America’s faith communities lead the way on slashing climate pollution

Cool Congregations Challenge 2014 winners

April 21, 2015 – In celebration of Earth Day, Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) has announced its annual Cool Congregations Challenge winners — exemplary faith communities modeling climate solutions and Earth stewardship in dozens of inspiring projects across the nation. The winning faith communities represent many different religious backgrounds, but all share a common mission — to respond to the threat of climate change by taking concrete actions with tangible carbon reductions. The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder and president of Interfaith Power & Light, says, “It’s very inspiring to see so many congregations stepping up in response to climate change, especially this year as global leaders prepare to meet in Paris to discuss the reduction of global carbon pollution and the climate crisis. IPL’s Cool Congregations are leaders. They’re not waiting until 2030 or 2050 to make a difference — they’re showing us that cutting emissions by 50% or more is not only possible now, but many have even gone carbon neutral.” On average, winners and runners-up saved $8,000/year on their energy bill, and prevented 
58-metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere (per congregation). All first place Cool Congregations Challenge winners will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Challenge winners, runners-up, and honorable mentions have been awarded in five categories that include: Energy Saver, Renewable Role Model, Sacred Grounds Steward, Community Inspiration, and Cool Planner. Final entries were received in January and judged by a panel of experts from Interfaith Power & Light, EPA’s Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council, and Nature’s Friends Institute. Judges favored projects with well-defined and measurable objectives for climate benefit; creativity and resourcefulness in executing the project; congregant and/or community engagement; and inspirational stories. A sampling of winning and runner-up entries include: the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia; the nation’s largest solar-powered straw bale eco and solar education center for kids and professionals in Arkansas; a re-created native habitat that replaces turf, reduces CO2 and prevents runoff in Indiana; a Compassion Education Center in Kentucky to model care for the Earth and future generations, and; energy saving volunteers in North Carolina working at the nexus of climate and poverty. Please see the attached rundown of winners, along with links to entry details and photos.
Details on the winners and pictures below: (
Twitter: #CoolCongregations @interfaithpower

Contact: Kari Kiser, IPL: (415) 561-4891,

Renewable Role Model Winner – Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church
Shepherdstown, West Virginia

CO2 Reduction: 132 metric tons/year
Generating: 19,000 kWh of electricity
Percent CO2 Reduction: 50%

Largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia
In a first of its kind project, residents and businesses in this small town in Jefferson County, West Virginia came together to do what was once seemingly impossible — making solar power affordable for any church or non-profit in one of the most coal-dependent states in America. Nearly 100 families and businesses in and around Shepherdstown made the project possible through an innovative crowd funding campaign. Working with Solar Holler, the Church was able to go solar with no cost — upfront or in the future. Instead, funding for the project was raised through the installation of demand response controllers on community members’ electric water heaters. The water heater controllers were installed and operated by Mosaic Power, a smart grid technology company in Frederick, Maryland. Mosaic Power manages water heaters as a virtual power plant — responding to the electricity grid in real time to make it more efficient and balance supply and demand. Through this demand response service, Mosaic Power reduces blackouts and pollution. Mosaic Power pays property owners $100 per tank per year for participation. Rather than taking the money themselves, project supporters agreed to have their payments support the Church’s solar project. And by using Mosaic controllers as the funding source, the Church drastically scaled up its climate impact — each Mosaic controller eliminates as much carbon pollution as 6 solar panels.

Energy Saver Winner – Eco Center at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center
Little Rock, Arkansas

CO2 Reduction: 319 metric tons/year
Cost Savings: $7,626/yr
Percent CO2 Reduction: Net zero (100% compared to standard building practices)

Going deep green with energy efficient straw bale Eco Center in Arkansas
Ferncliff summer camp and year round conference center is connected to the Presbyterian church and open to any and all. The challenge was to create a solar-powered Eco Center — a creatively green building on the campus to serve as: a hands-on classroom for Ferncliff’s Solar School; an adult-friendly lodge for meetings and hands-on work all four seasons, and; a summer camp for youth to engage in hands-on experiential learning about caring for creation. The new net zero Eco Center opened in 2014. The 5,300 square foot Center features straw bale constructed walls, recycled floors, sleeping space for 28 guests, meeting space for 100, and was built primarily with volunteer labor. Its walls are made up of 1,200 bales of straw plastered inside and out with three coats of Natural Hydraulic Lime. The R-value of these walls is about R-33 compared to R-13 to -15 for a typical new building today. Electricity is provided by a net-metering system with 12 solar panels. An innovative “solar chimney” heats the building via convection, while the white roof reflects 90% of heat and insulates from underneath during the summer months.

Sacred Grounds Steward Winner – St. Peter’s United Church of Christ
Carmel, Indiana

CO2 Reduction: 4 metric tons/year
Cost Savings: $2,000/yr

Re-created native habitat replaces lawn, reduces CO2, prevents runoff in Indiana
St. Peter’s UCC has approximately 2.5 acres of ground surrounding the church building, much of it turf grass. The property has several drainage areas that create runoff and erosion. A comprehensive plan was developed to use native plants to create two rain gardens and a bioswale, along with a watershed area planted with trees and shrubs and a prairie, covering approximately two acres of ground. Volunteers from the congregation and outside community spent over 300 hours planting and caring for more than 6,000 plant plugs, 2 acres of prairie and wetland seed mix, and 60 native trees and shrubs as part of the watershed management system. The native sedges, grasses and wildflowers are helping to reduce contaminated water from reaching the White River by filtering the water as it passes through the church property and acting as a more effective carbon sink than turf. The primary concerns of the congregation are to lessen its carbon footprint and to manage runoff more effectively. Based on the community’s curiosity and desire to learn more and replicate the model, the church is now becoming a leader in educating others about the benefits of creating and developing more sustainable landscapes to replace lawns.

