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Greening Synagogues- Buildings

BUILDINGS

  • Buildings
  • General Resources
  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
  • Conducting an Institutional Environmental Audit

“Unless God builds the house, its workers toil in vain” – Psalm 127:1. And if indeed ‘God has no hands but ours,’ then it’s up to us to build the Godliest houses of worship we can! As filmmaker and Jewish environmental activist Judith Helfand says: “don’t just build a synagogue; build a just synagogue.”

By every measure – their numbers, how big they are, how much time we spend in them – synagogue buildings are central in the life of our Jewish community. From an environmental perspective, perhaps the most helpful and important thing we can do is to green the synagogue building itself. Ideas and resources for doing just that follow. Though our focus is on shuls, most of this material applies just as easily to other Jewish communal structures (JCC’s, Hillels, schools, camps, Federation and agency buildings, etc.), and much of it applies to our homes and offices as well. There are so many reasons why we should green our facilities:

If it was only the right thing to do for Creation – dayenu (that would be enough for us!)
If it was only the right thing to do for other people, now and in the future – dayenu
If it was only going to help our institutions save on their energy bills – dayenu
If it was only simple to do – dayenu
If it would only help stop global warming – dayenu
If it was only to leave a positive legacy – dayenu
If it was only how we lived out our Jewish values – dayenu

This section of the COEJL website will help you and your congregation figure out how to build green. The resources contained here are designed for synagogues now contemplating, planning, or involved in any kind of serious work on their buildings – new construction, expansion, renovation or retrofits. If your shul is not about to make any changes to its facility, you might go directly to other sections of the website. Likewise, if your congregation does not own its own facility, then the remainder of “Greening Synagogues” on this website (purchasing, program, education, rabbinic resources, etc.) may be more helpful than what’s contained in this section. Even so, you may want to look over these resources — for long-range planning; to figure out how to be an informed tenant; or to suggest to your facility’s owners easy ways they can make a difference.

Numerous synagogues – across movements, regions, demographics, and sizes – have already made a meaningful difference for the Earth through their buildings. To learn about what’s been done in congregations like yours, and how the experiences of these other communities can help inform your own choices, click here to view a document presentation on green buildings that includes a case study of one New Jersey synagogue which paid off its initial environmental investment in less than two years, saving money as well the Earth every moment thereafter.

Below you will find numerous resources to help your congregation to build green. Make good use of them! And please let us know what you’ve done, and how COEJL can help further.


Click here to offer feedback: tell us what you were looking for, if you found what you needed, and what you’ve done with the information – this helps us make the site more useful for others, and helps our partners and supporters know how helpful these resources are. Please help us by letting us know!

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

(Adapted from the COEJL Resource:Recycling and Waste Reduction Program)

We say “reduce, reuse, recycle” for a reason!

To live lightly on Earth, we must first reduce the sheer amount of stuff we use — burn less gas, produce less trash, buy fewer things, seek less packaging, etc. This leaves more for others, which thouches o Jewish values of justice. It fits with Jewish medieval “sumptuary laws,” by which the rabbis of old cautioned use to live as simply as we appropriately can. It also dovetails with today’s “voluntary simplicity” movement.

Even after we’ve minimized how much we bring in, we can get creative about reusing what we already have. Paper that’s clean on one side can be kept in a special pile, used in our copy machines and printers for drafts or internal memos. Jars can be used for storage. All these objects and many more can be used for art projects. And so on. Such a thrifty sensibility — for our pocketbooks, for our society, and for Creation — is encouraged in the writings of Maimonides and many other Jewish thinkers. 

Finally — only after reducing as much as possible, and reusing everything we can — we should recycle what’s left. Food scraps become compost; old cans become new cans; plastic jugs become park benches and playground equiptment; glass becomes glass; paper becomes paper. Logically, it should cost us less to separate our trash and have it be reused. Unfortunately, all too often, we have to go out of our way to establish a strong recycling program in our synagogues and other institutions. But doing seems like a Jewish mandate under the law of bal tashchit/ ‘do not waste,’ which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch called “the first and more general call of God.”

