Action Pan for Buildings and Grounds


Action Plan: Part Three

Building and Grounds as Model


Policy/pledge: We agree to assess the destructive impact that our activities and the use and maintenance of our property may have upon creation—in such matters as energy use, toxic products, paper use, water use, waste, transportation, among others. We will strive to make choices that lessen our negative impact on the Earth and that serve to restore Earth community.


People: Church Council, Property Committee, maintenance staff, purchasing agent, head of the kitchen, all members of the community.


Goal: To reduce the negative ecological imprint of the building and grounds of the congregation in regard to every aspect of the physical area of the seminary, and in turn to create an Earth-friendly zone on the congregational property.


Actions: Here are some things that can be done to carry out these commitments:

            Consultation: energy audits and actions to reduce carbon footprint

            Comprehensive Environmental Inventory/ Assessment/ Audit

            Practical steps


            Institutionalize it

            Promote it.


A. Consultation and Action:

1. Collaboration. Find ways for environmental factors to become an integral part of the maintenance and remodeling projects of the congregation. Request that a LRC Team member be represented at some council meetings and property committee meetings that address issues impacting the environment. Meet annually with the maintenance staff to go over various areas to address in the action plan for each year. Develop a respectful and collaborative relationship. Remember: members of the property committee are often working with severe limitations of time and money. They have their own concerns that may trump environmental issues. Public criticism of their efforts will always be counterproductive.


2. Energy Stewards Initiative. Join this LRC program designed to lower energy usage/ costs and lower carbon footprint. Reducing our carbon footprint is the most important and most urgent thing we can do to care for creation. Energy Stewards Initiative (ESI) is a one- to two-year national program of LRC. The program, which costs $10 a month, helps congregations track and reduce energy use on an online platform, lower their carbon footprint with the help of an action plan, and free up funds for other ministries. The program offers bi-monthly webinars, making available the shared wisdom of program leaders as well as other participants. Learn more and sign up at You will find resources to measure your carbon footprint, steps to assess your options, and resources to take action. You will also find ample testimony to the effectiveness of the program for those who have already participated in it. We need to work together to meet the goals of the ELCA.


3. Get an energy audit. Whether you are join Energy Stewards Initiative or not, we encourage you to get an energy audit from your energy provider or a local energy company. Work with the property committee to discuss options, incentives, and payback times to discern the actions you can take.


B. Do a Comprehensive Environmental Inventory.

1. “Environmental Guide for Churches, Their Buildings and Grounds” by David Rhoads and David Glover. This is a manual that is available on the Web of Creation site. This is an extensive and thorough guide designed to enable you to do a complete survey of your property and make many important changes. You may download the guide from the LRC website at   

The Environmental Guide deals with 12 areas: Energy Use; Paper and Wood Products; Water Use; Cleaning Products; Indoor Air Quality; Recycling and Waste; Coffee Hour, Potlucks, and Other Congregational Events; Worship, Education, and Office Practices; Food Choices; Nature Inside and Out; and Transportation. The introduction suggests ways to use the guide.

This is a major undertaking, but nothing is more important than the concrete actions we take to lessen our ecological imprint on the Earth and seek to provide a building and grounds that are healthy for the environment. The guide can be used in any order and may be broken up for piecemeal assessments. Determine what areas it is feasible to address and revisit the guide regularly to assess what new actions can be taken.


2. Checklist for Building and Grounds. Make use of the four-page checklist on the LRC website for all aspects of the maintenance of building and grounds and congregational best practices.


C. Here are some specific areas that might be addressed. All of these are covered in greater detail in the Environmental Guide:

1. Energy for lighting: Retrofitting current lights with new and improved lighting saves fossil fuels and money. Replacing just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light saves the burning of five hundred pounds of coal over the ten year lifetime of that bulb. Now most churches are focusing on the use of LED lights, which use less energy, last longer, save more money, and do not have the problem of CFLs with traces of mercury in disposal. They cost more. Install them as you are able. Do not wait for CFL’s to burn out. Donate the replaced CFLs to food pantries for those who cannot affotd LEDs. Many states and some federal programs offer rebates and incentives for changes that will save energy for lighting.


Rotating Loan Fund. The Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ELCA offers an interest-free loan that covers upfront costs for retrofitting lights. If you wish to replicate this program, check their synod website for more information or access the information on the LRC website.


2. Energy for heating and cooling: An energy audit for heating may also turn up some feasible ways in which you can conserve in the use of heat and air conditioning. Local and state energy companies are often eager to do free audits and make recommendations. State and federal programs offer rebates/ incentives for changes that save energy on heating and air conditioning.


