No Impact Man – Film Review

Starring Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin
Directed by Laura Gabbert & Justin Schein
Rated: NR

This movie won’t change your life, but it will give you some food for thought and spark some conversation.  It’s lighthearted and entertaining, and  worth seeing. In 2006 Colin Beavan decided to live a “no impact” life for a year, bringing his wife and daughter along for the ride.  Many reviewers have commented that its biggest obstacle of the movie comes right at the beginning, which is Beavan himself.  Initially, he’s not very likable.  He’s easy to pick on and dislike.

He goes to ridiculous extremes in his effort to “leave only footprints” on the Earth for a whole year.  For example, he outlaws toilet paper, starts a worm bin in the kitchen, and goes six months without electricity.  Somehow, via solar panels, he maintains an active blog site, allowing in the flood of criticism his radical choices draws from mainstream America.  You will want to criticize him, too.  But in the end you will find yourself won over by his sheer humanity.  Toward the end the documentary films him talking to school children about his project, which are by far the deepest, most moving moments of the film and redeem the entire project.  You can see exactly how much he’s learned in a year, regardless of how self-serving his initial motives may have been.

Watching this small family go through the struggles involved in this project raises questions for each of us.  How far am I willing to go for the environment?  Which impacts are necessary, and which others can I forgo for the sake of my commitment to economic and environmental justice?  How do I engage the seven principles—which include the use of the democratic process in decision-making—when engaging other members of my family in making lifestyle changes to promote sustainability?

Up for Adoption, The 10 Tree Challenge

Guest Author, Rev. Phil Schulman

IF YOU ARE A LOVER OF TREES… this could be your opportunity to make a profound contribution to our UU religious tradition and to GAIA (Earth).

Up for adoption, is the “10 Tree Challenge,” a simple project that resulted in 40+ churches (and 50-100 other orgs.) planting over 3,000 trees. Beyond the tangible results, an exceptional spirit emerged across the UU world as a result of this project. UUs grasped the simple idea, and then brought it to life in a myriad of creative ways that fit their particular congregation.

UU’s are still hungry for meaningful ritual. Tree Planting proves to be both a powerful symbolic ritual and a way that UUs could make a visible contribution to their communities. UUs of every ilk, young and old, intellectual, political, spiritual all embrace this project.

I initiated, encouraged and facilitated the project, and watched it take off. Then other aspects of my ministry intervened. I was serving two congregations, and offering trainings in “Compassionate Conversations” (aka nonviolent communication). I wasn’t able to remain focused on the “10 Tree Challenge.”

The right person could help this project spring back to life like a tree after a season of dormancy. I would be glad to advise, coach, encourage and share some ideas. Or perhaps your creativity will be what makes the difference. (more…)

Tell Congress: “The air we breathe is not up for negotiation.”

From The Rev. Cannon Sally Bingham, Interfaith Power and Light

“The House and Senate leadership appear to have reached a temporary two-week budget extension, thankfully, without the EPA attacks in the House spending bill. But the longer term budget battle is only delayed, and so far, the House leadership is refusing to back down on their spending bill that guts core environmental safeguards. Please let your representatives hear from you today. The House-passed bill poses a reckless threat to the air we breathe. It represents skewed values that favor polluters over children’s health.

The House spending bill cripples the EPA by slashing its budget by 30%, while fossil fuel subsidies continue. It bars the agency from curbing carbon pollution, and cuts clean energy research and development that is crucial for job creation and economic revival. The spending bill even blocks the air pollution standards aimed at cleaning up toxic pollutants, like mercury.

People of faith have a responsibility to speak out against this attempt to hold our environment and our health hostage to special interests and sacrifice 40-year-old environmental safeguards. The moral voice of the faith community needs to be heard now more than ever.

Will you help me stop this dangerous bill in the Senate? The fossil fuel industry’s lobbyists are walking the halls of Congress at this moment. It’s up to us to defend our families, neighbors, and future generations.

Please tell your elected officials that the air we breathe is a God-given human right, not a political bargaining chip.


The Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham
Interfaith Power & Light”

RecycleNow and The Unitarian Society of Germantown

“The Unitarian Society of Germantown (USG) is a great example of the faith community’s engagement in sustainability.”  So read one recognition of this congregation by Philadelphia’s RecycleNOW.

For many years, USG worked with a local food cooperative, Weavers Way, by providing the USG parking lot as a recycling collection spot.   Then, starting in 2007, USG became an active supporter of RecycleNOW in furthering recycling efforts in Philadelphia.

Joe Walsh, a USG congregant and one of the co-chairs who began the church’s Green Sanctuary Committee, became interested in the city’s environmental politics.  He re-formed the at-the-time defunct Northwest Philadelphia chapter of RecycleNOW (R-NOW), a grass-roots city-wide volunteer organization, whose purpose was to lobby for improved city-wide recycling practices.  Carolyn Scott, also a USG Green Sanctuary Committee member, became the NW chapter’s scribe and then co-chair in 2008, when Joe stepped down from R-NOW.

Since 2007, USG has graciously hosted, without fee, the Northwest R-NOW’s monthly meetings.   When R-NOW obtained hundreds of big blue recycling bins to distribute in a recycling education/information/dissemination effort, USG became the unloading dock.  The bins literally lurked behind the bushes in USG’s grove for awhile! Through this tri-fold partnership—USG’s Green Sanctuary Committee, the City of Philadelphia, and RecycleNOW— 1,200 blue recycling bins were distributed.

In recognition of its good work, USG’s Green Sanctuary Committee was honored as a “Hometown Hero” in 2008 by the steering committee of RecycleNOW.

