Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

LEDs, Lent and Palms
distributed 2/17/12 - ©2012

Do not try this energy conservation strategy at home!

Most homes do not have lighted EXIT signs over their doors, so I won't tell you to replace your inefficient signs with new hyper-efficient ones. I will tell you to do it at your church, though. (Although, if your home is in a multi-family setting where there are such signs, then talk to the property managers about getting the change made.)

My local church made the switch a few months ago, and I have been amazed. It is one of those win-win-win practices that make wonderful sense on every level.

Our church building -- a 1927 structure with a 1959 addition -- has a dozen of the lighted EXIT signs pointing the way to doors that should be used in an emergency. The signs, all installed more than 50 years ago, each had two 20-watt light bulbs, and they were on 24 hours a day. (We'll do the math on that in a minute.)

A rebate offer from our electric utility promised to pay most of the cost of replacing those old signs with new ones that use LED (light emitting diodes) lights. The ones that we selected draw only 2 watts of power per sign. That's 38 watts less for each of the signs, 24 hours a day.

When I run those numbers through my desk calculator, I get almost 11 kilowatt hours saved every day. In the course of a year, we're looking at just shy of 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity that is not consumed. That means that Xcel Energy is not burning as much coal to create the electricity to light up the inefficient old signs. The utility can count our new energy savings as part of the conservation component of Colorado's renewable energy standard -- which is why they were eager to give out the rebates.

At about 9 cents per KWH, our congregation saves $360 per year on the electric bill. Replacing those signs would have been a very wise investment, even without the rebate. Not only do we save money, but the new signs have backup batteries, so the lights stay on if the power goes off, and they are brighter than the tired old signs from the 50s.

The church saves money and gets better signs. The utility complies with renewable energy standards. The global environment has less pollution from mining and burning coal. Win-win-win, all around. We should have done it a long time ago.

When Eco-Justice Ministries talks to churches about environmentally responsible practices and programming, we start with "doing the basics". The basics are behaviors which make good practical sense, don't involve unusual effort, and are generally seen as part of being a responsible member of the community.

Efficient light bulbs and EXIT signs are perfect examples of "basic" behaviors. These are things that don't require deep theological reflection or moral justification. There's nothing distinctively Christian about doing the basics. They just make good sense, and we should all be doing them.

Take a look around your church. See if the EXIT signs are antiquated energy hogs. If so, prod the building committee to get them upgraded as soon as possible.

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The Christian season of Lent starts next Wednesday. Those 40 days of reflection and penance can be an excellent time to examine our environmental impacts, and our relationship with God's creation. Two resources are available to provide Lenten guidance.

(1)   For the second year, New England Regional Environmental Ministries is distributing an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. Those who sign up will receive daily email messages from Ash Wednesday through Easter with carbon reducing suggestions for you and your church or community group. Some suggestions will be in the "doing the basics" range, and others -- such as buying local produce and gardening -- require more intentional decisions. Participants will get help in calculating the carbon savings resulting from each practice. The list of suggestions is revised and expanded from the 2011 fast.

Rev. Jim Antal, the UCC Conference Minister in Massachusetts, said,

Living as we are at a time when our actions -- along with the actions of only a few generations -- have threatened Creation as we know it by the excessive burning of fossil fuel, it is fitting to engage in a spiritual discipline of fasting from carbon. This particular spiritual discipline will invite Christians to repent over the earth we have lost, and more importantly, will encourage Christians to re-purpose their life with new commitments.

I encourage you to sign up for the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast.

(2)   A different sort of Lenten guide has been produced by Presbyterians for Earth Care. They offer a devotional with scripture, prayer and a reflection for each holy day and each week of Lent.

The introduction to Feasting on God's Gifts; Fasting in Sorrow begins:

We enter into Lent in gratitude for God's graciousness. We are in awe of the beauty of this sacred space with which God has gifted us. At the same time, we come in grief; with deep sorrow for the losses which Creation has borne ... loss of topsoil, clean water, habitats of species; loss of clean air and pristine wilderness, of opportunity for fuller health and healing; and much more. With this Lenten Devotional, Presbyterians for Earth Care invites you to enter into Lent with us ... seeking ... reflecting ... pondering ... 'Feasting and Fasting'.

The entire devotional guide can be downloaded from Presbyterians for Earth Care, or you can sign up to receive the devotions as occasional emails. (The first mailing, for Ash Wednesday, came out this morning -- if you sign up for the email option, you may not receive it.)

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At the end of Lent, we come to Holy Week. In recent years, a growing number of churches have connected Christian liturgy and eco-justice responsibility by using "eco-palms" on Palm Sunday. These palms -- with an approach similar to what we see in fair trade coffee -- are raised and harvested using sustainable practices, and workers are paid living wages.

The eco-palm project is endorsed by Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Palms are ordered on-line, and the orders must be placed by March 14 (March 8 if paying by check).

If your church uses live palms, eco-palms are clearly the most ethical approach. Eco-Justice Ministries also encourages churches to consider "permanent palm" options -- artificial greens that can be re-used for many years, or green ribbons that represent the idea of palms -- so that large quantities of palm branches are not cut and shipped for just a few moments of liturgical use.

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Sometimes doing the right thing environmentally is pretty basic. It just makes good financial and practical sense. Sometimes, it takes more thought, and Lent can be a good time to follow a discipline of a carbon fast and/or spiritual devotions. Our eco-justice commitments are affirmed and strengthened when we connect them with treasured liturgies such as Palm Sunday.

There are many ways for you and your church to care for creation this season. Don't miss the opportunities.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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