Faith and Environmental Stewardship
Many faith traditions connect their spiritual faith to environmental stewardship or care of creation.
This page is a resource on clean energy, climate action and sustainability for Dane County's faith communities. Here you can learn about:
When faith communities address environmental stewardship they influence the practices and values of their members. An effort that begins aiming to save money at the church facility might well inspire dozens of members to be more sustainable at home or work, reinforcing shared values and delivering multiple benefits to the community. Our office is delighted to collaborate with faith groups in their efforts around clean energy and climate action. We created this page as a resource for faith communities and we welcome your feedback.
Many faith traditions include a commitment to environmental stewardship. For example:
If you want to learn more about the connection between faith and stewardship, visit the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, which has a terrific set of resources, covering a broad set of religious traditions.
In addition, many groups, including the Ho-Chunk Nation that first occupied our region, share a commitment to sustainabilty, to using resources wisely, with an eye toward the needs of future generations.
All of this is relevant to Dane County's climate efforts.
Dane County’s climate action plan aims to prioritize strategies that reduce emissions while also:
- Addressing equity and justice issues associated with current energy systems and climate change impacts
- Delivering economic benefits to all parties
- Improving health and wellness of all residents
- Increasing our ability to adapt and be resilient to a changing climate
- Bridging the rural and urban divide, creating solutions that work for everyone in the county
- Enhancing our natural environments, delivering ecosystem benefits
The discussion of these co-benefits in the climate action plan provides a powerful summary of important moral arguments for addressing climate change. Many of those moral arguments are likely to resonate with faith traditions.
If your faith community is committed to environmental stewardship then you may want to start by greening up your operations--so that you are an inspiration to members. Your focus might be energy usage at your facility, waste issues or broader emissions--including the emissions associated with member commutes to and from services.
Resources for Greening Facilities
- Array It Forward, is a faith-inspired effort to assist non-profits in reducing energy consumption and installing solar energy. They provide advice on the sometimes complicated process of financing such projects and also offer seed money for projects.
- Creation Care Ambassadors is a project to help faith communities navigate the opportunities, resources, and expertise needed to care for creation — our common home and the environment all life needs to thrive.
- Focus on Energy offers incentives and technical support for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
- Solar for Good through RENEW Wisconsin offers nonprofits (including faith communities) grants for solar installations.
- PACE (property-assessed clean energy) is a way to finance clean energy projects with no up front capital. You repay the loan from the energy savings.
- Energy Star for Congregations offers free tools and strategies to help you track your energy and water usage and compare your facility to other similar facilities. There's even a fact sheet about energy use trends in houses of worship.
- Cool Congregations has a free carbon calculator for congregations.
- Sustain Dane offers workshops to help green teams implement sustainability projects.
Resources for Greening Fleets
Let us know if you find other useful resources we should add to this list!
Faith communities across Dane County have been doing great work to green their operations and to engage members. You can learn from their efforts.
Bethany Free Church
Bethany Free Church pursued energy efficiency including insulation, heating and ventilation. They found that these efforts were the most cost effective at the time (2010). They have also upgraded lighting, with exterior lights on a smart timer to minimize time that light is on using energy and causing light pollution.
First Unitarian Society
First Unitarian Society reduced their energy use by 25% via efficiency measures. They also installed a solar energy system, which reduced their their carbon footprint by another 25%. Learn more in our Success Stories.
St. John's Lutheran Church
St. John’s Lutheran in Oregon recently installed solar that reduced its energy use 26%.
Memorial United Church of Christ installed solar and inspired several members to install solar as well.
St. Dennis Parish
St Dennis installed solar and then challenged members to do a household carbon footprint.
Blessed Sacrament recently completed efficiency upgrades for its heat plant and upgraded most of its lighting to LEDs.
Middleton Community Church UCC
Middleton Community Church UCC installed solar in 2016. It also upgraded most lighting to LEDs. It has switched from single-use dishes to reusable ones, and invites members to keep their own mugs on shelves at church for fellowship times. In 2020 a bike rack was added at the church to encourage biking to church. Several members have been inspired to purchase hybrid or electric vehicles.