USG was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on June 7, 2010.  Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website

SouthCoast Sustainable Cinema – UU Society of Fairhaven

The Green Sanctuary Group from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Fairhaven (UUSF) and the Marion Institute have teamed up to sponsor a “South Coast Sustainable Cinema” film series this spring.

The South Coast Sustainable Cinema is set up to run every third Thursday of the month from January through June.  The goal is to turn individual passion and ideas into community-wide conversation and action.  Through the collaboration all films are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.  Doors open at 6:45pm and seating will be first come first served and free popcorn will be served.  The films will be shown either at Tabor Academy in Marion, MA or the Fairhaven Unitarian Memorial Church in Fairhaven, MA.

The kick-off film in January was Renewal hosted at UUSF. In the Fall of 2009 the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) Office of Congregational Stewardship Services (CSS) Green Sanctuary program shipped copies of the interfaith film Renewal and “Renewal: A Guide for Screening and Using the Documentary” to all UUA congregations free-of-charge, we are pleased to see that UUSF and the Marion Institute are making use of this resource. (more…)

Mt Vernon Church Breaks Ground for Net Zero Energy System on Winter Solstice

Press Release
Contact: Mary Paden at mepaden @

On the snow- patched lawn of Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church (MVUC), on the chilly afternoon a few hours before the church’s Winter Solstice celebration, Rev. Kate Walker, clad in black robes, bade a ceremonial goodbye to a black-draped rusted heating and air conditioning unit before a small crowd that included U.S. Rep. Jim Moran and State Sen. Toddy Puller.

Rev. Walker began by noting that the congregation had been kept “comfortable” for many years by an energy system that allowed coal miners to “die deep beneath the Earth, mountaintops to be torn apart, soils to wash into the sea, and streams to turn orange with acid and metals.”   She said the congregation has decided to enter a new world “where lives are not devalued and the Earth is respected.”

Turning to the unit, she said “Today, I offer these words for our old-world heating and air conditioning system: You have served your duty. But your time is up. We say ‘no more’ to what you represent. We created you in a time of need and we shall terminate you now for our needs have changed. We have created your replacement.”

Board of Trustees Chair Joan Darrah stepped forward to cover the unit in a tasseled black cloth, as Rev. Walker pronounced, “Your existence is over, as ours begins anew.”

With that, Rev. Walker and Ms. Darrah, broke ground for a new geothermal heating-cooling system, that together with solar panels, will allow MVUC’s 5,200 square foot meeting house to become a net zero user of energy from the grid by spring, possibly making it the first church in Virginia to do so.

As she took the shovel, Rev. Walker said, “May this represent the turning over to a new future of living our deepest values.” (more…)

Repair and better maintain our existing structure – Odessa, FL

When Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists in Odessa, FL started as candidates in the Green Sanctuary Program, one of their projects was Sustainable church improvements.  Specifically “In the course of considering growth and facilities improvements plans, we will take into consideration how to grow in an environmentally and economically sustainable fashion.”

So how did they do?

In the end they decided that rather than adding on to their building or creating new construction, they would repair and better maintain their existing structure.  This included properly sealing and painting their existing concrete tile roof and remodeling an interior room to use for sanctuary space as opposed to adding onto their structure or constructing a new building. Additionally, CFLs were installed throughout the building and air conditioning use is more rigorously controlled and maintained within more sustainable limits.  And they worship outdoors in the milder seasons.

Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist outdoor worship service

Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on July 28, 2010.  Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website.

Energy Star for Congregations

Over the years you’ve probably heard about Energy Star. We’ve all see the logo on appliances…but there’s more to it than that.

Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In 1992 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced Energy Star as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Computers and monitors were the first labeled products. Through 1995, EPA expanded the label to additional office equipment products and residential heating and cooling equipment. In 1996, EPA partnered with the US Department of Energy for particular product categories. The Energy Star label is now on major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and more. EPA has also extended the label to cover new homes and commercial and industrial buildings.

Energy Star is now expanding their services to cover houses of worship and congregations under a program called Energy Star for Congregations.  We’ve recently featured the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and First Parish in Needham Unitarian Universalist as recipients of the Energy Star label.  Watch this video to learn more about how some houses of worship were able to become better stewards of their environment:

Houses of worship foster environmental stewardship

After watching this short video, consider signing up for Energy Star for Congregations for FREE.  “Most congregations can cut energy costs by up to 30% by investing strategically in efficient equipment, facility upgrades and maintenance. With free, unbiased information and technical support from Energy Star, your congregation can more easily improve stewardship of your budget’s energy dollars, and of the earth by reducing energy waste and energy costs, while protecting the environment.”

Carpooling – Hartford, CT

Many congregations try and get members to carpool to church as one of their Green Sanctuary projects.  And most have little luck with members actually buying-into it.

The Unitarian Society of Hartford has initiated a different approach to carpooling that I would like to share.  In their accreditation application under outcomes they reported:

“During the last two earth day services we arranged for the congregants to sit in their Neighborhood Networks during the service to see who lives near them. After the service members congregate around their Neighborhood Network table, signing up to indicate an interest in carpooling. This spring we identified two Neighborhoods with leaders who will sent out a weekly email to those in their neighborhoods who might want to carpool. We have also begun to add a tag-line to events we advertise in our weekly e-news reminding people to consider carpooling to events.

We also started a pilot program with the Green Sanctuary SubCouncil to eliminate some driving to meetings by conducting at least some of them via telephone conferencing. We are evaluating the effectiveness and whether this method is advisable for similar types of groups or meetings.”

While they haven’t had astonishing success with carpooling a Green Sanctuary review team felt that their approach to carpooling was unique and more likely to breed success.  We are routing for the Unitarian Society of Hartford to have carpooling success with their Neighborhood Networks!

The Unitarian Society of Hartford was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on August 11, 2010.  Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website