Friday, February 18, 2011

Sustainability and Faith

By Jessica Vasquez

I recently came across the article “Temple Puts Its Faith in Sustainability” published in The Bergen Record on July 29, 2009. Although it’s nearly two years old, this story is still relevent today as we continue to learn how we can be eco-friendly. The piece describes the actions of T’Green Olam, a team of activists at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Taking steps to reduce the group’s carbon footstep has led to recognition by GreenFaith, a New Brunswick-based sustainability coalition that has been supporting religious institutions since 1992.

GreenFaith extended an invitation to T’Green Olam to participate in the two-year certification program to become GreenFaith certified sanctuaries. Among other things, certified sanctuaries contribute to sustainability by doing such things as using ceramic coffee mugs instead of disposable cups to reduce trash going to landfills, and by adjusting thermostats to lower settings in winter and setting air conditioners to higher levels in summer. GreenFaith and the houses of worship that they recognize encourage their followers to do the same in both small and big ways throughout their daily lives.

When I started reading the article, I wondered what the connection was between religion and sustainability. Upon further investigation of GreenFaith, I learned that this activist group believes that places of worship are always spreading and therefore a great outlet for such a positive message that will hopefully spread to the general public. I don’t follow any religion, but I do have some belief in spirituality and doing what makes you feel good, and if that can help something or someone in the process, then all the better. For this reason, the article about Temple Beth Rishon and GreenFaith really caught my attention.

GreenFaith acknowledges religious groups in New Jersey for their sustainability efforts and encourages environmental work that is not a fad, but a real passion. Also, GreenFaith is not for one religious group. The group supports multiple faiths such as Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhism, and Judaism. Although I don’t commit to a house of worship, I am thrilled to see that GreenFaith encourages these many groups.

Being recognized by a state group is a strong motivator, but I hope individuals can get motivated to do their part even if they are not part of a faith that may be recognized by GreenFaith. These days, it’s easier to reduce one’s carbon footprint because information is everywhere. Unplugging electronics while they are not in use or turning off a surge protector is a simple step that homeowners and corporations can take in the right direction. Reducing the use of disposable objects such as plates, cutlery, and cups is another way the public can make a difference. Turning off the lights in an empty room is something that should be automatic.

To get involved and do your part for the Earth, ask your house of worship if they know about GreenFaith, talk to your school about starting an environmental awareness group if one does not already exist, and get the community involved with an educational workshop at a common place in town. Whether you’re taking a lot of small steps or contributing to a few big ways of sustainability, the most important part is being educated and getting involved so you can spread the word!

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