Read on for helpful facts, suggestions, and activities, so that your synagogue can follow the “eco-halacha” of reducing, reusing, and recycling. 

Some recycling facts from Earth Day, Inc.:

  • all forms of recycling save energy, thus reducing air pollution and global warming
  • recycling aluminum uses 95% less energy than producing aluminum from raw materials;
  • through recycling, it is possible to reduce our waste stream by 80%;
  • for every ton of 100% recycled paper used in place of nonrecycled paper, 17 trees are saved, 64% less energy is used, and air pollution is cut by 74%;
  • only 35% of newspapers in the US are recycled, even though a single Sunday edition of a major paper, such as the New York Times, typically uses 75,000 trees in its production;
  • recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for four hours

Recycling and Waste Reduction Program

  1. Recycling in the synagogue and home
    In a growing number of localities, there are already government-sponsored recycling programs. Even in such cases, the synagogue can take a useful role in promoting recycling; in areas without such programs, the synagogue’s role can be even more critical. Recycling in the synagogue may proceed in one of two fashions.
    1. The first involves encouraging members to undertake this project individually, by disseminating information to all congregants about what items from their homes they may recycle, along with a list of collection services and/or locations that will accept different materials. Congregants would then be responsible for bringing their own materials to the recycling locations. Other congregants could be organized to carry the synagogue’s recyclables to the appropriate locations. If there are city or countywide recycling programs already in existence, this information could serve to publicize those recycling efforts and to encourage fuller participation by congregants. Projects of this sort can be coordinated by an adult committee, a youth group, or an older grade in religious school.
    2. The second method for creating a recycling program is for the synagogue itself to have bins for recyclable materials. The synagogue would recycle its own paper, cans, and so on in these bins, and, if there is no citywide or countywide program in effect, congregants could also drop their recyclables off into the synagogue bins. In order for a program of this type to run smoothly you will need to:
      • Have the children in your school or youth group survey all the congregants in the synagogue as to whether or not they recycle and approximately how much they recycle of different products each week. The students, using facts such as those provided at the beginning of this program, can then calculate how many trees and how much energy is being saved, as well as how much pollution is being prevented, by the recycling efforts of the synagogue community. Voluntary goals of increased recycling could be set for each new year.
      • Decide how extensive the recycling program is going to be. Although many different items can be recycled, we recommend starting with office paper, newsprint, aluminum, and glass. Depending on your local market for recyclables, you may then be able to expand into items such as plastic containers and so on.
      • Identify government agencies or commercial recycling businesses in your area that pick up recyclable material. Check the Yellow Pages or call the waste disposal department of your local government to find this information. If those resources are not helpful, contact the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
      • Once you have identified possible recycling partners, contact them to work out pickup arrangements. In most cases, in exchange for the materials themselves, they will pick up the recyclables at little to no cost and may even let you use their large bins. (Note: If your synagogue has a trash pickup contract based on estimated tonnage, the contract should be renegotiated once the recycling program is under way. The money the synagogue saves from reducing its garbage costs can be used to offset any costs of recycling).
      • If the company doing the pickup does not lend you bins, purchase or have donated large lidded trash containers into which the synagogue and congregants can place their items to be recycled. A parking lot is often the best location for these containers.
      • Inside the synagogue, place extra wastebaskets for recyclables in offices and classrooms. Remember: in your synagogue, community center, school, or home, the easier you make it to recycle, the more successful the program will be.
      • Publicize the recycling project in your synagogue bulletin. Preschool, religious school, and day school students can also learn about the project in their classrooms.
      • If there is no citywide recycling program in your town, use the success of the synagogue’s effort to advocate for the establishment of such a program.
  2. Reducing the amount of waste generated
    1. Purchase recycled paper and other recycled products. Already, many recycled products are little or no more expensive than similar nonrecycled goods. (See Audit” program.) By purchasing such products, you not only help the environment, but you also ensure that there will be a steady market for recycled materials – lowering your costs and promoting environmentally sound business enterprises.
    2. Reduce or avoid use of items, such as Styrofoam, that cannot be recycled.
    3. Reduce use of paper products and disposable plastic silverware. Instead, use regular reusable plates, cups, and utensils. Have office staff and volunteers bring mugs to the synagogue to be used instead of disposable cups.
    4. Wherever possible, reduce or combine synagogue mailings, which allows the synagogue to save money as it reduces waste.
    5. See the “Audit” program .
  3. ACTIVITY: Making your own “recycled paper”
    Time: 1 and ¾ hours (including soaking and drying times)
    As a kickoff to your recycling project at a school or in a home, you can teach your students or children how to make their own “recycled paper.”
    1. Gather the following: Scrap paper, a piece of screening (approximately 10″ x 10″) with the edges taped over to prevent wounds (duct tape works best), wash basin, blender or food processor, old towels, rolling pin
    2. Tear scrap paper into small pieces. Soak it in hot water for one-half hour. Take a handful of the paper, put it into a blender or food processor, and add water until half-full. Blend until you no longer see pieces of paper.
    3. Pour mixture over the screen (with basin to catch water). Shake the screen bake and forth to get an even layer of fibers on the screen. It may be necessary to lower the screen into the water in the basin in order to even out the layer. Lift the screen carefully out of the water.
    4. Lay the screening between old towels. Roll with a rolling pin to get fibers flat and even. Let dry for at least an hour.
    5. Gently remove the paper from the screen by turning the screen upside down and peeling the paper away from the edges. The rest of the paper should fall away from the screen.

