[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
The easiest way for your church to save energy and money? Turn out the lights.
Changing light-use habits to limit unnecessary electricity use will lower your church’s energy consumption and make sure it stays lower even when you take the next easiest conservation step, which is the true topic of this article: switching old incandescent light bulbs out for new, more energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. Because even as more energy efficient devices become commonplace and affordable, if we don’t manage their use responsibly, we’ll end up using more of creation’s resources than necessary.
Many of us have already made the switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in our homes, but the impact is multiplied when we change the light bulbs in large buildings like churches. According to Grist.org, “the energy saved by replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with an equivalent CFL over its lifetime is sufficient to driving a Toyota Prius hybrid car from New York to San Francisco.” Multiply that by all the lights we switch on at church each Sunday, and you get a lot of miles out of your electricity use!
Most importantly for Christians, reducing our electricity consumption is an act of compassion. Almost half of the country’s electricity is produced from coal in a process that—from mining to combustion—endangers both natural ecosystems and people. Coal mining in general poses occupational hazards like black lung and mine explosions to miners. The mountain top removal practice currently used to extract coal from mountains in Appalachia plagues small, already impoverished communities with the threat of impoundment failures (when large holding tanks of mining waste collapse and the refuse floods homes and communities, as happened when 1.1 billion gallons of slurry poured from the Kingston Fossil Plant’s containment area to flood portions of Tennessee’s Roane County at Christmastime in 2008), polluted drinking water, and the destruction of valuable, biologically rich habitats.
When the mined coal is burned to produce electricity, it produces coal ash that pollutes groundwater with poisons like arsenic and lead, which can cause various cancers and damage the nervous system. All of us have the potential to be affected by the 50 tons of mercury produced by coal burning power plants each year. That mercury is released into the air, rained into our water sources, and ingested by fish that we consume (especially tuna). The reason women of childbearing age (and certainly pregnant or nursing mothers) are warned against eating certain fish is that the high levels of mercury present in those fish can damage the development of the brain and nervous system of the unborn.
These seem like big problems to be solved by such as small thing as a light bulb, but we learned in Sunday school that a little
light can be quite powerful when it’s not hidden under a bushel. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use about 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs do, and they last up to 10 times as long. That means that the one-two punch of turning the lights out more often and using CFLs when the lights are on saves church budgets a lot of money (a CFL bulb may save up to $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime) and families and ecosystems a lot of misery.
Here’s how to start your church saving energy as a demonstration of compassionate stewardship:
Plug In the Idea
Although they are getting cheaper all the time, CFLs still have a higher up-front cost than incandescent light bulbs, so you’ll want to clear your plan with your church’s leadership and make the switchover as easy and cost-effective as possible for your church. Here are some suggestions:
- Propose the plan: In conversation with your church’s pastor, treasurer, and facilities manager, explain the compassionate, environmental, and financial motivations behind switching to CFLs. Find additional facts and energy savings calculations at the Energy Star website. Be flexible with your plan—if your church has the capacity to only change some bulbs, rejoice at the desire to make a change and remember that small steps are important steps.
- Include the church: With a brief announcement on Sunday morning, let your congregation know about the changes it will see taking place in the building’s lighting system. Just like you did with your church leadership, explain the motivations behind making this switch, and take the opportunity to encourage folks to turn lights off when appropriate. You may want to provide a handout or bulletin insert that includes facts about the energy efficiency of CFLs and the environmental and social destruction caused by coal mining and combustion. Encourage feedback and questions.
- Take responsibility: Develop a team to support those responsible for your church’s facilities as they make the switch. Depending on your church, your team may even have the opportunity to purchase and switch the lights yourself—a step that would relieve others from the extra work.
Flip the Switch
- Be bright: Be aware that the new bulbs you choose will indicate their appropriate replacement wattage, but their actual wattage will be much lower than that of the bulb you’re replacing. That’s the point, so don’t get confused! You may also find that some bulb sizes require an adaptor to fit certain fixtures. It’s best to purchase the adaptor instead of waiting for companies to produce more specifically sized bulbs, as you will still reap the benefits of lower energy costs.
- When the light goes out: Discarding your old incandescent light bulbs is simple; they cannot be recycled, so simply throw them in the trash or bring them to a landfill. However, CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, and must be properly recycled so that the mercury is captured instead of released into the environment. The process is easy: Simply check with local municipal or private waste management services about how you can dispose of old CFLs in your area. Many communities have monthly recycling collections where they will accept old CFLs. Fortunately, because of the long life of a CFL, you won’t have to worry about this part of the process for years!
Related Posts at Flourish
The Paradox of Energy Efficiency
Audit and Fix-It: The First Two Steps to Becoming an Energy-Efficient Church
ILoveMountains.org provides comprehensive resources on coal mining and its relationship to energy use.
Christians for the Mountains is a Christian ministry to the Appalachian communities suffering from destructive coal mining practices.
Energy Star CFL guide