Eco-Justice Ministries
   Eco-Justice: "the well-being of all humankind on a thriving Earth"

Quick Tips for Including Eco-Justice
in Church Administration

A congregation that is theologically committed to eco-justice -- or is striving for that commitment -- will reveal their commitments in their management of the resources of the church.

Church administration is a large and complex area, ranging from matters of staffing and church finances to upkeep of the building and grounds. Eco-justice -- which holds together ecological sustainability and social/economic justice -- has applications beyond the directly "environmental" issues.

These quick tips provide a starting point for looking at some of the eco-justice implications of church administration.

Financial issues
Some congregations have significant investments and savings. Traditional notions of fiscal responsibility focus on finding a balance between protecting the principal and obtaining a high rate of return. An eco-justice perspective also asks about the way in which the return is generated.

Is the bank involved in supporting the entire local community? Does it stand out as a leader in addressing the needs of all in the community, and especially the poor or marginalized parts of the community?

Are the church's financial investments in made companies or funds that are socially and environmentally responsible?


Staff issues
A congregation committed to justice should provide fair pay and reasonable benefits to all members of the church staff. This includes the ministers, secretaries, custodians, and child care employees.

Are members of the staff given options for working flexible hours and telecommuting? Not only does this help workers balance their responsibilities for the church with family obligations and other commitments, it can be significant in reducing the environmental impacts of transportation and commuting.


Office administration
In most congregations, the church offices are the part of the facility with the most day-in and day-out activity. This concentration makes the office an important place to focus eco-justice efforts.

Photocopiers, computers and printers should have power saving features activated. Turn off all equipment over night. Look for energy efficiency when purchasing new equipment.

If you are replacing or upgrading copiers, mid-sized to large churches should consider using equipment that prints with ink (such as Risograph®). This can have significant energy savings, and is substantially cheaper per copy.

Try to buy from small businesses and minority contractors. This supports the diversity and economic life of your local community.

Recycle office paper and toner cartridges. Treat outdated office equipment (especially computers and monitors) as hazardous waste that should be properly recycled or processed.

Use recycled paper.

Some churches have decided to use long distance carriers (such as Working Assets®) that donate a portion of their income to progressive or environmental groups.


Building administration
The church building can be important to the wider community. Look at the policies and fees that apply to outside groups that use the building. Are the groups that your church wants to encourage in the community able to use your building?

If it is available in your region, consider buying "green power" from renewable sources such as wind and geothermal.

Check on the cleaning chemicals that are used around the building. Are they safe for the people using them, and for the envirnment? Are they stored safely?

Do you buy supplies from small and local businesses? Do you work with minority contractors? (On the flip side, are contracted service workers the only minorities working for the church?)

Pay attention to the "4 Rs" (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) for all the products and packaging that might be purchased and produced by the church. Note especially recycling possibilities for paper, glass, plastic, cans and cardboard. Many churches serve as recycling drop-off locations for their members and communities.

Because of their large spaces and irregular use, church buildings have special issues around heating and cooling. The strategies and priorities here might be quite different than in a home or an office building. Improvements and changes in this area can have a rapid financial pay-back.

  • Open the windows! Make use of ventilation and fans to replace or reduce air conditioning, or even some heating. Especially note the use of ceiling fans in the sanctuary.

  • Be sure that your heating and cooling system is divided into appropriate zones, so that the same thermostat does not control the sanctuary and the minister's office.

  • Keep all thermostats at appropriate temperature settings -- a bit cool in the winter, and a bit warm in the summer. Turn thermostats back when an area will not be in use. Explore the use of timed thermostats in some areas of the building.

  • Have your heating and cooling equipment checked for efficiency on a regular basis. Rising energy costs may make servicing, repairs and replacement more cost-effective.

  • Keep the outside out, and the inside in. Insulate and weatherstrip the building. Install double-glazed or storm windows.

  • If you are in a dry climate, use "swamp coolers" instead of air conditioning.

  • Use window shades, and shading from trees, to reduce heat build-up in warm weather.

  • Explore the possibilities for other heat sources (especially solar) for some or all of your building's needs.

Look at the refrigerators and freezers in the church (and parsonage). Refrigerators are energy hogs! If these are older units, the church might save money (and will save energy) by getting newer, more efficient equipment. If there are several refrigerators, consider turning some off except for big events. Keep the temperature settings in the recommended ranges. Clean the coils frequently.

The odd usage patterns of churches make water heating for churches a special case. Lots of water is kept hot for very occasional use. (It has been said that keeping 40 gallons of water hot all the time for whenever it might be needed is like keeping your car running all the time in the garage in case you want to go to the store.)

  • At the least, be sure water temperatures are kept as low as possible, and that water heaters and water pipes are well insulated.

  • Some heaters could be switched off much of the time.

  • In some settings, on-demand, "tankless" or instant water heaters could be a good investment.

Lighting is another area of significant energy use. Pay the most attention to the lights that get the most use -- a fixture used two hours a week isn't wasting as much energy as one that is on all night, every night.

  • The simple first step -- turn off lights when not in use!

  • Wherever possible, replace incandescent bulbs with florescents. The technology has improved a great deal in recent years, and costs have come down. "Compact florescent" lights screw into the same sockets as incandescent bulbs, use far less energy, and cost much less over the life of the bulb.

  • Don't create more light than is needed. Put in lower wattage bulbs. Remove a tube from each florescent fixture.

  • Use timers and sensors, so that lights are on only when needed.

  • Put in task lighting instead of over-lighting a whole room.


Church grounds
The eco-justice considerations of the church grounds depend greatly on the church setting. A downtown church is very different from a spacious suburban setting or a rural location. Be sensitive to your own location!

  • Be sure that your church environment is safe for the neighborhood and community. Check for trash and unsafe storage. Don't use dangerous chemicals.

  • Your church lawn and/or parking areas may be important gathering places for the community. If the church neighborhood has "changed" over the years, be sure that neighbors have access to playgrounds and recreational equipment.

  • Provide bike racks so people have easy options to driving. Publicize the best access to bus lines and mass transit.

  • Put in grass and plantings that are appropriate for your climate. Don't water the lawn more than necessary.

  • Try to go organic -- without pesticides and herbicides, and with natural fertilizers. It is better to reduce chemical use than to wait until you can get everyone to agree on a fully organic approach.

  • Include plantings that enhance the wildlife habitat. That probably involves less lawn, and more woody plants.

  • Look at the power equipment that is used. Older gas equipment (lawn mowers, snow blowers) are terrible polluters, and could be replaced with newer, cleaner models. Minimize the use of leaf blowers (noisy, they stir up dust, and gas models are big polluters), and go back to rakes and brooms!

  • Use composting for yard waste (and some kitchen waste).

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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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