Let us know if you've got a success story from your faith community to add to this list!
There are a lot of ways faith communities can engage people on climate action. Some potential ideas include:
- Put weekly ecology tips in the bulletin announcements
- Plan an outdoor religion class or field trip
- Encourage youth to do a creative environmental project
- Hold adult forums featuring church and secular experts on clean energy or climate change
- Have a work day where people care for church grounds or clean up the neighborhood to practice stewardship
- Hold a fundraiser by selling seedlings
- Serve as a host site for a community garden
- Encourage faith leaders to recognize Earth Day in worship services
- Include local lakes, parks, and animals in prayers
- Hold a film series (The Human Element, Paris to Pittsburgh, An Inconvenient Sequel, Escarpment, Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Princess Mononoke, This Changes Everything, Kiss the Ground)
- Hold a book study. Potential books to read include:
- Care of the Earth or Evocations of Grace, Sittler
- Church on Earth, Wild & Bakken
- Climate Church, Climate World, Antal
- Earth-Wise, Cal DeWitt
- God, Creation, and Climate Change, ed. Bloomquist
- Our Father's World - Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, Ed Brown (Madison local)
- Caring for Creation - The Evangelicals' Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment, Hescox and Douglas
- The Lorax, Seuss
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard
- Moral Ground, ed. Moore and Nelson
- Promote the use of environmentally friendly products.
- Encourage members to assess their carbon footprint and set goals to reduce their overall emissions.
It is exciting to think about how you might inspire deep change across your community. Making sustainabilty the 'new normal' means that everyone would share a commitment to environmental stewardship.
There is a lot of great research on what works--and doesn't work--to influence practices. Some important rules of thumb as you think about inspiring change:
- Reinforce the positive. Research shows that shaming people is not effective but it is effective to celebrate successes as that both inspires others to strive for recognition and it prompts those you've recognized to do even more. So take time to recognize leaders in your community. Dane County's Clean Energy Map is an example of how we are recognizing leaders. Think about ways you can recognize leaders locally too.
- Leverage social norms. Humans are social creatures--we take cues from the people around us all the time. Use this to your advantage! Talk about the increase in local bike commuting because when residents hear that their neighbors are biking it will inspire some of them to bike too. Be careful, though, to only reinforce norms you want to grow: if you talk about an increase in littering, it is likely that more folks will litter (if everyone else is doing it, then it's no big deal if I do it too...).
- Focus. If you give people a list of 100 things they could do it is likely they will do nothing. When presented with too many options most of us choose to do nothing. If you want action, provide 2-3 specific suggestions. Once folks have adopted those practices you can suggest a few more actions. A way to do this is to think thematically--maybe this summer you could focus on water issues and then talk about energy actions in the fall.
- Make it easy to be sustainable. Remove the barriers to the practices you want people to adopt. If you want more recycling, make it easier to recycle by putting a recycling bin next to every trash bin and make it clear what goes in which bin. Local governments have a lot of ability to make sustainable choices easier--think, for example, about your permiting process for solar electric systems, is it set up to make it easy for residents and businesses to get solar?
As you inspire action be sure to celebrate milestones and share successes widely. As people hear about the efforts of their peers that will inspire more action too. Plus talking about your sustainability efforts can help you attract new residents and new businesses to your community. So as you become greener and greener be sure to share the news widely! (And remember, we are always ready to share your success stories as well.)
Collaborating with other like-minded faith communities is powerful. You can learn from what others are doing, challenge your community to achieve similar goals, or team up with other faith communities on bigger initiatives.
The Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change convenes a group of faith leaders interested in climate action and stewardship quarterly. The aim is to promote idea sharing and collaboration--both among the leaders and back to our office. (This page is a result of those discussions!) If you would like to learn more or join the discussion, let us know.
Additionally there are a variety of state, national and global initiatives where your faith community can connect to others. To learn more about specific faith-based climate initiatives check out the following coalitions and resources:
And check back often because this list is always growing!