UU Church of Bloomington

How did this effort start in your congregation?

Our conservation efforts began in 2005 when Rev. MaryAnn Macklin talked about climate change and made a call from the pulpit to form a group to study the issue.  In response, about fifteen people gathered and educated themselves, ultimately deciding to form the Green Sanctuary Task Force on Global Climate Change. The group’s original mission was to pursue Green Sanctuary Certification from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

Green Sanctuary certification involves addressing climate change through multiple channels.  Energy reduction is one of them, of course, but to be certified congregations must also engage members through religious education (adults as well as children), a number of sermons per year, changes in procedures for church functions, etc.  The result was that by the time we were certified in 2007  we had reduced our energy use substantially but had also raised awareness among the people of our congregation. That made all our subsequent work much, much smoother.

In 2012 we joined forces with three other local congregations to apply for a solar grant from Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, which has since merged with Faith in Place.  This $25,000 grant required that we matched the funds with donations from the congregation, and also set targets for energy reduction:  14% reduction in at least 30% of our members’ homes, and 25% in our building’s use. We exceeded these targets, got the grant, and installed a 96-panel array on a new light-colored raised seam metal roof. In 2016 began to replace natural gas furnaces with efficient electric systems. We raised the funds in 2017 to install another 54 solar panels for a total of 40.2 kilowatts. The combined arrays covered or offset 97% of our electricity from 2018 to 2021.

What has been the biggest obstacle?

Continuing to motivate people to change habits, like meeting in rooms already being conditioned that day instead of where they are used to meeting, closing doors between HVAC zones.

What actions have been the most effective in reducing energy use?

  • Programmable thermostats; setting back thermostat settings.
  • Upgrading HVAC, lighting & building envelope (window & door replacements, insulating & sealing attics and walls).
  • Using thermostat setbacks when spaces are not in use.
  • Installing solar panels.

What action has been most effective for building interest among the congregation for this work?

Leading by example. Meeting our original solar-panel grant’s challenge to cut energy use, compared to a base year (2010 in our case), by at least 25%.

What have you found effective for getting households to reduce energy?

  • Task of the Month
  • Encouragement from the pulpit
  • Offer prizes
  • Offer assistance with getting tasks done

What is your current challenge?

  • Paris Pledge:  how to get to zero carbon emissions by 2040.
  • Getting people involved in actually doing the work.

Our culture, history and geography work to support the status quo. It is very difficult to change one’s own habits, even when we know the consequences. How do we ask people, even the elderly or sick, to set back thermostats and dress for the season indoors? Or ask families with young children to carpool or take a bus instead of automatically getting into their cars when they need or want to go somewhere.

In the church building: how to reduce our church’s dependence on natural gas, reduce our use of automobiles and lower the impact of our building and grounds maintenance.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington (UUCB) has a long history of energy consciousness, dating back to 2005 when it started assessing its energy use. Indeed, by 2007, the congregation had been certified as a Green Sanctuary by the Unitarian Universalist Association, its national governing body. This accomplishment took great effort and focus, and engaged the congregation as a whole in issues of the Earth and environment. Since its first professional energy audit in 2008, volunteers and members have undertaken numerous energy-saving measures, from upgrading doors, windows, and lighting as a result of a major fundraiser to adding insulation. The congregation’s clergy are deeply committed to care for the Earth.

With support from the congregation, it has undertaken numerous upgrades – from window treatments and changes in thermostat settings to added insulation and a new metal white roof that reflects the sun and thereby lowers the need for air conditioning in the summer.

UUCB implemented a careful zoning and thermostat setback plan. In November 2012, a lay leader walked through the building, talked to staff, and then created a colored plan of the building showing thermostats and zones. She then developed a scenario for behavioral changes to consolidate building use into certain heating and cooling zones. In the winter and spring of 2013, she explained the concept of zoning and setbacks to the church administrator, asked for support from the ministers and board, and then asked for the help of congregants, through an article in the monthly newsletter article and at the annual meeting, to help us implement changes.

Another recent energy conservation opportunity presented itself when an AC unit needed to be replaced unexpectedly and quickly. Because a green team member had attended facility manager workshops on HVAC systems and had consulted experts and gotten quotes on equipment, the church was ready when the equipment failed. Decisions on where to especially invest in more efficient equipment are made, in part, on what parts of the building get the most use.

UUCB implement the Task of the Month program in 2011 to 2012 and saved an estimated half a million pounds of CO2. UUCB received honorary mention in National IPL’s Cool Congregation Challenge for this program. Promotion of the program included monthly Children’s Moments focusing on that month’s task, with prizes, from a water-heater blanket to a programmable thermostat, given to people who were participating. About half of member households reported that they had undertaken at least one of the tasks. For example one quarter of the households insulated their water heaters and set their water heater at 120°. Several congregants said they did not sign up for Task of the Month because they had already done all or most of the tasks. Also 350 lower-mercury CFL light bulbs were sold below cost ($1.00 each) and over 200 commercially-rated energy efficient LED bulbs were purchased at a discount by the Task Force and distributed to about 40 members. The UUCB Green Sanctuary Task Force easily received commitments from the ministers and board to apply for the solar grant that required a commitment to reducing the church’s energy use by at least 25% from a baseline of 2010 (the year significant building upgrades were started) and to encouraging at least a third of our members to cut their household energy use by at least 14%. After receiving the grant congregants donated funds to more than triple the grant amount, allowing us to install a 24 kW system plus a new electric tie-in panel. We had a 16.2 kW array in October 2017, bringing the total to 40.2 kW.  The church has been Energy Star certified in the mid to high 90% since 2015.

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