Eco Church – working to net zero by 2030
by Clare Davies
In February 2020, the General Synod of the Church of England made a bold resolution to achieve Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2030 – some 15 years earlier than the original proposed target. This is good news but I was left wondering how it was going to be achieved within less than ten years! When I learned that the Diocese of St Albans was hosting a one day Eco Church conference in October I signed up to attend (on line, of course!) and find out more about what it means for each parish to play its part. In this magazine article, I shall give a brief summary of that conference and introduce the resulting “Eco Church Committee” which we have set up at our parish church in response to the call to action from Bishop Alan.
Eco Church “Working Together to Net Zero” Conference – held 10th October 2020
At the time of writing this article, all the talks can still be viewed on this website: https://www.facebook.com/ecochurchcon/
The first talk that I attended explained the Eco Church scheme. This was set up in 2006 by the charity A Rocha UK which encourages churches in England and Wales who want to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for God’s earth and helps them to take action to avoid the terrible consequences of global warming. Eco church provides a practical tool kit of resources and a series of awards to celebrate progress towards achieving carbon neutrality. There are already 3,000 churches enrolled on the scheme. Eco church has a “Call for action” with activities in various categories including:
• Worship and Teaching. Celebrate God’s creation in worship.
• Energy Switch your church clean, renewable energy. Encourage sustainability, recycling, etc.
• Land – Use church land effectively e.g. maybe set up beehives, make a sensory space, plant trees, etc.
• Community and Global Engagement. Lobby MPs, campaign on global issues, debate on food and farming, campaign with Tear Fund and Christian Aid.
• Lifestyle. Encourage ethical investment of own and church funds.
The next session was a panel event, in which the host church described how Churches Together in Leighton Buzzard/Linslade have undertaken various successful Eco Church projects in their area.
The plenary session “Reaching net zero by 2030: the national picture at the Church of England” explained how the General Synod responded to the seminal 2018 IPCC report on the effect of 1.5° and 2°C warming by passing the resolution for the Church to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. Note that this does not just cover churches, but also Church Schools, parsonages, church halls and church house. Although the Church of England has some of the most sustainable buildings in Britain – some used continuously since the 6th century – our carbon footprint is significant. The Church carries out energy audits which show that heating is the major source of church energy use (84%). Various suggestions were made for action plans with the top five being: to switch to 100% renewable energy, install energy efficient lighting, optimise heat settings, install an efficient and long-lived heating system and fit draught proofing. We were all called upon to develop a baseline audit of our carbon footprint and to develop a plan of action, framing everything within a theological context: “This is God’s work”.
This was followed by a Workshop on a Zero Carbon Church in which each church was encouraged to build a “Net Zero team”, with representation from all areas, support from senior leaders, engaging expertise from our local community and bringing everyone on the journey. Each team would need to work out the scope of what is included in their net zero target, assess the scale of action needed by assessing where they stand with each element and what issues they are going to address, and then come up with a plan based on available resources – and find out what a feasible timescale looks like! Their recommendation was that churches should do this by carrying out the Eco Church survey, researching zero carbon case studies and signing up for Climate Sunday.
Over lunchtime there were a number of other sessions – I watched an interesting short film describing the amazing lives of swifts (in their lifetime they fly a distance equivalent to flying to the moon and back seven times!) and how installing swift boxes in your church belfry can help stop the dramatic decline in their numbers.
The afternoon of the conference consisted of a variety of workshops. I attended A vision of a zero carbon church building which gave practical examples of churches that had already achieved carbon neutraility. We were shown a picture of St Michael’s Withington, which was Britain’s first zero carbon church. Contrary to what you might expect, this was not a modern church, but a typical medieval church. Historic churches such as this were built of local materials with low embodied carbon, have solid walls with high thermal mass which retains heat, large windows with high solar gain, and grounds for planting vegetation and supporting wildlife and biodiversity. Starting from this foundation, a route to net zero was outlined, with many suggestions, including:
• to ensure the church is well-maintained (fix broken windows etc, fix the roof, avoid damp – keep gutters clear).
• buy renewable energy via Parish Buying, using the C of E buying power to get good tariffs.
• waste less (use LED floodlights and path lights, install water butts, tackle heat
loss from windows and draught proof the doors, install bike racks and easy car charging in your church car park, match heating timings to use).
• use low carbon heating, electricity if possible.
• investigate whether we can generate electricity via solar panels.
• finally: can we offset the rest (e.g. sponsor projects to get rid of fuel stoves etc).
The talk concluded by urging each church to calculate their church’s carbon footprint, to use the practical guidance published by the Church of England, complete the Eco Church Survey and develop an action plan. The final workshop showed us how to use the on-line 360carbon (Carbon Footprint Tool) designed for use by churches to enable them to measure their carbon emissions.
Follow up – Royston Parish Church’s first steps to Net Zero
Inspired by the conference, I reported back to the PCC what I had learnt, and passed on the call for action from Bishop Alan that we should all take concrete action to reduce the carbon footprint of our church buildings, vicarages and our own homes. In November, our PCC agreed to the following actions:
1. We have passed a resolution for our parish church to achieve net zero by 2030. This is a daunting commitment to make as, right now, we cannot be sure how we will do this, but if we are to achieve it, we need to resolve to make this a priority.
2. We have just signed up to the Eco Church and Carbon 360 schemes – these will give us practical tips and help us log the data we need to baseline our carbon footprint and measure our progress towards net zero
3. We have formed a “Net Zero/Eco-church team” for Royston Church with the following remit:
a. To play our part in supporting the Church of England’s objective to be carbon neutral by 2030.
b. To support the Diocese of St Albans in its Eco Church project.
c. To reduce the carbon footprint of St John the Baptist Royston, working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
d. To encourage bio-diversity.
e. To encourage ecological and environmental awareness amongst the congregation and wider community of Royston.
f. To ensure that St John the Baptist follows a policy of fair trade and to encourage fair trade amongst the congregation and the wider community of Royston.
If anyone reading this article is keen to get involved and help, please join our Eco Church committee! Get in touch with me at Clare.Davies@cantab.net to find out more!