The Proof is in the (Lack of) Paper" (Pennsylvania)

Trying to become a greener social ministry organization presented a challenge of simple math for Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, based out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. With 2,300 employees spanning five ELCA synods and three states—all of whom serving in over 40 different agencies in that region—where does an organization or “green committee” begin in trying to get everyone on the same page?

Paper. That was the answer for Diakon several years ago when it implemented a year-long program in 2009 to reduce paper usage across all member agencies. The goal was to reduce paper usage by 10 percent over the course of the year.

“We started with paper, because we figured that's something we all relate to, and we knew what the usage was in 2008 across the organization,” said the Rev. John C. Richter, Vice President of Church Relations at Diakon. “We began by putting signs over copier machines and printers reading "think before you print." Do we bring printed reports to meetings, or do we ask people to bring their laptops? We just tried to figure out ways to cut down usage.”

Use less paper they did, reducing copy paper usage in 2009 by 15.78 percent as compared with 2008. That resulted in 1,500,564 fewer sheets of paper being used, saving Diakon $9,003 in paper costs and $12,005 in copier costs, for a total savings of $21,008.

"Some people were enthusiastic about it,” said Richter. “You saw the numbers. They were pretty impressive. Now people have become accustomed to the sense of being good stewards not only of the environment but also financial resources. Why use paper you don't need to use? Nobody wins. Using fewer paper made sense, and we were glad to find something where everybody could be involved.”

Diakon has a green sub-committee and an ethics sub-committee, both equally committed to the organization’s values and its code of conduct. One of their core values is to be responsible to God, the church, and society for the use of all precious resources and to be good stewards of the environment.

"For my point of view, I really think that the biggest need is education,” said Richter. “I think people want to be green. People have a sense that we need protect the environment that God has given us: I don't think that's an issue. People have the desire, but at the same time sometimes we have to help people know what's right.”