Saturday, May 9, 2009

Churches and Synagogues Worship Green Building

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation synagogue in Evanston, Ill., is one of ten LEED certified houses of worship in the United States. Photo by Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing (courtesy of Ross Barney Architects).


Homes and offices are going green across the country, and an an entire city is even being rebuilt green. But there's a new space embracing the eco-revolution. It seems churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are listening to their eco-friendly parishioners—and apparently their religion.

A report from the Associated Press published yesterday on featured the growing trend of houses of worship seeking LEED certification. So far ten U.S. congregations are LEED-certified, and another 54 have applied for approval.

So why are congregations making this move to greener spaces?

The AP article reveals the changes have as much to do with changing views among parishioners as it does with the view that people are "stewards of the earth." Rabbi Brant Rosen from the recently re-gutted green Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois said,
It was about making a sacred statement. If we were going to talk the talk, we needed to walk the walk. The whole process forced us to look at our values in a deeper way.

The synagogue used reclaimed wood from barns for exterior cladding, recycled the cinderblocks from the old building, and made the new building's cabinets out of sunflower husks. By the time the doors opened in February 2008, the project cost $9 million, of which about $750,000 was associated with going green.

Last September the congregation learned they were the first—and so far only—religious building in the country to achieve the highest LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

According to the article, the 54 buildings seeking the LEED stamp of eco-approval include all sorts of houses of worship, including seminaries, chapels and student centers from eight religions—Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Unitarian and Wesleyan.

Of course sustainability and religious beliefs aside, the switch to green building has financial benefits. The article reveals congregations can reduce energy costs by 30 percent. The most stunning example: The Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Tx. was able to cut their yearly gas and water bill in half—saving them $1 million annually.

With such a huge reduction in resource use, who can't be excited by this trend?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Masai Warriors and their Search for Water: One Year Later

by Bonnie Alter, London

The heart warming story at last year's London Marathon was the group of six Masai warriors who came to London to raise awareness and money to bring clean water to their village in Tanzania. The press and the public were fascinated to hear about these men who wore tires for shoes, carried swords and had never been on an airplane, or sipped tea.

They raised more than £100,000 ($147,000) and then the real challenges began. The villagers welcomed them back as heroes and expected that they would find water overnight.

Clean water was crucial to the village's health. More than one third of the children were dying from diseases. Women and children had to walk 10 k. to find clean water and children were too exhausted to go to school. Grazing cattle had to travel great distances to drink at watering holes and risked dehydration and predators along the way.

Working with Greenforce, an NGO from the UK, local contractors and foreign experts were hired to find water but this was not so easy. The villagers assumed that finding water was simply a matter of drilling for it. They saw vast amounts of money being spent and couldn't understand why no water was being found. From the Times: "Initial drilling based on the Masai’s own methods of procuring water, which included sacrificing a goat on the site, found only rock. Deeper drilling was conducted, even though there was evidence that the area was arid from drought, because of the Masai’s belief that it had water reserves. None was found."

Tensions developed between Greenforce, which was being accused of dishonesty, and the villagers. Contractors raised their prices when they heard how much money had been raised. Other non-profits claimed that they could do it cheaper and faster. The Masai warriors were being put the in the uncomfortable position of mediating and not having all the answers to the difficult questions.

Finally in March a surveyor confirmed that water had been found and a drilling rig was sent for; this was a six day off-road journey to the village. The next day water trickled to the ground, amidst great joy and jubilation. The water is expected to supply two remote communities; each will have a 50,000 litre reservoir constructed and a pipeline is being laid to deliver the water to where it is needed most.

The success of the project was tempered with the realisation that "Greenforce has helped us a lot and are our friends. But we are Masai and want to do things for outselves."