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Can Churches Afford Not to Embrace Sustainability?

December 4, 2019 jill Blog
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By Stephen P. Ashkin

To answer this question, let’s look at the following case study. It should help church administrators better understand the reasons they should embrace sustainability.

It involves one of the largest family-operated distribution company in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware area. Recently, it became involved with a program sponsored by ISSA, a nonprofit worldwide cleaning association. The program involves electronically measuring and monitoring the use of fuel, energy, water and other metrics using a cloud-based “dashboard system.” It also includes a behind-the-scenes team that reviews the metrics as they come in.

Not long after this distributor joined the program, the system noticed that every August—like clockwork—the company’s trash removal charges went up $200 a month. There was no explanation for this on the billing statements, and in most cases, the rate hikes slipped under the radar. The company paid them without question.

The dashboard team noted that the distributor was already paying more for trash removal than other members involved with the program. This alone raised red flags. But with the annual rate hikes, it became clear this situation had to be investigated. The distributor contacted the trash removal company, which not only reversed the $200 yearly rate increase but also suggested ways for the distributor could further lower trash removal charges, such as reducing the number of pickups per week and opting for larger trash bins.

With these changes implemented, the distributor found its waste removal charges were reduced by $17,000 in one year, all the result of this program and becoming more sustainability focused. We should note that although the program is designed for distributors, many types of facilities now use dashboard tools to help monitor, measure, and reduce their use of natural resources, and this would include churches as well.

Reducing operating costs like this is just one reason church facilities should become more sustainability-focused, but with churches operating on such tight budgets, it is a crucial one. Many observers believe reducing operating costs is the number one driver for building owners and managers to get on the sustainability bandwagon.

A study titled Green Building Performance: A Post Occupancy Evaluation of 22 GSA Buildings further verifies savings are possible. Although the study is a few years old, it is considered one of the most in-depth ever conducted on the subject.

It involved 22 federal buildings in the U.S. operated by the General Services Administration that had adopted green and sustainability operating measures. The study found that “on average, the representative buildings chosen from GSA’s portfolio regularly outperformed national averages of building performance data. These buildings use less energy and water and cost less to maintain, as well as emit less carbon dioxide and have more satisfied occupants than conventionally designed buildings.”

The Personal Aspects of Sustainability

While reducing operating costs may be the number one reason facilities are becoming more sustainability-focused, churches have another, unique reason to embrace sustainability and that is to attract younger congregants. Most church administrators understand that Millennials and what is now referred to as Generation Z are tech savvy. However, there is much more to learn about these generations.

“One of the characteristics of Millennials, besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are primed to do well by doing good,” says Leigh Buchanan, an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine who is quoted in the book The Multigenerational Sales Team. “Almost 70% say that giving back and being [community] engaged are their highest priorities.”

Giving back, church administrators may know, is one of the three key components of sustainability. The two others are profits (earned fairly and legally) and planet. A study conducted by Cones Communications in 2016 tells us even more about the younger generations and their focus on social and environmental issues. According to the study:

* 64% consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding to work for an organization.

* 64% will not work for an organization that does not have strong corporate and social responsibility values (CSRs).

* About 70% of all U.S. workers say they would be more loyal to a company if it were socially and environmentally focused; this number jumps to 83% for Millennials.

* Finally, 88% say they find their jobs more fulfilling when their employers allow them to make their positive impact on the environment in the workplace.

Understanding the importance of sustainability to Millennials will help church administrators welcome these young people into their churches. Practicing sustainability demonstrates that the church has similar values as its new members, building trust and comfort. When that happens, churches can ensure they have new members and reduce operating costs to boot.

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in green cleaning and sustainability,