Catholic Energies looks to help church organizations go green

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — Entering her classroom at St. Teresa of Avila School in Cincinnati to prepare for the start of the new academic
year, art teacher Cheryl
Cannon saw things in a new light.

colors. Fewer shadows. A cheerier environment.

The new
LED lights are great,
she thought.

kids can see what they’re doing now,” Cannon told Catholic News Service on
the first day of classes Aug. 17.

the school — from the front office, to the halls and into the classrooms —
the new light-emitting diode bulbs gained the approval of teachers, students
and staff.

bulbs across the campus of St. Teresa of Avila Parish is part of an overall effort
to reduce energy consumption, in part under the Catholic Energies program developed by the Catholic
Climate Covenant.

Bill Thoman, parish property manager,
said the parish wanted to be part of the program in response to Pope Francis’
call to care for God’s creation in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on
Care for Our Common Home.”

really plays into (the idea), ‘Look, guys, this is not something we’re making
up. We need to take a couple steps back and really look at what we’re doing to
poor Mother Earth. We’re beating her up,'” Thoman said of the parish’s long
involvement in reducing energy consumption, using clean energy, boosting
recycling and encouraging responsibility and sustainability in the use of
natural resources.

parish continued to install energy-efficient LED lightbulbs in buildings
throughout the fall. Other steps across parish grounds have seen the
installation of suspended, or dropped, ceilings in the school so that less space in the rooms must be
heated and cooled; the remodeling of school computer labs, adding central air
conditioning as needed; and the installation of high-efficiency boilers for the heating

the cost of LED lights substantially dropping during the past two years, they
have become a worthwhile option for building owners.

said the conversion isn’t inexpensive, but that it’s a good investment because
the money spent will be recovered in a few years through lower energy costs.
The parish has undertaken fundraisers to pay for some of the upgrades and
secured private financing for others.

Energies was developed to complement the Catholic Climate Covenant’s education
and advocacy work. Dan Last, Catholic
Energies chief operating office, said the program emerged in 2016 from
hundreds of conversations with pastors, parish staff members and organizational
leaders about the need for practical steps on behalf of the environment.

parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other organizations operate an
estimated 70,000 buildings, most of which use energy inefficiently, wasting
about $1 billion a year, Last told CNS. Reducing energy usage by 25 percent in
those buildings would save $630 million and 8.7 billion tons of coal, according
to an estimate he prepared.

percent of energy use is wasted. The obvious place to go for maximum impact is
to reduce energy consumption in facilities where people spend the most time.
Then there are environmental benefits, less waste, less carbon, especially as
most energy is produced by carbon sources,” said Last, who has worked in
energy conservation for eight years.

the way, Catholic campuses can be a model of energy efficiency, he added.

program involves working with local utility companies and energy providers to
benchmark energy use, assess buildings and utilize programs an incentives to
realize immediate savings. An organization wishing to take the next step and
retrofit equipment, windows and lighting can enter a financing arrangement
under which the money saved on energy bills is used pay back any borrowed

program also will help entities determine how best to install solar panels or
boost the use of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and biomass, which means getting energy from burning wood and other organic matter.

Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate
Covenant executive director, said the program was developed in response
to the pope’s encyclical and offers people a chance to find ways in their lives
“to live more simply and in keeping with the resources of a finite planet.”

would rather do something positive than just hear negative news all the time. I
think that’s particularly true with climate change,” Misleh told CNS. “People
want to be able to do something about it and we’re providing the opportunity at
the parish and school levels, and perhaps at universities and hospitals, to do
something about it.”

The companies
working under the program have been vetted by Catholic Energies, allowing building
operators to know that the work will be done by certified contractors, Misleh

feel they’re (parishes) probably being inundated with proposals. We’ve done a
lot of the legwork ahead of time, he said.

Archdiocese of Cincinnati was chosen to pilot the program because of its broad
commitment to energy conservation. After initial success, the program is ready
to be rolled out nationwide.

offices in downtown Cincinnati were remodeled in 2016 and 2017 with energy
efficiency and lower energy costs in mind. Tony Stieritz, director of the archdiocese’s social
action office, told CNS Pope Francis inspired church leaders to step up to do as
much as possible to protect the environment.

this is truly an effort to bring our values and teachings into life, to put our
commitments to what our teaching is on caring for our creation,” Stieritz

has a right to the good, the gift of the Earth because God made it. It has an
inherent dignity and we have a responsibility to protect it,” he

Energies was introduced to parish representatives in November. Seventy of 210
parishes attended that initial meeting. While four parishes are involved with Catholic
Energies in some way, Last expressed hope that others will join as the program
introduces new financing packages.

St. John Fisher Church in suburban
Newtown is another parish with ties to the program. Jenifer Tiettmeyer, parish business
manager, said the parish agreed with the program’s concept and joined
the effort but secured its own financing for its improvements.

parish recently installed a $40,000 heating, ventilating and air conditioning unit,
replacing one that had been used since the 1970s, Tiettmeyer told CNS. LED
lights have been installed in parish offices and the church, with 266 lights, was
next for the conversion in the fall, she said.

projected savings on energy consumption to be enough to recover the cost of the
updates in about three years.

time we save money on something while maintaining quality,” she said,
“it’s a good thing.”

said Catholic Energies focuses on developing market-based solutions that can
have benefits for Catholic organizations.

if a school was able to spend less on utilities and spend more on
education?” he asked.

projects work. They save energy. They save money.”

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Editor’s Note: More information on Catholic Energies can be
found online at

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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