I’m pretty excited about my Green Sanctuaries Internship, so naturally I talk about it to anyone who will listen.  I’m a student at Andover Newton Theological School, with an audience of future ministers so I am of course hoping that this is good PR for the program, too, and not just idle conversation.  The other day a friend said she thought it was unlikely her church would ever participate because it was too hard: “Don’t you have to be carbon neutral and get solar panels and things like that?”

As it turns out, that’s not the case at all.  If you’re interested in the Green Sanctuaries program, please know that this program can work for you whether your church has yet to begin recycling or whether your congregation is the epitome of sustainability.  All you have to do is take a few steps toward sustainability, a few carefully planned and implemented steps.

This project, like any other effort at behavior change, will work best if you aim for a change that feels significant, but isn’t so large as to feel out of reach.  Below are some ideas of beginning and intermediate level projects to get your creative juices flowing:

Examples of possible Worship and Celebration projects: (Two required)

  • Any increase in environmentally themed services. Some churches are not doing any, so they begin by adding an Earth Day service.  Others already have 1-2, and commit to doing 6.
  • Earth Day celebration with booths educating people about environmentally sound practices.
  • Committing to one environmentally-themed reading or hymn during service every month.
  • Any increase counts!


Examples of possible Religious Education projects: (Two projects required, one for adults and one for children)

  • Complete a Northwest Earth Institute curriculum for adult RE component.
  • Environmentally themed book group for adults; The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a popular jumping off point.
  • Begin using reusable dishes and cups for snack time and talk about why that is important.
  • Children’s RE programs can use “The Story of Stuff” curriculum.
  • Start a children’s organic garden plot, with discussion about how the garden is reflective of UU values.
  • Do a clean-up day at a local park or nature center with facilitated discussion about how the activity chosen relates to the Seventh Principle and why the Seventh Principle is important.

Examples of possible Environmental Justice projects: (Two projects required, one of which involves establishing long term relationships with the people served.)

  • Hold an organic food (or healthy food) drive for the food bank.
  • Donate CFL’s to a homeless shelter or to families in low-income housing.
  • Work with an urban food bank or homeless shelter to teach urban gardening and/or composting to the people receiving services there.
  • Work with Habitat for Humanity on a building project and provide a recycling bin for the worksite.  Teach the family who moves into the home about simple lifestyle changes to benefit their bank balance and the planet (i.e. low flow aerators, turning off lights, CFL’s, etc).

Examples of possible Sustainable Living projects: (Four required)

  • If your church isn’t recycling, start!
  • If you’re still using disposable cups at coffee hour, switch to reusable cups.
  • Commit to Fair Trade products at coffee hour.
  • Have a Green Movie Night—or even a Green Movie Festival—and facilitate discussion about the issues raised.  Who knows?  Participants may even come up with their own ideas for projects!
  • Energy audit of church buildings.
  • Weatherization of the buildings
  • Encourage members to make small lifestyle changes.
  • Include Green Tips for White Space (a list of tips that can be inserted into a newsletter or on OOS when there is an empty space; borrowed from First Unitarian Church of Cleveland).
  • Establish a compost bin.
  • Establish a Green Buying Policy for future purchases.
  • Establish a Farmer’s Market.
  • Install a demo permaculture plot.
  • Install a demo native grasses and plants garden.
  • Install a rain garden to filter the run-off from the parking lot

What other “entry level” projects can you think of?  How can projects be approached in a way that best reflects all seven of our principles?

For more information on what is required of a congregation in order to earn Green Sanctuary certification go to the Green Sanctuary web pages.

About the Author
Shelley Dennis

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