We have a presence in every community. And our buildings are invaluable tools for mission. They act as witness to our faith and as such should reflect our responsibility to care for God’s earth.
The first steps toward a sustainable building
If you are starting from scratch and want to improve the sustainability of your church building, then follow these simple steps:
To manage what you have, you need to understand it.
- What is your current energy usage? You will need to consider where your meters are and who reads them.
- Use the Energy Footprint Tool to work out what your carbon footprint is.
- Use the Eco Church survey tool to guide you through the different areas relating to your building that you’ll want to pay attention to.
- Ask your congregation and others in the community who use your building what their experience is like: are they comfortable in the building?
- Check your VAT. Most churches should only pay 5% VAT and no Climate Change Levy (CCL).
Rising prices for electricity and gas are expected. But switching to green electricity and gas (where possible) can help you future proof. Make it missional. Buy green electricity together with other churches. It allows us to negotiate a better price for you.
Soft changes: A list of fairly easy actions to improve energy efficiency, increase comfort and improve the sustainability of your building:
- E.g. installing a thermostat, clearing gutters, refurbishing radiators, reducing draughts, insulating pipework, reviewing floodlighting times, adding pew cushions, reviewing paper usage, cleaning products and transport options.
Hard changes: A low carbon replacement list which will require greater investment:
- E.g. replacing lights with LEDs, buying a new boiler, buying energy efficient electrical equipment, installing renewable energy generation like solar panels and installing a bike rack.
Ask for people’s help in making the building more sustainable. Celebrate achievements and steps toward your goal.
Taking on a building project?
If you are about to do any building works, make sure you have looked at the most energy efficient options and thought about sustainability. This is part of good stewardship. And many funders now expect you to consider the environmental impact.
Try to use the most environmentally-friendly products possible. Think about:
- Where the materials and products come from.
- How much energy it takes to make them.
- How they will be disposed of after use.
- And whether they have an ethical supply chain.
- The life-expectancy of new facilities. Some options may be more expensive up front, but cost-effective in the long run if you opt for longer-lasting materials.
If you’re installing a toilet for example, can you use a grey-water system that uses rainwater to flush the toilet, a waterless toilet or even just one that is more efficient?
Can you re-use any existing materials or equipment? If not, is there anywhere you can recycle them locally, perhaps with Freecycle?
Environmental sustainability is an ongoing responsibility. The building’s operation should be as environmentally-friendly as possible, so it is worth reviewing sustainability as part of your Quinquennial Inspection.
It looks at the building’s performance in areas like:
- Energy use (using LED bulbs is one of the easiest ways to improve energy efficiency)
- Water consumption
- And the materials used
The age and construction methods of your church, however, mean that it might not be possible to attain BREEAM standards. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always try to achieve the highest environmental standards possible. Make this clear to your architect, when they’re writing their detailed brief. Get advice on saving energy in historic buildings.
- Meeting conservation requirements
- The different uses of your church (e.g. regular use, mixed uses, heating of different spaces, infrequent or irregular use)
- What steps will you take to reduce noise pollution while builders are carrying out your refurbishment?
- Will the noise affect those in the church and neighbouring properties too?
- Consider the footprint of the refurbishment process: if your contractors have to travel a long distance to get to the site each day, this will increase your carbon footprint for the project.
Generate your own renewable energy
As the cost of technology goes down, more and more churches are opting to install renewable energy sources. If we are going to meet the target set by General Synod to be net zero carbon emissions by 2030 then renewable energy sources are going to be a vital part of the Church’s collective action.
Renewable energy has many benefits. It is almost infinite, occurs naturally, causes less damage to the environment than fossil fuels, produces less waste, and can be available where electricity and gas networks don’t reach.
In a church context, renewable energy can:
- Enable you to make a big contribution to helping the environment.
- Be a rewarding community project.
- Attract visitors.
- Reduce the environmental impact of a site.
- Serve as an educational tool.
- Make a statement to the outside world that your church, and the Church of England, is taking the care of the environment seriously.
- Save you money in the long term: installation costs remain high for some technologies, but are coming down considerably for solar PV, for example.
- Solar panels — PV (photovoltaic) cells and solar hot water.
- Biomass heating.
- Ground source and air source heat pumps.
- Combined heat and power (CHP).
- Anaerobic digestion (biogas).
- Wind turbines (generally not thought of as viable on church buildings).
Before you install any renewable technology in your church make sure you have done all the simple energy saving measures. If you need help deciding which technology is best for you contact your Diocesan Advisory Committee and your architect.
You can also try the OnGen tool — be aware that it was not designed with churches in mind.
Power Up North London is a joint project between Transition Dartmouth Park, Transition Tufnell Park and Transition Kentish Town that aims to make communities stronger, greener and more self-reliant.
They helped install solar panels on the roof of St. Anne’s Church in Highgate as part of a refurbishment project.