As Earth Day approaches, it’s time to take a look at how green our practices are. Every Sunday we offer people the bread of life, yet our fellowship hour boasts some of the unhealthiest practices of the church. Taking a close look at how and what we eat at church is an important part of going green, as is maintaining and sustaining good health. Dealing with unhealthful food, toxic cleaning supplies, and wasteful practices are simple ways of deepening our commitment to greening the church.
Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, has greened its kitchen––no small feat for a 5,000-member church that prides itself on environmental stewardship. Dwight Tawney, administrative pastor,reports, “We serve 300 people every Wednesday night for dinner. Three years ago we were using paper, plastic, and Styrofoam. We disposed of 300 sets of that every single week. Now that’s completely gone. We don’t use it at all.”
Gold and green melamine dishes grace the tables of their dining areas. Reusable silverware rounds out the table setting. The Styrofoam is long gone, as is the sizeable amount of trash generated each week. “There’s a little tradeoff,” Tawney notes. “We have to wash the dishes.” Even so, the amount of water used to wash the dishes is insignificant compared with the manufacturing, transportation, and disposal process that used to be involved. Unlike smaller churches, a full kitchen staff takes care of cleanup here.
Not just the dishes have changed at Village Presbyterian; what is served on them has also changed. “In season we serve local produce,” says Tawney. “And we have virtually eliminated fried food from our menu.” A dietician attends the monthly meetings of the Environmental Action Committee. Not only does she bring great ideas to the table, she brings purchasing power.
Even so, purchasing decisions are carefully weighed for economic feasibility and environmental sustainability, which means the church uses paper napkins, albeit with a higher recycled content. After careful consideration, staff realized that the cost of laundering cloth napkins would be prohibitive.
Traditional cleaning supplies have been replaced with a greener alternative. “We now use low volatile organic compound (VOC) cleaning agents,” Tawney says. “Our building superintendent is part of the Environmental Action Committee. It is important to have him in on the decision-making process.” The superintendent helps them make and meet policy guidelines that keep this facility on the growing edge of green.
Even the coffee has gone green at Village Presbyterian. “We drink a lot of coffee here,” Tawney says while giving a virtual tour of the facility. “We had coffee pots going all the time, but we were consuming a lot of energy and wasting a lot of product. Now we have on-demand coffee.” Using a rental system that includes frozen coffee concentrate means no waste and a guaranteed fresh cup of coffee every time. “It actually ends up being cheaper,” he says.
It is easy to reference intangibles such as carbon foot- prints when talking about the need for environmental stewardship, but all Tawney has to do is point to one steaming cup of coffee in a real mug. Through his eyes, it is easy to see that going green makes sense for the climate and the pocketbook.
Ready to try some of these things yourself? Check out the following options:
- Encourage the use of mugs instead of paper or Styrofoam cups at coffee hour. Create a wall of mugs that can be used and reused. Be sure to include mugs for guests.
- Use the “good” dishes and flatware at church dinners instead of throwaways such as Styrofoam, plastic or foam plates, and plastic utensils. Alternatively, ask people to bring their own table service for meals.
- Use dishtowels instead of paper towels and maybe even cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. When using paper, make it recycled.
- Wherever possible, buy organic foods. Pesticides harm the health of growers and consumers; and they taint soil, water, and air.
- When eating fish, choose species that are not being overfished. For more information, go to montereybayaquarium.org.
- Purchase and serve fair-trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. Fair-trade items emphasize responsible steward- ship of the land and provide a good living for the growers. Shade-grown coffees, planted and harvested under the forest canopy, are particularly bird-friendly. For more information, go to coffeereview.com.
- Compost leftover food.
- Reuse plastic bags as garbage can liners. When purchasing new plastic bags, look for ones made of recycled plastic. Choose those with a high post- consumer waste (PCW) content.
- Look carefully at the cleaning agents you are using. Many contain harmful or toxic ingredients. Purchase and use environmentally-friendly cleaning agents.
- Refrain from buying antibacterial soaps. Generally, plain soap and water are as effective. Antibacterials seem to cause more problems than they solve.
- Try toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled paper.
- Just say no to commercial air fresheners; many contain phthalates which are linked to human health problems. Fresh air, sunshine, fans, and baking soda in the bottom of a garbage can provide natural air freshening.
- Make your own green cleaning supplies.
- Experiment with natural sachets for bathrooms that make use of essential oils or natural herbs and spices.
- Establish a scent-free zone in the sanctuary to accommodate those with asthma and allergies.
- Try holding meat-free potlucks. Bovines such as beef, buffalo, lamb, and goat produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more potent than CO2.Choose poultry, grain, beans, and eggs to achieve a lower carbon footprint.
- Make your own communion bread out of organic, whole-grain flour.
Go All Out
- Ask church members to observe one meat-free day per week and to limit seafood consumption to species that are not being overfished.
- Hold cooking classes to help people rediscover the art of cooking using natural ingredients. Invite children to help. Use a cookbook such as Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.
Adapted from 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter. To purchase copies of Green Church: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice! Or 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church, please contact us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Downloads also available on Kindle.