Benchmarking and Certification

Benchmarking and certifying environmental performance promote environmental stewardship and energy conservation by encouraging and recognizing uptake of the best practices. They can help motivate and sustain care for creation in parishes  and are also newsworthy. For example, The Archdiocese of Chicago, IL (USA) made national news in September 2015 by announcing its intention to benchmark its 2,700 buildings using Energy Star Portfolio Manager. St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, VA (USA) also made the news with its certification by the interfaith organization GreenFaith in 2014.

Benchmarking building energy use

In terms of energy use, a building’s performance last year can be a reference for its performance this year. Annual comparison to a single reference year is a useful way to track performance trends over a period of years.

Benchmarking is different in that it allows comparison of performance of a building in relation to its peers— buildings of comparable size, in similar locations, and with similar use. Because there are so many buildings, and because buildings use so much energy, national governments have supported increasingly sophisticated benchmarking to account for the variety of building sizes, locations, and uses. While the initial focus was on commercial and multi-family residential buildings, more recent efforts have enabled houses of worship to participate.

Benchmarking is a technical process that requires some basic knowledge and data. The process varies from country to country, reflecting the diversity of energy issues worldwide.

Faith groups have helped make benchmarking commonplace. In 2012, Church of England launched its energy tracking and benchmarking tools, including sMeasure, for its 16,000 buildings in the United Kingdom, as part of its Shrink the Footprint campaign. In 2013, Catholic Earthcare Australia launched the National Energy Efficiency Network to provide community organizations with the information, inspiration, and support to become more energy efficient.

US EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager for Houses of Worship

In the United States, any faith organization can benchmark its building energy performance with the free online software program Energy Star Portfolio Manager for Houses of Worship. The program requires street addresses, sizes (areas) of buildings, seating capacities, hours of use, and other practical data that are easily obtained. Its advantages include:

  • with authorization from the account holder, many energy companies will upload energy use and billing data directly to the parish’s Portfolio Manager account, saving the parish the work of entering the data by hand
  • it translates performance metrics to an easily understood numerical score from 1 to 100, relative to other houses of worship
  • buildings with scores of 75 and higher are eligible to apply for the widely recognized Energy Star logo (which requires additional measurements to assure adequacy of lighting, indoor air quality, and thermal comfort, so that awards are not given for skimping on basics)
  • Energy Star’s action workbook for congregations, US EPA

Environmental certification and awards

Environmental certificate programs ensure that the certificate holder meets a well-defined set of criteria. Some certificates are given once and for all, like a graduation diploma, while others (including the Energy Star logo for buildings in the USA) must be renewed annually.

Perhaps the best known, and perhaps also the most difficult certification to achieve for a building, is the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certificate program. LEED “is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.” There are four levels of LEED certification: certificate, silver, gold, and platinum.

LEED certification is a substantial project. It is often a goal that is set before design even begins. The highly credible accreditation process is well regarded worldwide. St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish in Toronto, Canada and several other new Catholic buildings have obtained LEED certifications.

Other certification and award programs are more accessible for parishes, and importantly, these include activities that engage parishioners and reach out to others. In the UK, CAFOD developed the lLivesimply award program, which encourages Catholic parishes to put faith into action by promoting simpler lifestyles and constructive action on global poverty and climate change.

Several interfaith organizations also offer awards and recognition for congregations demonstrating care for creation.

A Rocha is a family of Christian conservation organizations begun in 1983 in Portugal. Its mission is to inspire, equip, and engage Christians and others to steward the Earth. A Rocha manages award schemes for churches and congregations in several countries, including the Eco-Church Award in England and Wales (new in 2016), and ongoing Eco-Congregation programs in Ireland, Scotland, Hungary, Norway, Canada, and the USA. A Rocha courteously accepted GCCM’s use of the title “Eco-Parish.” A Rocha also administers the lLivesimply award scheme for CAFOD.

Green Church Network aims to empower faith communities in Canada in adopting environmentally aware practices through action and awareness, as well as rediscovering an eco-spirituality from the Christian tradition. Founded in 2007, the network has hosted Green Church Conferences since 2010, and offers a certification program for churches that demonstrate excellence in Green Operations including energy and water conservation, green cleaning, pest control, purchasing, recycling, and communication.

GreenFaith inspires, educates and mobilizes people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership in the USA. Founded in 1992, the group also offers energy saving services to congregations of any faith. They also maintain a listing of statements about climate change from religious leaders of many different faiths. The GreenFaith Sanctuary certification program is offered to houses of worship in the USA.

Interfaith Power and Light responds to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy in the USA. Founded as Episcopal Power and Light in 1998 with the help of Catholic Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, IPL expanded its mission to energy stewardship for all faiths. IPL offers Cool Congregation awards for significant energy savings at churches in the USA.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish as an example of Environmental certification

St. Francis of Assisi Parish began the two-year GreenFaith Certification Program in 2012. It included a comprehensive audit, communications plan, and actions in the areas of spiritual growth, stewardship and environmental justice. Efforts were supported throughout the process by the staff of the interfaith GreenFaith.

Fr. Kevin Downey, O.F.M., Pastor, said “It was a bit controversial then, but with some strategic work, everything came together.” Parishioners, including environmental lawyers, engineers and scientists, came forward to help. Success is evident in the extent of uptake of stewardship by general membership of the parish. The parish modeled the behavior, such as recycling, reducing consumption, setting the thermostat, etc., and people took that to their homes and to their workplaces. The parish’s GreenFaith effort has had a ripple effect, because many of the families are in the area temporarily. About twenty percent of the 2,000 plus families relocate every year, and they bring these practices wherever they go.

St. Francis of Assisi Parish was certified as a GreenFaith Sanctuary in June 2014. Rob Goraieb, O.F.S., parish Coordinator of Franciscan Action and Advocacy, noted “GreenFaith was a springboard for what comes next, what we’re doing with our Care for Creation Committee and Laudato Si’. It doesn’t end with certification.”