ENERGY

Energy, according to many theologians, is like divinity – you know it’s there, and it lights up your life, but you can’t usually see or even describe it. And how we use energy is truly a theological concern. Most of our electricity comes from fossil fuels like coal which produce tremendous air pollution when burned, along with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The next most common source of electricity is nuclear – though our society has no idea what to do with millions of tons of radioactive wastes, deadly for 250,000 years after giving us electricity for just 40 years. If only because of issues of intergenerational justice, energy is a profoundly religious issue.

Jewish sacred texts have much to say about the matter: the Talmud insists on energy efficiency; Shabbat is an ecologically sustainable day; the rest of Creation counts alongside humans; and Judaism teaches that when in doubt, we should take all reasonable precautions. See these texts and values laid out for you on the webpage (also suitable for study with your building committee or board, or in an adult education setting), “Why Energy is a Jewish Issue.”

Looking for basic things your synagogue can do to save energy?

If your synagogue isn’t about to do major work on its facility, but is willing to do something in order to save a lot of energy (and ultimately money!), the best thing you can do is take an energy audit. Here are some resources which offer on-line, do-it-yourself energy audits for your home, business, or any location! We hope you’ll get much use out of them, and save much energy!

Learn more about the EPA Energy Star Congregations Program, an important resource and ally in our greening-congregations efforts.

Not only can you save electricity and money through energy efficiency, you can also make a huge difference by going green with the electricity you do consume. Renewable electricity – from windpower, solar installations, landfill gas, and other sustainable sources – is an option in more and more areas.

Along with our partners Hazon and the EPA Energy Star Congregations program, click here for a one-page download with great statistics on the difference we can make when we work together to conserve electricity.

Of course, some of the best resources aren’t religious at all, though our impulse for using them may be. Take advantage of the following ‘secular’ links, and you can enjoy their technical and scientific expertise alongside the ethical and Jewish values found here on the COEJL site:

Resources for Energy-Saving Ideas

Sources for Alternative Energy Products

 Energy Audit

Conduct an energy conservation evaluation (a great youth group project). Most shuls, schools, community centers and other buildings use more energy than necessary, making it easy to both reduce carbon emissions and save money. Start by conducting a thorough energy evaluation, measuring how much energy and money is wasted by your building and learning how much you can save by retrofitting the lighting, heating, insulation, etc. 

