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Get green with your carbon footprint

Everyone is talking about carbon footprints these days. What is your church’s carbon footprint? More importantly, do you know how to use your carbon footprint to improve both the environment and your church’s environmental communications?

A carbon footprint really means how much greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide)  an organization, event or product emits. In lay terms, a carbon footprint is the environmental impact an organization, event or product leaves behind.

Knowing your church’s carbon footprint could be important for several reasons, including:

  • It promotes your church’s efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.
  • It demonstrates fiscal responsibility because, generally, long-term costs decline when your carbon footprint declines.
  • It enhances your church’s reputation in the community as a responsible and caring organization.
  • It inspires your  church members and others in the community to reduce their  carbon footprints.

Just because your church isn’t actually spewing gases from a smokestack, it does consume energy that generates unhealthy emissions. So reducing energy consumption is the best way to shrink your church’s carbon footprint.

Switching to low-energy light bulbs and  replacing the old church van with a hybrid model will reduce emissions, but your building’s heating and cooling systems are by far the largest consumers of energy and the place  you should focus your energy.

How do you find out how much energy your church building is consuming and  translate that into your carbon footprint? Here are some options:

1. Calculate it yourself using information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which uses this table to calculate electricity consumption and expenditures for non-mall commercial buildings (such as churches). Collect details on square footage, building age, type of roofing and wall materials, and type of heating and cooling systems to  calculate energy consumption. (The table lists all  the needed categories.) The resulting sum is described in kilowatt-hours (kWh).

You now have your church’s carbon footprint based on building energy consumption. Having the base number enables you to share what your carbon footprint is and to identify how  upgrades could not only save money in the long term, but also reduce that footprint.

2. Use energy-use-calculation software. These calculate energy use based on the systems in your building and provide projections and  suggestions for reducing energy use. They are designed for building-maintenance professionals, so if you go this route, collaborate with your church facilities team. Online resources like the Energy Star Portfolio Manager or a free online carbon footprint calculator will help you measure and track your energy consumption. Congregation-specific tools and information are also available on the Energy Star for Congregations and Cool Congregations to help you measure and track your progress.

3. Hire a company to conduct a building energy audit. Search your local Google directory for “building energy audits.” This is the most expensive method and shouldn’t be undertaken unless church leaders are making a serious commitment to energy reduction via building upgrades. Otherwise, you will waste money.

The benefits of hiring a company to conduct the audit is that they also act as consultants during the retrofit process; are required to be pre-certified on the state level; and can provide the most comprehensive information available on energy consumption now and after upgrades are made. They also can calculate how long it will take to recover a church’s investment in new systems through energy savings, a crucial piece of information when seeking capital-improvement funds.

Knowing your church’s carbon footprint and ways to reduce it enables your church to determine whether to spend money to reduce energy consumption. If the church is undertaking a capital campaign, for example, this information can be valuable in demonstrating why the church needs money and how the congregation is a good steward of money and the environment.

Share the church’s carbon-footprint process and energy-reduction steps with church members and the community—let them know how they can act in their own home or commercial building.

Being able to communicate in specific and accurate terms about energy usage and—energy reduction—will prepare you to talk with authority about your church’s commitment to environmental protection.