Ten Green Projects Any Parish Can Adopt

By Elizabeth Perdomo

With energy costs rising daily and consequential scenes of global warming seen nightly on national news, we might easily succumb to a sense of helplessness. As Orthodox Chrisitans and for the love of Christ and His Church, let us rather ask ourselves, “What can we do?” Many of the simple suggestions below can be springboards for other ideas to use, both in our parish facilities and in our homes.

These suggestions are excellent ways to engage the parish’s youth and young adults. Every small change can add up to big results when embraced as a permanent change within not just one, but many parishes and countless homes! Each area includes varying degrees of commitment and change. If your parish is not ready to embrace the more difficult changes, rather than doing nothing at all, just start simply at first. Perhaps, later on, after adjustments have been made, a parish can work its way towards the more challenging changes.

1) Change Parish Buying Habits! What is the common denominator of most parish coffee hours, dinners and feasts? Styrofoam disposable cups, plates and bowls. Yet, styrofoam virtually never disintegrates, and if burned, releases highly toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Here are some simple suggestions, beginning with the easiest first:

  • As a parish (parish council, women’s group, youth group), make a commitment to purchase only non-styrofoam disposables. Rather, purchase paper coffee cups, plates, bowls etc. They cost slightly more, but in the end, ecologically, cost us all much less. Even disposable plastic cold drink cups are better than styrofoam. When we first moved to our current parish, my teenage daughters wrote a letter to our parish council, making argument for this cause, which the Council approved. Occasionally, our purchasers forget this mandate, so the girls “remind” them to buy paper next time.
  • If plastic cups are used for cold drinks during church school meetings, youth group gatherings, or retreats, we always provide several “sharpie” waterproof markers for participants to use. We ask them to write their name on their cup and to use it more than once, rather than grabbing a new cup each time they want a sip of water.
  • Think about “real” coffee mugs! One parish we often visited when we lived in New Mexico had a large board with cup hooks on it. People in the parish brought in and hung up their own cups, with plenty of extras donated for use by guests. After every coffee hour or dinner, each person just washed his/her own cup or placed it in the dishwasher. They were then hung up for use the next time. I once had a fantasy about real cups becoming “standard issue” for each new Orthodox seminarian—a nice, large, enameled mug (with school logo, of course!) They could use the mugs in seminary activities, cafeterias, and dorms or slipped into their book backpacks.
  • What about “real” everything? Yes, I know that means dishes to wash. But a lifetime of using inexpensive flatware, plates, cups, bowls really adds up in environmental costs. Maybe teams from the teen youth group could take turns hand washing or filling the church dishwasher. Believe it or not, washing dishes with friends at events can be a fun and memorable experience. Perhaps the youth could then be rewarded in some way by the parish? Maybe they would enjoy a special pizza night, or assistance with Orthodox camp scholarships. Be creative!

2) Recycle! How many aluminum cans generated from Orthodox parishes and parish-sponsored fundraising events held throughout America are simply thrown into trashcans and hauled off to local landfills each week? The number would be staggering. Yet, one of the easiest forms of recycling can be to set up specially marked repositories for the disposal of aluminum cans.

  • Label and place aluminum can repositories in easy to find and use places, in your church hall or festival grounds. Perhaps the youth group would want to collect these, cash them in and use the funds for a special project, or again, for camp or retreat scholarships. Perhaps the women’s or men’s group would want to take charge, and use the funds for purchasing consumable goods for the parish.
  • If there is space, interest and a few volunteers who are willing to be in charge of the process, place notices in church bulletins and calendars. Ask parishioners to bring their crushed aluminum cans to the church—perhaps the first Sunday of each month—to add to those used by the parish.
  • When at all possible, do not buy non-recyclable plastic individual serving-sized soft drinks and water. Rather, use larger sizes of soft drink bottles, and large, insulated thermal or other water coolers that can hold five gallons of water. For camp, youth retreats, vacation Bible school, seminars and other events, give each participant a non-disposable water bottle—and the obligatory sharpie with which to write their name. Have them refill and use the bottle throughout the event. Keep plenty of water available and easy to access.

