Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

The Climate Emergency means that the Church needs to reduce its carbon footprint at every level: national, diocesan, parish, household and individual.

At a national level, the General Synod of the Church of England (CofE) has set a target for it to become carbon ‘net zero’ by 2030. The first step is to calculate, as a baseline, the present carbon footprint and so it has developed an Energy Footprint Tool for entering energy returns, calculating a carbon footprint and benchmarking carbon use for churches.

At a diocesan level, Birmingham Diocesan (CofEB) Environmental Board, led by the Bishop of Birmingham, has been formed. A Net Zero Environment Group (NZEG) has also been set up to focus specifically on the 2030 net zero carbon target, which will report to the CofEB Environment Board. The project is divided into several workstreams including: CofEB Buildings & Land, Parsonages, Parish Buildings & Land, Schools, and Transport. The programme will be assisted by the staff of the Diocesan Property Team, to whom enquiries should be directed. 

At deanery level, within the People & Places framework, the new CofEB Environment Board envisages that each deanery will appoint an Environmental Champion to liaise with parish environmental contacts or leads and spearhead the net zero carbon agenda. Environmental champions are to meet periodically across the six deaneries to compare progress and report to the Area Dean lead on the CofEB Environment Board.

Parishes are encouraged to make use of the sections on Buildings and Land in the Eco Church Survey material. They have also been asked to complete an Energy Footprint Tool each year; the closing date for 2021 was the end of September.

Households and Individuals will also be helped by the other sections of the Eco Church survey - Worship and Teaching, Community and Global Engagement, and Lifestyle - to become aware of, and then to reduce, their own carbon footprint. In order to make the calculations, use may be made of one of the many websites which give information and advice: Carbon Footprinting Guide 

Mike Powell, Barnt Green and Cofton Hackett Parish Environment Contact, writes:

Energy Bills – Manage consumption and help cut CO2 Emissions

The spiralling cost of energy, and our urgent need to reduce energy use, are very relevant to both our churches and to everyone in our congregations. There are lots of ways to try and reduce consumption. We see them on TV, in magazines and hear them in discussions with friends. But how do we know if they work in the long run, and do good intentions to turn things off slide over the years?

Taking regular meter readings and looking at energy usage trends is a good way to focus efforts and to see if things are going wrong. In 2009 we set up our first “Green Group” and since then we have tried to take regular monthly readings, although there have been periods when enthusiasm has waned!! Initially, the group was set up to help plan major upgrades to our Parish Centre, where we wanted to spend a limited budget wisely, and to use the opportunity to improve energy efficiency. We were keen to understand our current usage, prior to any building changes, and measure the effects of the changes.

The graphs show the annual consumption of gas and electricity for our Parish Centre, going back to 2006, and you can see the changes over the years. Sadly, you can also see the enormous effect from Covid, when the building was shut for significant periods, which resulted in electricity savings but not gas savings because it was used with doors and windows open during cold months – not very efficient at all!

We tracked the effect of upgrades, using 2005 to 2010 as our benchmark. i.e. all %’s are shown with reference to the average consumption between 2005 and 2010

Gas consumption:

  • 2011-12 New controls, old boiler, high awareness of energy costs – 15% gas reduction
  • 2013-16 New controls, new boiler, improved insulation in loft and higher occupancy – 39% gas reduction
  • 2018-19 Maintaining savings -  43% reduction
  • 2020-21 Covid – time when centre closed offset by increased consumption when in use -  windows and doors open for ventilation!

Electricity consumption:

  • 2011-12 Automatic lights in corridor, high awareness of energy costs – 7% saving
  • 2013-16 Automatic lights in toilets, dishwasher and 3 water boilers and higher occupancy – 2% saving (5% increase compared to 2011-13)
  • 2018-19 Continue to upgrade lighting – 11% reduction
  • 2020-21 Showing the impact of Covid

The graphs show annual totals which is useful as a summary. However, recording and analysing monthly readings is vital to make sure nothing is going wrong. We have had heating inadvertently left on, heating control failures, hot taps leaking during Covid when no one was using the building and other instances where we have started to waste energy without realising, until we noticed an increase in consumption!

However, it is not just about saving energy in church buildings. The same principles can be applied to all our homes. Over the years our homes change – new boilers, replacement double glazing, draft proofing, loft insulation, turning the thermostat down, persuading the household to turn lights off, and turning the shower off when applying body wash and shampoo etc. All these things can add up to significant savings that help to offset the increases in energy costs and, very importantly, help to reduce our CO2 emissions. The example below is from our 200 year old detached house. Starting on an improvement programme in 2008 where the house was extended there have been a replacement boiler and heating controls, draft proofing, improved loft insulation, solar panels, water flow devices on taps, water butts, and a log burner replacing an open fire. It is reassuring that money spent on maintaining and improving the house is helping to reduce our CO2 emissions

Actual savings 2005-08 compared with 2019-21:

  • Electric – 27%
  • Water – 35%
  • Gas – 50%

Good luck reducing your utility bills and helping towards out 2030 Net Zero goal!