Home Energy Saver – a web-based, do-it-yourself energy audit tool.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company– do-it-yourself energy audit.

Energy Guide – smart energy choices which offers a business energy use analysis.

A comprehensive energy evaluation process for 7-10th graders can be found in Environmental Action: Energy Conservation.

And your local power company probably provides assistance to customers trying to reduce their use of electricity and gas. 

 EPA Energy Star Congregations Program

Consider becoming an Energy Star Congregation! At least two synagogues — Beth El – Kesser Israel in New Haven CT, and Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda MD — have received the EPA Energy Star Congregation Award. Numerous others have availed themselves of the useful resources offered through the Energy Star Congregations program. Go to the Energy Star Website to find out more. To nominate your synagogue for an award, click here.  

CONSTRUCTION, RENOVATION, BUILDING MATERIALS

So we should build a just synagogue – but how? In this section, you’ll find numerous suggestions and ideas for how to design, specify materials for, and build your new (or expanded, or retrofitted) shul.

Know the resources which are available, and aim high. Consider pursuing LEED (Leadership Excellence in Environmental Design) certification, and learn cutting-edge environmental approaches and analyses at the U.S. Green Building Council website.

No matter how “green” you intend your synagogue to become, the first agenda item is always to convince key stakeholders and decision-makers that justice and sustainability must be central in your synagogue’s building efforts.

Learn about synagogues that have built comparatively green structures, and see which elements of their designs your shul might emulate – or surpass! A few examples come from Bethesda MD (including ‘lessons learned’).

Choosing materials is a key step in the design process, one you can influence even once the contractor has begun ordering them. Most every building uses a lot of wood; make sure that as much of it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as possible. And every building has a floor! Do all that you can to avoid PVC or vinyl; explore alternatives here, along with Jewish educational materials explaining why this matters, and a website for a remarkable movie that makes a great educational tool in synagogues (and elsewhere).

The kitchen – an ever-popular room in the synagogue, (for obvious reasons!), is also an important place for possible energy savings.

And no choice made during the design process has as much impact on the building’s future energy usage – and bills – as the HVAC (heat-vent-air-conditioning) system. The one possible exception to that rule is when you can site the synagogue building in such a way as to take advantage of what is called “passive solar energy.”   

Good luck building a just synagogue! And again, please let COEJL know about commitments you make, and milestones you reach.

 Talking Points, Strategies, Texts and Values
(Or How To Convince Folks)

Ultimately, it all comes down to organizational culture. How do you convince key stakeholders and decision-makers that justice and sustainability should be central in your synagogue’s building efforts?

First, it’s vital to understand what kind of institutional culture exists, and who are the “gatekeepers.” Often, of course, it’s the rabbi/s. Sometimes it may be the executive director. In larger congregations, it may be the synagogue president or the board member whose portfolio would be most affected by a particular initiative (finance, buildings and grounds, treasurer, etc). In many small and mid-size synagogues, the informal authority actually rests with just one or two old-timers, whose years of service and leadership led to such great respect that little gets done without their explicit or implicit approval. So the first step is to figure out who you need to reach.

Second, establish what data and ‘talking points’ you may need to bring to the stakeholders. You’ll want to mix Jewish / moral values with practical and financial arguments, but in what ratio? For some communities, if you can successfully ground your proposal in halacha (Jewish law) or Jewish values, that is pretty much all you need. For other congregations, the discussion starts and ends with cost projections. Along with what you want to do, always be ready to explain both why and how — i.e., do your research (much of which can be done right here on the COEJL website)! 

