The judges for the Cool Congregations Challenge were very impressed with the high quality of the applications this year! Here are their comments on their selected Runners Up for the Cool Congregations Challenge 2021.
State College Friends Meeting, State College, PA – 36
“State College Friends Meetinghouse Path to Net Zero”
This congregation contracted an auditor to provide them with several detailed recommendations to reduce their energy consumption (e.g. LED light fixtures, weatherization, programmable thermostats). They’ve also already installed a solar array to provide for 100% of their electricity needs. In addition, they are encouraging congregants to take energy savings measures in their personal lives through a climate action menu on their website. https://www.statecollegefriends.org/climate-justice-working-group
Congregation Kol Shalom, Bainbridge Island, WA – 35
“Energy Efficiency Improvement Project for our Synagogue”
This congregation has worked very closely with its utility to try to improve the efficiency of its heating system. It is notable that they are spearheading adoption of heat pumps, which represent a great opportunity for saving energy in heating systems across the U.S. but are not widely adopted yet. https://kolshalom.net
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lansing, MI – 386
This project had a clear directive to reduce their energy use and carbon footprint. The church pursued a very comprehensive strategy for reducing their energy use over two decades. We appreciated how they first reduced pursued energy efficiency to reduce their energy consumption before pursuing solar generation. They engaged their congregants through a series of temple talks and conversations about the project. The project overall showed great results. The church is saving $3,700 a year in energy costs and have reduced their energy usage by 50%.
Renewable Role Model
Genesis of Ann Arbor: Note that Genesis of Ann Arbor is a partnership between St Clare’s Episcopal Church and Temple Beth Emeth (Reform Judaism). – 331
This project was selected because of the unique partnership between two diverse congregations that came together to fulfill the environmental mission common to both of their faiths. Their continued proactive efforts to publicize and share the unique investment model they used to ensure the most savings for the congregations and to advocate and educate other congregations about how going solar is doable for religious/non-profit institutions is admirable and noted. The shared church/synagogue has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. PV was part of the plan, but cost was an issue. 10 individuals from each congregation jointly formed an LLC (“Genesis”) to purchase the system and lease it back to the shared organization. They have shared the LLC template with others through MI-IPL and beyond via Interfaith Power & Light. For a copy of their materials, contact Jerry@interfaithpowerandlight.org. https://www.genesisa2.org/
New Garden Friends Meeting, Greensboro, NC – 376
The Meeting tried to fulfill a number of competing goals – congregation carbon reduction with a 45 kW PV system and assisting low-income neighbors. Their “Solar +” solution utilized funds contributed by about a quarter of the congregants; 30% of which went to helping 6 low-income neighbors with energy efficiency projects. The PV project was assisted by a grant to nonprofits (congregation) from their local utility.
Second Presbyterian Church, Little Rock, AR – 344
The Congregation is a founding member of the Presbyterian Earth Cares Congregation program. As part of this 10-year commitment to environmental action, they have installed a ~24 kW PV solar energy system and EV car chargers on their property. They also have multiple members who were trained by Solar Under the Sun who have participated in installation trips in Haiti and Honduras. Outside their renewable energy commitments, they have taken other actions, including hosting a Drawdown Climate Change conference (including the VP of Drawdown as a Keynote speaker) which attracted people from throughout their region. They are also locally active in supporting food bank and a recipient of Presbyterian and City awards. (We observe this system seems small for a congregation of 1800 members, but also note that they had to install it on a parking lot because their roofs weren’t able to support the system they originally planned – ground-mount is much more expensive than a roof-mounted system so it’s possible that this affected the size of the system they could install.) https://www.secondpreslr.org/service/environmental-stewardship/
St. John United Methodist Church, Anchorage, AK – 341
“Neighborhood Block Party” We feel that their goals were met, community engagement and partnership was extended outside of the congregation, and there was a significant and measurable amount of waste reductions from the event. Watch their youtube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu7iueRoSZg
Winchester Unitarian Society, Winchester, MA – 371
“Reduce your Carbon Footprint 30% by using 100% Green Electricity” We feel that they had good goals and liked how they were able to engage their congregants and help implement the aggregated community electricity program, among other things.
West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, Rocky River, OH – 337
“Defining the Green New Deal” We liked how they were able to educate the community on the Green New Deal through the partnership of numerous community organizations and multiple Zoom events on a variety of topics through their speaker series, which helped fulfill their goal. Please refer to the WSUUC website: wsuuc.org/solar-power/ and the West Shore Fact website: westshorefact.org
Gesu Catholic Church and School, Detroit, MI – 358
Gesu pulled together a large team of volunteers and professionals to accomplish an impressive construction project. The improvements to the watershed were: removed of 11,729 square feet of asphalt in the school/church and parish center parking lots; constructed two, 2,891 cubic feet of rain gardens in front of the school, visible from a major road, that can hold water from a 100-year storm; renovated the school courtyard to include 6 large planters measuring 1,972 cubic feet of soil to absorb water from five 500-gallon rain barrels; disconnected 49 downspouts from flowing into into city sewers and instead redirected them into gardens; built two dry wells to hold 621 gallons of wastewater.
The result is that they are now managing ½ of the stormwater generated by their campus.
The financing of this project is very impressive and a model for other congregations. The church obtained private and public grants, sourced plants from local non-profits and a local nursery and fundraised in their green committee. Also, the array of volunteers from the entire community – beyond their church such as the high school, neighboring colleges and many community organizations is most impressive. This project stood out for many reasons, one of which is how the community built on a previous, much smaller rain garden project in 2018. The community built on it’s commitment to the environment. It is an inspiring project.
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Wilmington, DE – 334
This congregation has worked with many partners in the community to improve their property with a meadow of native plants and community gardens including 30 rented beds. They are sequestering carbon, reducing runoff, and donating nearly 3000 pounds of produce to a food pantry. “We have had involvement from our congregants, neighbors, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school honor societies, local businesses, state and local governments and University of Delaware Master Gardeners. We are happy to have converted about 1/3 of our open space to more natural habitat.”
West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, NC – 367
“Beeloved Community Garden“. We love that the church and their neighbors transformed an overgrown lot into a buzzing and blooming garden. The garden is benefitting the planet by sequestering carbon, providing habitat for wildlife and provides a peaceful gathering place for the church and wider community. This is especially valuable during the pandemic and is meeting a real need in the community. “A meditation labyrinth has also been created at a time when many of us need to calm anxieties and re-center the spirit. The garden is now an oasis in the midst of a scary world.”
Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Bayside, CA – 380
The judges were impressed by the wide array of improvements: added native/drought-tolerant trees/shrubs/forbs; installed efficient watering system (subsequently even eliminated most watering); Installed cement-free patin with river rocks on a sand bed; installed bike racks, and promoted carpooling to services; set timers to reduce electric-light use; converted all lighting to LED; enrolled for the cleanest electricity option; repaired/upgraded our Wisconsin Mound septic system, as well as reducing water use; Promoting locally-grown, no-petrochem food, demonstration raised beds (round, high, easy-to-build) produce vegetables that are donated to folks in need; Two fruit trees recently added; enhanced recycling and established composting on the grounds; and donated CA deposit containers from rental events to folks in need.