3) Go Native! Using native plant and tree species in designing or renovating parish grounds can help conserve water and help enhance the food and shelter of local wildlife species. Adding water conserving soaker hose systems can also help with precious water use and expenses.

  • Choose native species or those well adapted to the local climate and geography, and not simply because they are used in commercial plantings. If you do not know what species to choose, talk to local plant conservation organizations, nature centers or your local agricultural extension office. They could likely recommend both species and local nursery sources.
  • Make new or renovated plantings in the proper season, so plants can be well established before the hot summer season. This will take considerably less water and will reduce the possibility of losing plants.
  • In very hot, dry climates, consider xeriscaping options. Xeric means dry. Xeriscaping utilizes plants that require very little or no watering. They are often interspersed within landscaping stones.
  • Consider plant and tree species that will specifically add food sources, nesting sites and shelter for birds and other native wildlife. Strongly consider adding at least one water feature to your parish’s property—even if a simple birdbath.

4) Turn it down or turn it off! When office machines, kitchen appliances or media equipment are not being used, turn these off. This can reduce energy costs by 25%. Turning off computers at the end of the day can save an additional 50%. When rooms or portions of a facility are not in use, turn off lights and adjust the air conditioning and/or heat accordingly. Timed controls for larger facilities can help save considerably on unnecessary utility usage.

5) Printer Paper Use: Reduce, recycle, reuse! Church offices and education departments can conserve and use printer paper as wisely as possible.

  • If something is a draft, print it on the back of used paper to “recycle” the other side. Print it on “draft” to conserve expensive ink. Use both sides of paper when possible, especially when printing materials to distribute.
  • Buy and use only recycled printer paper.
  • If one must send a fax, use a fax cover sheet only when required.
  • Write phone messages on “recycled” papers that are printed on one side. Stacks of these can easily be cut into quarters and stapled together at the top.
  • Church school teachers’ manuals and teaching materials can be laminated or put into plastic sleeves and notebooks so they can be better preserved and used for a number of years.
  • Whenever possible, encourage parish communications by email, including news, event notices, and newsletters.

6) Don’t flush away extra water! Most older bathroom toilets waste gallons of water per each flush. This adds up to a considerable amount of precious fresh water in the course of a year.

  • Place one or two plastic containers filled with sand or stones (not bricks) in the toilet’s reservoir tank. It will displace about 4 litres of water per flush.
  • When remodeling, renovating or building a new facility, strongly consider purchasing water conserving toilet units.

7) Watch those costly leaks! Running toilets, dripping faucets and leaky spigots can waste more water than one can imagine. A simple repair is often all that is needed. One water drop per second wastes 10,000 litres of water per year.

8) Fan away the heat! Whether your parish is in an older facility, or you’re considering renovations or the building of an entirely new structure, remember that ceiling fans can help reduce the need for more costly air conditioning. The liberal addition of relatively inexpensive ceiling fans can distribute the cool air from air conditioning, making a room feel much more comfortable at less cost and energy use. Likewise in winter, fans set on low speed can help distribute heat.

9) Let there be light! Where possible, retrofit newer fluorescent type light bulbs to replace hot and more energy-costly incandescent bulbs. If renovating space or building a new facility, plan both fluorescent lighting and skylights to allow natural light into rooms. One women’s monastery we often visit has wonderful skylights. When in their bathroom, I often think that an electric light is already on and I look for the turn off switch when I leave, only to find that it is natural light. Well-placed windows and skylights can greatly reduce the need for daytime electric light sources.

10) Explore alternative energy sources. We think about adding good insulation, double paned windows, energy-efficient heat and air conditioning sources and appliances when we build and/or renovate our homes. Why not consider the same things in your parish? The choice of better energy efficient building materials and insulation are readily available. More hard-core additions, such as solar panels and wind-powered generators should at least be explored when new structures are being planned.

Let’s plan for the future, not only of our parish buildings, but also of the good earth on which God has placed us to be stewards and caretakers.

Elizabeth and her husband, Fr. Antonio Perdomo lead their parish, St. George in Pharr, TX, in many active, youth centered projects including outreach to their local community and across the border.