And third, figure out who are your natural allies within congregational life. Often it will include people who are active with the social action committee or other such efforts. Ideally the list will feature multiple members of the congregational board, or even officers, who can advocate for your proposal from within the leadership. And in nearly all communities, even if the rabbi(s) isn’t going to ‘go to bat’ for your initiative, make sure that he/she/they are apprised of your efforts, and have at least heard you present the Jewish values and texts which reinforce the plan. Don’t forget younger members as well — not only might the twenty-and-thirty-somethings be natural allies, but so may be members of the youth group or senior religious school classes, those who will be growing up in a world affected by decisions being made today.

In many cases — where synagogues enjoy forward-thinking leadership, decent finances, and effective advocates for the cause (like you!) — after taking these steps and making your presentation, success is all but guaranteed. Yet without these attributes, success becomes that much harder. So two further pieces of advice are: be creative in considering all possible options; and be open to compromise.

You may have wanted mostly FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified sustainable wood, but found that the right shingles and shakes and columns are hard to procure; settling for 20% is still admirable, and will serve to educate local suppliers along with your contractor. You may have hoped that the synagogue would pay the premium for all-renewable electricity, but budgetary realities preclude that; be ready to start with as much wind-power as $500 extra can purchase, and then try to ratchet up that line in the budget in successive years. And so on. Rabbi Tarfon’s exhortation in Pirkei Avot (2:21) is always worth repeating: “It’s not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Finally, even if you encounter challenges or opposition from synagogue leadership, remember that ultimately it’s about creating common cause. Given the multiple purposes that synagogues serve, and the centrality of relationships within sacred communities, we recommend knowing when to step back from the conflict. Over time, the key to success lies in proving the ecologically sound choice to be the moral, interpersonal, and communal best path. You must “win the hearts and minds” of members and leaders, along with mustering the appropriate arguments. Expect setbacks, but be in it for the long haul.

In conclusion, we have already suggested:

  • Evaluating the congregational culture, and determining key stakeholders / gatekeepers
  • Amassing appropriate data and ‘talking points’ which might sway such key individuals
  • Cultivating allies within the congregation, especially those in synagogue leadership
  • Being flexible, creative, patient, and open to compromise as needed

A few additional suggestions:

  • Start early — the more lead time you have, the better off your chances
  • Do solid research — reviewing alternatives (time) cuts synagogue costs (& opposition)
  • Deputize other members of the community to help with research, phone calls, etc
  • Consider educating members and vendors, and partial eco-enhancements, to be success

Best of luck! And know that you are doing avodat kodesh, sacred, Jewish-rooted work, in trying to make your synagogue as sustainable as possible. 

Green Architecture Resources

Hiddur Mishkan – Construction Choices, Energy Use & Audits
Assembled by Nathan Martin and Fred Scherlinder Dobb for JRF, 11/02

Redesigning and retrofitting an existing building to reduce its energy and environmental impact is both a challenging and rewarding process. Greener buildings are a good long-term investment. They are healthier places to spend time in, cost less to operate, and represent the translation of our values into concrete actions. We are including some initial resources that could be useful getting technical support and learning about what opportunities exist when thinking about improving the building.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Buildings Site & Energy Star Congregations — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designed a program to help houses of worship become highly energy efficient. The Energy Star Congregations program offers technical and consulting support, information on opportunities, and links synagogues into a national network of religious organizations working on improving their buildings. In addition, the EPA provides general information on green buildings in a single portal website designed to give convenient general information on the topic.

Green Buildings Council— a Canadian non-profit that disseminates information about energy and environmental issues in the building sector. GBIC is itself small, but has extensive international links; through this Web Site comes broad range of information from other sources and organizations around the world, all separately identified.

Green Building Concepts — a source of reports and guides for building an energy and resource efficient home, and knowing why sustainable building, or green architecture, is important to ameliorate greenhouse gas emissions.

Oikos: Green Construction Source— Oikos offers solid information on energy efficiency and sustainable building construction. The site offers architects, designers, building contractors, consultants and consumers detailed information on products and techniques.

