Does God, in whatever form you see such a higher power, expect us to take good care of the earth? A group of people from various faith communities in Austin think so, and in 2009 founded the Interfaith Environmental Network. Their stated goal was to work together to “claim the common call of environmental stewardship.”
The activist group, which meets monthly, sponsors speakers on relevant topics such as Austin’s water issues, recycling, the proposed electric rate increase and community gardening.
Last November, a group discussion on “The Energy Challenge: A moral imperative for climate change,” spawned a sub-group called the Energy Action Team, or EAT, facilitated by a coalition of energy professionals called Climate Buddies. Since then, more than 20 EAT volunteers have been meeting three times a month, ramping up their environmental efforts and spreading their message.
EAT's goals include building awareness about the environmental consequences of reliance on fossil fuel energy sources and other human activities affecting climate changes, and examining best practices for energy conservation, efficiency and promotion of renewable energy sources.
Joep Meijer, co-founder and chair of Climate Buddies, is an environmental chemist who has helped groups, governments and businesses quantify sustainability for more than 15 years. He says the end goal is a tool kit and manual that a congregation anywhere in the world could use to become carbon positive. Currently, the EAT is developing a tool kit for Central Texas and looking for two or three congregations to run a pilot program.
The Team uses the term “carbon positive” rather than the more common “carbon neutral,” he adds, to emphasize a positive attitude toward dealing with the issue. “The goal of both is the same, to get to zero carbon as quickly as possible. We hope to inspire members to do the same in their households. That is where positive spin-off will happen and grow.”
EAT’s goals include building awareness about the environmental consequences of reliance on fossil fuel energy sources and other human activities affecting climate changes, and examining best practices for energy conservation, efficiency and promotion of renewable energy sources.
To implement the tool kit, a congregation needs an organized team of people to do the work. The EAT will conduct a baseline energy audit, Meijer says, “so everyone knows where they are on energy consumption and climate.”
EAT then selects specific actions, starting with those that are simple to implement or that don’t have significant costs, yet will make meaningful progress toward becoming carbon positive.
“Based on the audit, we know the most important areas to work on, the high leverage items,” says Meijer. A congregation may need to start from scratch and weatherize, switch out lighting and upgrade or replace HVAC, for example, or it may be ready to implement alternative energy sources. “We’ll find actions that deliver the most result for the money and effort put into it. It’s not a list of things that work for everybody, but from which we can select items that work best for that church.”
The focus is always on three things, though: conservation, or using less energy overall; efficiency, or doing the same things with less energy; and switching to renewables for the consumption that is left. “Wherever a church spends a dollar, that will go into our review,” Meijer says. “We’ll tell them where most of their carbon footprint comes from and how to mitigate and reduce that. We want measurable results.”
The EAT currently offers free climate audits to any interested congregation. This helps the Team understand how typical congregations work, energy-wise. The audits are also an important awareness and education tool, teaching congregations about their carbon footprint and what it means.
Why a specifically faith-based approach? For results, Meijer says. “We wanted to find groups that include a significant amount of people, and that were willing to make this a focus for an entire year. We looked at what is here in Austin, and thought, why not find a group with a high buy-in for taking care of the earth? IEN gives us a platform for being positive, and also inclusive. We can talk about the things that join us, not that separate us. They also committed to making it an issue for 2012.”
The Team’s carbon positive efforts will ultimately not be restricted to the faith community, but, Meijer says, it is a wonderful one to start with.