As Christians it is our duty to care for the world with which we have been entrusted. It is now clear that our modern, energy-hungry lifestyles are changing the planet for the worse. If we do nothing, simply allowing carbon emissions to continue at current levels, by 2100 the average annual temperature will have risen between 1 and 5°C. There will be 50% less precipitation in the summer months, but 30% more in the winter months. Extreme weather events such as storms and floods will become more common and sea levels could rise by as much as 80cm. Drier summers will increase the risk of wildfires and drought. Stormier winters will increase the risk of wind and flood damage. We must act now to ward off these threats to God’s creation.
What can we do?
Some of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your church are also the simplest. Conventional fossil fuel fired power stations emit around 9 000 000 tonnes of carbon each per year in order to satisfy our demand for electricity. Reducing that demand therefore lowers emissions, as well as saving you money. Make sure that your use of energy is as efficient as possible by following these simple steps:
- Heating should be tailored to the nature of the groups using the building rather then set at default levels. Remember that an active group (such as a playgroup) will require less heat than a sedentary one (e.g. a Sunday congregation). Use timer and/or thermostatic controls to prevent overuse.
- Lighting should only be used when it is needed – low tech printed “Switch off” signs by light switches right through to motion activated lighting can help you achieve this. New lighting and heating systems should be sectional, allowing parts of the building currently in use to be lit and heated whilst other areas are not. Where possible install energy saving light bulbs – these can reduce energy consumption by up to 80%.
Combating climate change is about minimising use of all the planet’s resources, not just fossil fuels:
- Reduce water use by using spray fitting taps, dual flush WCs, and harvesting rainwater.
- Make sure products used in the church are recyclable or long life
- Where possible, carry out repairs to the church building in sustainable, environmentally friendly materials, and ensure that additions to the building are “green by design”.
Should we be generating our own power?
Clearly it is impossible to do away with the need for power entirely. It is therefore important that our sources of power are clean and sustainable – that they do not put any additional carbon into the atmosphere. In most cases it will not be possible for churches to generate their own power on site, whether due to the capital costs of such an installation or planning restrictions. For example, the installation costs of systems such as photovoltaic cells are significantly higher than for other renewable energies, with standard installations costing around £15 000. The installation of such cells on historic churches can be detrimental both to the appearance and fabric of the building, and it is important to note that this technology is not carbon neutral due to the amount of energy required to make the cells. For churches that cannot meet such capital costs or that do not have a site suitable for microgeneration, switching to a green energy provider is the best way to ensure that the energy you are using is not harming the planet. For churches that can afford the initial cost or need to replace their current heating systems in the near future, systems such as ground source heat pumps and particularly biomass may be worth investigating as they are particularly well suited to the energy demands of church buildings.
There is no “one size fits all” solution for the provision of sustainable energy. The best solutions are tailored to the specific needs and resources of your church.
For further information and guidance on climate change and your church building in the Diocese of Oxford, contact [email protected] or see the following websites:
The Centre for Alternative Technology (www.cat.org.uk) has fact sheets on all the major types of micro-generation, has an online shop selling the parts required, and can offer consultation on individual projects.
The Energy Saving Trust (www.est.org.uk) has information on the different types of renewable energy, as well as on how to use energy more efficiently, and on funding/grants for micro-generation equipment
The Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint initiative (www.shrinkingthefootprint.cofe.anglican.org) has advice on how to measure the carbon footprint of your church, and how to reduce it.
Eco-congregation (www.ecocongregation.org) has a wealth of practical information on the green management of your church, and on introducing green issues into worship.
Remember that all alterations to the church building that are not covered by de minimis will require the permission of the Chancellor through the usual faculty process. You should contact the office of the DAC Secretary for advice on such alterations.
Natalie Merry is the Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the care of churches in the Diocese of Oxford.