U.S. Green Buildings Council — The USGBC provides services to its membership and constituents, including building owners and managers, product manufacturers, architects/engineers and others interested in the greening of buildings and the communities in which they reside. The Council provides membership services to these organizations to enhance their businesses, including information sharing, networking opportunities, business leads, and publicity.

Using Green Building Consultants — Find them in your area (they’re there!). In PA for example, Scot Horst of Pennsylvania Power and Light audits synagogues and churches. There is a qualified network of consultants who work in various areas.

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy— Energy efficiency clearing-house offers information and assistance to a broad audience (builders, consumers, educators and students, businesses, government agencies, entrepreneurs) on a wide range of topics by providing publications, customized responses, and referrals to energy organizations.

Environmental Building News Magazine — EBN is an international publication on environmentally sustainable design and construction. The website features news, a calendar of events, an annotated “green links” page, and highlights from past issues, including many detailed product reviews.

Green Building Resource Guide — In this guide, mainly for homebuilders, each of the nearly 600 product listings includes a brief product description, icons representing categories of environmental benefit, contact information for the manufacturer, and a cost comparison with its most likely conventional alternative. Icons identify nontoxic, recycled-content, resource efficient, long life-cycle and environmentally conscious products. You can order the Green Building Resource Guide in two forms: a reference manual or a CD-ROM database.

Energy Crossroads — a general database on energy and environmental information including green buildings.

Existing Green Structures: Green Built Shuls

More and more synagogues are building green. COEJL will keep adding materials to this section of our website as we learn of shuls which have made such a commitment (and if yours is one of them, please let us know). Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA, put solar panels on its roof. A number of shuls — including Temple Israel of Northern Westchester (NY), the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston IL, and Temple Beth Israel of Eugene OR — are now designing what should become model sustainable synagogue buildings. Beth El – Kesser Israel of New Haven CT, and Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation of Bethesda MD, both received the EPA Energy Star Congregations Award for their efforts. And the list goes on. Contact your movement for more information on synagogues which have done notably well in this area; no doubt the staff and lay-leadership of those communities will be happy to share their experience and expertise with you.

Below are some ‘lessons learned’ from one such experience. And on the webpages which follow you’ll be able to see specific materials from communities like yours which have taken the plunge toward sustainability. Best of luck, and keep us posted! See helpful materials from Bethesda MD and the list is growing… your shul could be next!
Eco-Building Lessons Learned (Adat Shalom, 2001):

  1. Start early. Make environmental issues and energy conservation clear priorities from the get-go of the design and fund-raising processes. Make the community aware that these are not just choices, they are moral and spiritual imperatives: as a house devoted to God, we must zealously strive to minimize the ways in which its construction and operation might adversely impact God’s creation and God’s children.
  2. Be ready to engage and educate everyone involved — from congregants to contractors — on environmental and energy issues. Plan to do the legwork required to research options, in which case you needn’t be put off by dismissive messages from an architect or contractor. Get ready to pitch slightly-more-expensive-but-far-more-sustainable design elements to the board or congregation or funders. Know how much work it will be, and know how sacred that work is.
  3. Keep sustainability in mind throughout the process. Use the theme of sustainability to remind people of the ethical and religious commitments for which we stand; use it to goad donors into giving more (and feeling good about doing so!); use it as a rallying point for efforts to fund and build your communal home.
  4. Get information from wherever you can, as early as you can. Learn about your architects, general contractors and sub-contractors’ environmental awareness before hiring them. And then plan to work closely with them along the way, both to support and to monitor. Unfortunately “green building” is still new, and we have the chance to educate the professionals about it if we take our responsibilities seriously. Simply asking the questions raises consciousness.
  5. Know that unless you have infinite resources, it won’t all get done at once. Do the best you can with what’s available, and keep a ‘wish list’ in mind for future expansions or retrofits. Don’t despair because you can’t have every energy-saving device or construction technique; since you can’t do everything, it’s still better to do what you can. Know that every CFL, every LED exit sign, every double-glazed window, every square foot of recycled carpet, every programmable thermostat makes a difference, and is sacred. As Rabbi Tarfon wrote almost 2000 years ago in the Mishnah (Avot 2:21), “it is not upon you to complete the task — but neither are you free to desist from it.”

