Green churches

12 February 2021

Learn how greener churches can protect the earth, reduce outgoings and encourage a more sustainable future for their communities.

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Churches and communities can do a great deal to contribute to a greener future, and there are lots of initiatives already in place. Recently, we were inspired by Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project. The Abbey is well-placed to take advantage of their local resources and will heat the church using hot water that flows underground from the natural springs under the city.

Our charitable owner Allchurches Trust is providing funding to assist Bath Abbey in completing the project. Two years on from their first donation, Allchurches Trust will be giving further funds to the project which will bring their total contribution up to £100,000. You can learn more by visiting their website.
All churches have the opportunity to make a difference, so we’ve put together a few ideas we have seen in action.

Alternatives to single-use plastics

Single-use plastics such as cutlery and crockery can be easily avoided by using traditional washable items such as china plates and metal cutlery when serving food and drinks at your church. However, this isn’t always possible, for example while on the move, so disposable items made of materials such as bamboo and paper can be good alternatives.

Carbon fasting

Lent is an excellent time to encourage your congregation to make small changes that help to protect the earth. Exploring alternatives to the daily routine can help break habits that lead to long-term positive changes. Carbon fasting suggestions include:

  • Using alternative modes of transport or carpooling
  • Eating meat-free meals
  • Choosing only fruit and vegetables that are grown and processed in the UK
  • Giving up plastic – visit the Church of England website for more on plastic-free lent.

Green church gardens

Bees are essential to the pollination of flowers. According to Country File, to make one pound of honey, bees fly over 55,000 miles. You can create a bee-friendly rest-stop at your church by:

  • Providing a place for them to rest or shelter from harsh weather conditions
  • Minimising the use of pesticides used as these can poison bees
  • Choosing the right flowers, your churchyard is probably already a well-established wildflower haven but if you are a newer church, Gardener’s World gives a list of bee-friendly plants you can grow for each season 
  • Making sure there is a source of water nearby. 

Allchurches Trust and Caring for God's Acre have shared some top tips for managing your churchyard to help protect the biodiversity of your burial grounds. 

Cycle to church

Are there ways you could encourage your congregation and other church users to cycle? Introducing areas where bikes can be stored safely at the church is a great start. You could also create a map of cycle routes to the church for your website.

Energy-efficient lighting

Your church should be well-lit to help reduce the risk of accidents such as slips and trips occurring. Although they cost more initially, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use less energy than traditional bulbs and therefore have less impact on the environment. You can visit the Parish Buying website to learn more and benefit from negotiated rates from trusted church suppliers

Improving insulation

Insulation can be placed above, between or just below the church rafters to keep heat inside. Historic England gives details of the types of roofs that are compatible and guidelines regarding installation. If your church is listed, you are required to seek listed building consent.

Solar panels and giving back to the grid

Solar panels only require daylight rather than direct sunlight, so even on a cloudy day, they can generate electricity. For information about safe installation, our risk management guidance on solar panels

Look for grants or loans that might be available to fund solar panels at your church. A quick search on Google should bring up opportunities in your local area. 

Air source heat pumps

In some churches, air-source heat pumps may be a suitable alternative to traditional heating systems. There are examples where these systems blend well within a church and it may be possible to site external compressor apparatus on the church roof. 
This form of heating can heat a church to a comfortable temperature within a short time and may help to reduce heating costs. It is essential any system is installed and maintained by a competent engineer. We suggest you speak to your Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) in the first instance. 

The Big Church Switch

Following an audit of 200 churches in 2013, the Church of England has encouraged 5,500 churches to switch to energy suppliers that only put electricity into the national grid from 100% renewable sources.

You can find out more about how to switch on the Big Church Switch website.

Benchmark your activities

Ecochurch offers a free online survey so you can gain an understanding of how eco-friendly your church is and how to improve. Visit the Ecochurch website.

Look for success stories from other churches

Look for inspiration in the success of other churches. Allchurches Trust recently helped to fund a project by Cloudesley. They looked at 24 churches and identified changes they could cut their utility bills and help the environment. Cloudesley has produced a blog for Allchurches Trust where you can discover what they have learned from the project and some of the big savings they achieved.

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