More than 100 leaders of faith communities and nonprofits gathered in Wilmington, Delaware in early March to learn how their organizations could reduce energy consumption and lower costs.
The gathering was organized by Delaware Interfaith Power & Light with underwriting from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which, since 2008, has helped scores of colleges, universities, nonprofits and churches save money through reduced energy consumption.
This “micro” approach to reducing reliance on fossil-fuel-based energy is the right approach, said Dr. John Byrne, who was part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
“This is exactly how we are going to solve this problem — coming together in community,” Byrne told the attendees. “The answers are right before us and we have the ability to solve this problem.”
Byrne’s remarks opened a series of conversations that introduced attendees to resources for funding and technical assistance as they think about strategies to lower their energy use.
For example, the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility provides an array of resources, from energy audits and assessments to grants and loans, that can help organizations assess and reduce energy consumption. And Imani Energy works to bring alternative energy resources to low-income and disadvantaged communities in Delaware.
“Connecting these organizations with resources is the first step in helping them lower their energy use,” said Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. “We have found that folks often see this as a daunting task, but when they realized the potential financial gains, they buy into the idea very quickly.”
The Fund supported an energy audit for a Florida nonprofit that showed the organization could save $250,000 a year in energy costs, Magill said. “A lot of it was simple things, things that the organization was just too close to see.”
And for institutions with complex physical plants — like large churches — energy can represent a big slice of the expense budget: one Wilmington congregation shared that its annual energy bill was $100,000, Magill said.
While the Fund approaches energy conservation from the perspective of financial savings, many at the conference saw other rationales. Delaware Interfaith Power & Light, which is one of 40 state affiliates of the national organization, sees its work as “a religious response to climate change, which is the defining moral issue of our time,” Byrne said.
Indeed, for many in the audience, energy conservation was more a matter of good stewardship of God’s gifts than financial gain, and they said the faith community has an obligation to set an example.
“The faith community can usher in a transformation of consciousness,” said Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick, Rector of St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church in Wilmington. “It’s not enough to save energy. We must rethink our whole relationship with the planet and each other.”