Gateway to Sustainability

Gateway to Sustainability

A St. Louis community has faith-based response to climate change.


By Jeff Harder

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Missouri Gateway chapter and Missouri Interfaith Power and Light are both based in St. Louis, and the common ground doesn’t stop there.

A national organization with chapters all across the country, Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) advances energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy in congregations and religious communities as a faith-based response to climate change. “The congregations that support Missouri IPL have a specific interest in reducing their carbon footprint and their buildings’ energy use,” says Emily Andrews, executive director of the Missouri Gateway chapter. Last year, thanks to a USGBC Impact Grant, the Missouri chapters partnered to provide energy audits for 10 congregations around St. Louis.

Missouri Interfaith Power and Light has environmental stewardship in their ministry’s mission. Photo: Kari R. Frey, FREYtography.

“That energy audit was a good starting point. Then the thought became: ‘We have this energy audit—what’s next? What do we do with this information?’” Andrews says. “That’s where USGBC’s ADVANCE program proved useful.”

The congregations saw sustainability on a spectrum: Some saw how cost savings could help expand their mission, while others had environmental stewardship sewn into the fabric of their ministry. Along the same lines, some had been longtime sustainability proponents, while others were just getting started. “We weren’t just one organization with all of its stakeholders at the table: We were a diverse group of organizations with one or two champions at the table,” says Johanna Schweiss, volunteer and outreach coordinator for the Missouri Gateway chapter.

Meanwhile, it was a perfect opportunity for USGBC volunteers around St. Louis to share their building science expertise and gain further experience. “The cool thing about ADVANCE is that it’s a portal for both sides: Volunteers find a place that fits their passion and interest, and congregations, nonprofits, and other groups to find the assistance they need to green their buildings and their communities,” Andrews says.


Johanna Schweiss is a volunteer and outreach coordinator, Emily Andrews is the executive director of the Missouri Gateway Chapter, and Tracey Howe-Koch is the coordinator of the Missouri Interfaith Power & Light. Photos: Kathy Arnold

At the February PLANBuilder workshop at the Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis, USGBC volunteers versed in all sectors of sustainability gathered with representatives from 15 multifaith congregations. After summarizing each LEED credit category, the attendees paired off to talk about the needs of each congregation and set distinct goals. Those goals and the strategies to achieve them were compiled in workbooks detailing the steps each congregation needed to take. For congregations that had yet to receive an energy audit, benchmarking went to the top of the list of strategies for representatives to share with their congregations.

For congregations that already had energy audits, next steps ran the gamut from low- and no-cost tweaks like changing thermostat and hot-water heater settings, all the way to budgeting for capital investments. “One congregation said they expect to need a new roof within a few years, and after the workshop, they’ve made getting a high-reflectance roof into a priority,” Schweiss says. Additionally, USGBC encouraged every congregation to take the 25 x 20 Pledge, a benchmarking initiative that’s part of its campaign in St. Louis to reduce buildings’ energy consumption 25 percent by the year 2020.

The workshop also allowed congregations to share some of their sustainability success stories, like organizing initiatives to mitigate the waste generated during after-service coffee hours, using church gardens to grow food for local food banks, and using carpooling as a way to help needy congregation members make it to Sunday services—while reducing single-occupancy vehicles in the parking lot. “We had such great things already happening, and it was lovely to see people share those projects and give each other the appreciation they deserved for work they had already done,” Schweiss says. Thanks to ADVANCE, the experts and the enthusiasts have a rapport with one another, a vital step in bringing those PLANBuilder strategies to fruition. Now, it’s time to make the community they all cherish a deeper shade of green.

Workshops held at the congregations spread the word about mitigating waste, growing vegetables in the church gardens, and carpooling. Top right photo: Kathy Arnold; Left and bottom right photos: Kari R. Frey, FREYtography