Community Inspiration Winner – Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Hayesville, North Carolina

CO2 Reduction: 33 metric tons/year
Prevents: 35,000 lbs. of coal from being burned
Families helped: 40 and counting
Percent CO2 Reduction: 10-20% per household

Energy saving volunteers in North Carolina work at nexus of climate and poverty 

A group of around ten climate concerned volunteers from Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and the Hayesville community are answering a combined moral calling to help the poor and be good stewards of Creation. Working with local poverty and charity organizations, they have helped 40 disadvantaged families reduce their carbon footprint and save money on energy bills. After a referral is identified, the volunteer team performs a free energy assessment, identifies sources of free or low cost materials, locates sources of funding, and then provides free labor to get the job done. Upgrades include such things as LED lighting, weather stripping, insulation, and replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems. Some of the work is done in conjunction with the Hinton Center which operates a retreat / mission center in the local community and which brings in mission teams from all over the country as part of their work. Good Shepherd will be integrating its efforts with the Hinton Center so that a side benefit will be that volunteers from Hinton will learn some exposure to the energy saving approaches and ideas.

Cool Planner Winner – Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion
Louisville, Kentucky
CO2 Reduction: Anticipate 21 metric tons/year
Modeling care for the Earth and future generations in Kentucky
According to Buddhist teaching, there is a very close interdependence between the natural environment and the sentient beings living in it. “At this time it is extremely important that every human being, according to his or her ability, consistently puts effort into ensuring the conservation and protection of this planet’s environment and its inhabitants,” says His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. In keeping with its core values, the Drepung Gomang Center in Louisville is planning a major energy efficiency upgrade of its existing building and a new energy efficient building construction project. The project will involve an upgrade to HVAC equipment and ductwork, lighting upgrade, roof deck insulation, and a new energy efficient building extension with a 20 kW solar array producing 23,520 kWh/year, rain barrels to collect water for laundry, Energy Star rated windows, low VOC concrete flooring, light-colored shingles to assist with summer cooling, lower water volume shower heads, dual flush and low water volume toilets, and many other innovative, energy saving improvements. In the planning process Drepung consulted with LEED certified architects, with Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light, with three solar energy companies, with the builder of the zero-carbon footprint Louisville Green Building, and with energy-efficient HVAC and water installers. Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion will launch expanded programming this spring. A primary component of the compassion education vision is to teach practical everyday steps toward care for the Earth. Drepung hopes to take a leading role in the city by linking engaged compassion to sustainability with its new building serving as a model.

Congratulations to the following Cool Congregations Challenge Runners-up, who came within percentage points of first place. Their projects and stories are no less amazing and are available to the media upon request. Please send media inquiries and photo requests to


Temple Beth Elohim
Wellesley, MA

1st United Methodist Church
Eugene, OR


St. David’s Episcopal Church
Austin, TX

The Unitarian Church of Lincoln
Lincoln, NE


Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church
Milwaukee, WI


Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax
Oakton, VA

St. Luke Presbyterian Church
Wayzata, MN


Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church
Portland, ME
The following Honorable Mention congregations were scored highly by the Cool Congregations Challenge judges, and are recognized for their stellar efforts to address climate change.

Energy Saver Honorable Mention
First Congregational Church of Guilford, Guilford, CT
Congregation Beth El – Keser Israel, New Haven, CT
Central Union Church, Honolulu, HI
Hillside Community Lutheran Church, Spring Hill, KS
Congregation Etz Chaim, Kennebunk, ME
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church, Acton, MA
Church of the Covenant, Boston, MA
First Congregational Church of Melrose, Melrose, MA
Central Congregational Church, Newburyport, MA
Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE
Congregational Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist, Chapel Hill, NC
Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville, NC
University City United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC
Holy Family Episcopal Church, Mills River, NC
Ward Street Mission United Methodist Church, High Point, NC
St. Mark UMC, Knoxville, TN
New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, TX

Renewable Role Model Honorable Mention
First Congregational Church, Woodstock, CT
First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Urbana, IL
Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, Bloomington, IL
St. Ansgar Evangelical Lutheran Church, Portland, ME
First Congregational Church of Melrose, Melrose, MA
St Luke Presbyterian Church Wayzata, MN

Sacred Grounds Steward Honorable Mention
Montevallo Presbyterian Church, Montevallo, AL
St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette, CA
Community United Church of Christ, Fresno, CA
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, DeKalb, IL
Unitarian Church of Evanston, Evanston, IL
Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Baltimore, MD
Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC
Clackamas United Church of Christ, Milwaukie, OR
St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Brookings, SD
New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, TX
Tifereth Israel Congregation, Washington, DC

Cool Planner Honorable Mention
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, Pasadena, CA
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Grand Rapids, MI
Marquette Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Marquette, MI

Community Inspiration Honorable Mention
Zion Lutheran Church, Dayton, OH
Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI
Unitarian Universalist Church West, Brookfield, WI

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