in Illinois. Energy Saver: Ryan Snow, Director of Education at the U.S. Green Building Council and Hannah Bastian, Research Analyst from The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Renewable Role Model: Jerry Bernstein, Special Projects Coordinator. Sacred Grounds: Rev. Paul Uzel, Presbyterian Minister and Chair of the Iowa IPL Chapter, “Dubuque Interfaith Green Coalition” and Rev. Derrick Elliot, Pastor of Desert Heritage United Church of Christ, Mesa, Arizona. Cool Planner: Jerry Lawson, National Manager of the EPA’s Energy Star for Congregations program and Mikelann Scerbo, Senior Associate, Research at the Alliance for Saving Energy.

Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.


All Saints Episcopal Church, New Albany, Ohio won the 2019 Cool Congregations Community Inspiration award for inspiring members to make changes at home to save energy and care for creation by signing up 23 families for energy audits offered by the local utility company. Using a code from Interfaith Power and Light, they offered church members discounted home energy audits from the local utility and many members have subsequently made improvements to their homes using rebates offered by the utility.

They also contracted with a local composting company to pick up compost consisting of food scraps and compostable disposables from the church and invited church members to bring their compostables to the church for pick up.

Church member families have come to understand how easy composting is and what a big difference it can make in reducing global warming emissions from the landfill. The church shares a parking lot with the congregation Temple Beth Shalom who has recently asked to join the effort by composting food scraps and switching to compostable disposables. The group has dreams of expanding the composting program to the greater New Albany community by offering the church as a collection site for local families. Their hope is to help people understand that they can make changes in their own lives outside the church that not only safeguard creation but also save money and stimulate the local economy.

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Members sign up for composting














Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.


Urbandale United Church of Christ in Urbandale, Iowawon the Cool Congregations Energy Saver Award for the work of their “Green Boat Team” to achieve a 40% reduction in electricity use and a 20% reduction in gas use. They are the first of their denomination in Iowa to sign the Paris Pledge to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and they are ahead of schedule.

Faced with an aging building and failing piecemeal systems constructed and remodeled over many years, they persistently overcame each obstacle of building repair and upgrade to be able to retrofit their heating and cooling systems and improve the energy efficiency of the building. Congregants pitched in to repair holes in the ceiling so that insulation could be installed, worked with the local contractor to help find locations and pathways for new furnaces, duct work, and air conditioning lines, solve roof leaks, and upgrade to custom LED lighting that cut sanctuary lighting energy use by 90%.  Their next step is to install solar panels to complete their goal of 50% carbon reduction. They hope to save 53 tons of carbon emissions annually.

The well-organized “Green Boat Team” inspires engagement of their congregants through internal educational efforts and encourages the wider community to reduce energy use by offering public Iowa IPL workshops on climate change and solutions.

Note: Their green team was inspired by Mary Pipher’s book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.  She described the importance of supporting each other on this challenging and often discouraging journey. So they named their team “Green Boat” and now start each meeting with a potluck and time to talk and support each other before getting down to business.

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New bespoke LED sanctuary lighting

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Designer and builder of the bespoke LED lighting that cut sanctuary lighting electricity by 90%!






Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.


RRN_BDR Prsby Church_Winner_1 FBBrevard-Davidson River Presbyterian Church won the Cool Congregations Renewable Role Model Award for their solar installation. An aging congregation, they initially made big plans for a large installation, but the cost was too prohibitive, so they scaled back to a 20kW “pilot project” designed by students at the Advanced Energy Program at Appalachian State University as an educational project which significantly cut the cost for the church. The system provides 35% of the electricity for their main building, saving them $3,000 annually in energy costs, and preventing 28 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Environmentalists in the congregation love the carbon savings, conservatives love the cost savings, missioners love $3000 a year to reallocate and the youth- oriented love providing college students with an opportunity to design a real world system.They have inspired several other nonprofits and churches to go solar with presentations on their system to the Sierra Club and Presbytery meetings.

Just six months into the pilot project there is such strong support from church members that they are applying for a permit to expand to a system large enough to supply all the electrical needs of their main building and exploring plans to solarize the entire church campus. IPL is proud to award a congregation that creatively overcomes obstacles, engages others in achieving their goals, and inspires others to follow suit.


Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.


Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska won IPL’s Cool Congregations Challenge Sacred Grounds award for transforming a 1.9 acre lawn surrounding the congregation into a neighborhood park and arboretum featuring a a landscaping plan that benefits the environment and serves the community by providing habitat for wildlife, immersion in nature, and nature-based play for children.

The members of Aldersgate were concerned about the levels of obesity and stress reported statistically in the residents of the neighborhood and sought to contribute to the solution by providing the benefits of exposure to nature – reduced symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety, and enhanced psychological well-being.

The garden includes a 1,000 foot raingarden, native plantings, and a nature based playground with an 11-foot, 1.5-ton section of ash trunk climbing structure.  The upper deck of the fort reaches into the branches of a nearby ash tree.  They hope the large number of families in the neighboring large apartment complexes will use it. They calculate that their plantings now sequester 1.4 tons of carbon on average per year for the first 25 years, and in 50 years when the trees are mature they will sequester 8 tons per year. Aldersgate Gardens is a Landscape Steward Site affiliated with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.  To meet the education requirements for affiliation, they placed plant labels next to each variety of plant.  They have engaged the community in the renovation and in subsequent educational events in the park. Last summer the Audubon society included Aldersgate Gardens on its annual tour of backyard habitats; between 300 and 400 people visited on that day. Aldersgate UMC will undertake multiple efforts next spring and summer to encourage visitation of the playground by people living in the vicinity including nearby home day care providers.

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Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.


Congregation Kol Emeth, Palo Alto, California  won the 2020 Cool Congregations Planning Award for their new net zero energy worship facility and zero waste plans. They had outgrown their aging building that had failing systems such as heating and cooling that were costly to maintain. They wanted to embody their spiritual values in constructing a new building that avoided waste of energy and resources, inspired their congregants, and provided for greater involvement with the local community.  The entire congregation of 1200 rose to the challenge and raised $25 million in record time and the building is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2020.

The new building has been designed to embody the spiritual beliefs and religious practices of the community, as well as to support learning and celebrations for all ages. The site and building will maximize daylighting, capture water for irrigation, support solar electricity production, encourage EV and bike commuting, and use other green building principles. They expect to save approximately $66,000 in energy costs once the new building is completed.

The congregation has also committed to zero waste inspired by their religious beliefs to avoid waste, (Baal Tashchit) which in the modern era is expressed in sustainable practices. The leadership team has met with the City of Palo Alto and the waste hauler to get advice on green purchasing, waste sorting and other measures to reduce consumption, and to ensure that waste is either composted or recycled as fully as possible. The educational staff will work with students and families to encourage zero waste practices as part of the congregation’s values.    They hope to inspire their congregants towards more sustainable living in their homes and workplaces. They also hope to inspire other faith communities to orient themselves in affordable, doable ways towards embodying care for the Earth as a central religious value.

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CP_Kol Emeth_Winner_4Lane in meadow and deep blue sky. Nature design.

COMMUNITY INSPIRATIONCI_Srs of Providence_Runner Up_1

The Providence Climate Agreement

Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods
, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN collected pledges from the community at large to the Providence Climate Agreement of those taking action to reduce emissions totaling 1275 tons annually.





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The Presbytery of East Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee created a Carbon Footprint fund, collecting about $10,000 and disbursing about $6300 so far to fund seven projects in the Presbytery, all of them involving lighting upgrades to LED lamps and fixtures.





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Solar Sisters

Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay, WI increased their solar installations to cover 58% of the electrical needs of their campus offsetting 195 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.





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Sacred Grounds Steward

United Church of Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM installed a solar carport reducing electric use by 42% and a 32,000 gallon water catchment system for their beautiful outdoor worship space and grounds in the high desert. The landscaping sequesters 8 tons annually.





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Cool Desert Coalition

First Christian Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico is making plans for installing solar and will continue hosting a one-acre urban farm with a bioreactor and composting system through a coalition of groups: a local farmer (Backyard Farms), a non-profit, multi-cultural food group (La Semilla), and the Dona Ana County Soil and Water District.




LED Lighting in the Temple

Sri Shirdi SaiBaba Mandir of North Carolina in Cary, North Carolina also won the Cool Planner Runner Up Award for their ongoing efforts to switch to LED lighting. Their youth team, the Sai Sevaks, through NCIPL’s Youth Leaders Initiative, helped initiate an energy audit performed by NCIPL and raised the funds to switch to LEDs.CP_Sri Shirdi SaiBaba Madir of NC_Runner Up





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