Churches going green to tackle climate change

31 January 2024

Churches across the UK say they have a duty to protect the planet from climate change but financial struggles and planning constraints are holding them back.

  • Almost nine in 10 churches who want to reduce their climate impact believe it’s the church’s duty to protect the planet 
  • Half (51%) of churches say they don’t have the funds to make changes, while a third say planning laws are holding them back
  • Many however are taking steps where they can to make a difference, with churches like St Matthews in Kingsdown, Bristol leading the way with innovative solutions such as radiant heating chandeliers

Findings from a survey carried out by Ecclesiastical Insurance and The Bible Society revealed that four in five churches (82%) believe that reducing their climate impact was important.

When asked why they believed this almost nine in ten (88%) said that they believed it was the duty of the church to protect the planet, with four in five (83%) saying that it was the right thing to do.

Churches are already taking practical steps to reduce their climate impact including switching to LED lighting (57%), reducing paper usage (52%), training volunteers to help reduce the carbon footprint (35%) and switching to a renewable energy supplier (31%).

While many of these green steps have limited costs, and in some cases save money, almost two thirds (62%) of churches said they had used reserves to pay for these changes. A quarter said that they had used donations while 20% applied for grants.

Despite these positive steps being taken by churches across the country, almost one in six (16%) churches said that they weren’t taking any steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Three quarters (72%) said they would like to do more to reduce their footprint, but that they were faced with a number of hurdles to do so.

Over half (51%) of churches said they didn’t have the funds to make changes, while over a quarter (29%) said that they didn’t know enough about the issue to understand what they could or should do. More than a quarter (26%) said they hadn’t got the skills needed to carry out more work.

Another challenge facing churches is the age of their properties. Over a third (35%) responded to say that the historic or listed status of their church was preventing more work from taking place, either due to a lack of planning consent or the challenge of adapting medieval buildings.

Helen Richards, church operations director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “The findings of the research show us that churches are stepping up and doing their bit to tackle climate change, which comes as no surprise.

“We know there are churches all around the country already working to reduce their carbon footprint through amazing projects and initiatives and this survey shows us that they want to do even more. However, there are hurdles holding them back.

“Budgets are limited and it can be daunting knowing where to start on the fundraising journey to raise vital funds for these projects. This is why we’ve refreshed our church fundraising hub, providing a wide range of assets to help churches to thrive and help preserve their amazing buildings from climate change for generations to come.”

To support their own journey to net zero, St Matthews Church in Kingsdown, Bristol recently received a donation of £35,000 from Benefact Group as part of its Movement for Good campaign.

The church has been trialling radiant heating chandeliers, an innovative new heating method which is zero carbon and has helped to cut the cost of heating the church by up to 90 per cent. The grant will allow St Matthew’s to make the trial installation permanent and to extend it, adding further heaters to cover the entire worship space

Canon Simon Pugh-Jones, Chair of the Bristol Diocesan Advisory Committee; said: “In the context of a cost of energy crisis, this innovation could save a lot of money and enable church buildings to stay financially viable. In the context of a climate crisis, this could be a huge step towards net zero – a means by which parishes can act to make a real difference to the planet.”

To support its ambition to be net zero for scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030, the Church of England has developed its Routemap to Net Zero and allocated £190 million over the next nine years to fund grants and projects to help churches, schools, cathedrals, clergy houses and other buildings to reduce carbon emissions. This autumn, the Church of England announced the first round of grants and projects worth £30 million, including free energy audits for the top carbon-emitting churches, support for a suite of Demonstrator Net Zero Churches and a Pilot and Evaluation Fund aimed at trialling new net zero carbon technologies.

Julian Atkins, Net Zero Carbon Programme Director, said: “The ambition set out in our Routemap to be net zero by 2030 is at the core of the Church of England’s response to the climate crisis – to help safeguard God’s creation and achieve a just world. Since the Net Zero Carbon Programme formally got under way at the beginning of this year, over two thirds of dioceses have already successfully applied for funding to help support their parishes and others in decarbonising their churches and buildings.

“We’ve already achieved a key Routemap milestone for 2023 in terms of the number of churches achieving A Rocha’s Eco Church Bronze award, which is often the first step for a church on its carbon-reducing journey. And 40 churches have been put forward for our Demonstrator Churches project, which aims to create a network of exemplary churches which demonstrate good net zero carbon practice across churches of different types for others to learn from. There’s much more to come over the coming months and years and we’re excited to support churches and dioceses as we work together to care for God’s creation and ultimately strive to achieve net zero carbon by 2030.”

As part of its ongoing ambition to help churches to thrive and unlock vital funds to support the work they are doing to tackle the environment, Ecclesiastical has relaunched its fundraising hub.

The specialist insurer’s fundraising hub provides churches with guidance and steps to support their fundraising activities, including webinars, how to guides, a list of grant funders and practical tips to help submit applications to fund their vital work.

Ecclesiastical’s charitable owners, Benefact Trust, are one of the funders that can provide grants to support projects designed to make churches greener. More information on the Trust’s grant giving can be found on its website.

For more information visit Ecclesiastical’s church fundraising hub.