3. Renewable energy: Get off the non-renewable energy grid altogether. Some congregations have gone to renewable energy. This is especially worth considering if you have a school or day care in your building or other programs that make extensive use of the facility, both in terms of lighting and hot water use. Some are turning to a geothermal energy source. Others are using solar energy for heating water or for outside lights. Due to advances in technology and the shorter times for payback, all of these options are becoming more attractive. It is worth looking into these options. Again, energy companies or state/federal organizations may offer incentives to assist with the upfront costs. Or check with the ELCA Mission Investment Fund for a possible loan for upfront money to help in making such changes.


4. Recycling: Seek to develop a comprehensive recycling program for the church buildings—plastic, cans, glass, office paper, card board, among others. You may also want to set up a small recycling corner for members to recycle items at church that they might otherwise throw away, such as cell phones, printer cartridges, household batteries, plastic bags, and so on. Post instructions near the receptacles. Encourage members of the congregation to actively participate. Check at for suggestions on items and ways to recycle them. Some congregations sponsor a day to bring all electronic items for recycling or disposal.


5. Lawn maintenance: Avoid pesticides and herbicides; avoid chemical fertilizer; where feasible, mow with a hand mower that is battery powered; consider planting low maintenance or native grasses; avoid watering, especially during a drought. Consult a local expert who can explain the dangers of most lawn maintenance to the local watershed and recommend safe lawn maintenance products and procedures.


6. Green Cleaning products: Do an inventory of products used in the maintenance of the church. Reduce or eliminate toxic products used in the maintenance of the buildings. Environmentally safe products are now available for most cleaning and polishing jobs.


7. Coffee Hour and Potlucks: Offer Fair Trade coffee and tea; provide snacks that are healthy; offer organic and/or locally grown food. Make efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper products. Provide a mug rack. Wash dishes and utensils with eco-friendly dishwashing liquid. Consider cloth napkins. Encourage folks to bring their own table settings and napkins.


8. Paper products: Do an inventory of paper purchases and seek to purchase recycled/ post-consumer waste paper for office use as well as for bathroom and kitchen use. Develop guidelines for the use of office paper by staff and volunteers—to reduce, use fully, and recycle. Make use of double-sided copies or paperless electronic means of communication where feasible.


9. Green Your Worship Practices. Here are some ideas to make your worship practices more earth-friendly: use beeswax candles instead of oil-based candles; place plants on the altar instead of cut flowers; send them home for planting; use local wine that does not require transportation from a distance; provide organic, whole grain communion bread; use recycled paper for printed materials; reduce/reuse/recycle or eliminate bulletins; place recycling baskets at the exits; practice intinction, common cup, or provide reusable glasses (not plastic) for communion; wash communion vessels in eco-friendly dishwashing detergent; purchase fair trade palms for Palm Sunday; consider the origin of material used to make paraments.


D. Property.


1. Make the most of your property: Assess the possibilities for the land use. Consider having a community garden for the local food pantries. Return a section of your land to prairie with native plants. Plant an orchard or a tree sanctuary. Put out benches for meditation. Create a labyrinth.


2. Treat your church property as an “Earth community.” Here is a chance to think of all the plants and animals who share your space. Instead of thinking it is your property, consider all these other living things that live with you—not as things that bring you beauty or whom you consider a nuisance. Get to know the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, and other creatures who live with you on this space. Recognize how much you depend on trees and beetles and those who occupy this eco-system. Live in such a way that all of you may thrive together. Pray for them. Consider yourself worshiping with them. Put pictures of them in your church directory as part of your creation family. Change your way of seeing and thinking about creation as an interwoven web of life. For a reflection by David Rhoads on “Stewarding Your Church Property as an Earth Community,” go to:


E. Institutionalize It:

If some new initiatives begin as a voluntary effort, seek to institutionalize the effort as quickly as possible, so that it becomes part of the regular work of the staff. Volunteers come and go and have periods when they cannot do the work. Make it a permanent part of the life of the congregation. Write it into the job description of an employee or a committee of the church or the standard procedures of event planning.


F. Promote what you do!

Be sure to announce actions to the congregation. Use each environmentally-friendly practice that is adopted as a means to educate people generally to the importance of greening your institution. If the parish building and grounds function as model and witness for members and visitors, then you need to display the efforts being made. Remember also that the comings and goings of members of a congregation make it necessary to re-announce actions and efforts each year.