 Construction – Adat Shalom

Adat Shalom’s (Bethesda, MD) Green Building Process, 1997-2001

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation is the second synagogue in the US to receive the EPA Energy Star Congregation award. A minimal description is under “Lech Lecha” at its website; this might give you ideas. The Center for a New American Dreamalso briefly featured it in a video, “More Fun, Less Stuff”. In short, to get others thinking about how the Adat Shalom experience could prove instructive, a few of its major environmental “victories” were:

  • passive solar heating through clerestory windows and dark floor in social hall
  • ner tamid (eternal light) hooked up to a photovoltaic (solar energy) cell on the roof
  • a designated percentage of wood came from certified sustainable forestry operations
  • good zone-by-zone heating and lighting system implemented, with many settings & options
  • CFL’s, LED exit signs, and other low-energy fixtures installed throughout the building
  • much material from the existing building saved or kept in place for new construction
  • mostly local materials were used; limited Jerusalem stone shipped from Israel for symbolism
  • maximum number of trees on-site before construction saved by careful planning
  • low-water use (xeriscaping), low-maintenance, low-chemical, native landscaping
  • low-impact cork flooring used in lobby areas; recycled carpet used in sanctuary & offices
  • mostly-recycled-or-limestone composite “vinyl alternative” tile flooring in social hall & classrooms
  • permeable driveway and parking lot for groundwater recharge (gravel, then alternative paving)
  • wide buy-in sought from congregation on environment as key priority during building process

Adat Shalom’s Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb adds: “We did well! It wasn’t all rosy, however; we “lost” on a few issues – there’s less certified wood than we’d have liked; the design prioritized natural light over denser construction, making it less energy efficient; linoleum would’ve been better than the composite flooring we ended up with, which still contained 12% new vinyl (which is awful stuff — to know more about it, see Jewish activist filmmaker Judith Helfand and her award-winning documentary Blue Vinyl); and so on. Still, our experience shows that with some thought and dedication, you can do OK on a limited budget…”

 Construction – JRC

DRAFT JRC Environmental Task Force – 2-23-04
Responses to BTF Questionnaire In Preparation for Design & Building Process
Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, Evanston, Illinois

CURRENT BUILDING USE

Committee meets out of building – no room there

High Holiday Discussion Groups – classrooms OK

Tu B’Shvat Tisch – we use the Sanctuary and the Kitchen
(We use the Sanctuary because this is a religious service and because it is accessible)

Sanctuary – We are filled up – more space or adjacent social hall for food would help (could also be held in the social hall)

Kitchen – No dishwasher/dishes. (We had folks bring their own dishes in order not to use disposables – this is mostly symbolic as it only happens once a year). No facilities to wash and reuse table linens and dish towels. Common serving pieces are often dirty or sticky and unappealing. Need to be hand washed before and after. The kitchen is far from the sanctuary, which makes logistics harder.

PHYSICAL NEEDS IN NEW BUILDING

Kitchen – Well designed with dishwasher for large events as well as weekday/school/preschool/staff use. The dishwasher should be easy to use and easy to train folks to use. Kitchen should be centrally located and easily accessible from all levels of Synagogue. (Possibly 1st floor?)

Possible clothes washer/dryer for tablecloths/aprons/dishtowels/rags etc. (check codes re: high enough temperature.

Use all Energy Star Appliances

Staff training and compensation in use of HVAC zoning, recycling, buying non toxic cleaning supplies, and kitchen upkeep

DREAMS FOR A NEW BUILDING

Goal

We see Tikkun Olam – Healing the Earth as a clear spiritual and moral imperative of Reconstructionist Judaism. We see JRC’s new home as our spiritual “living room,” as a special place – a refuge – that exemplifies our highest ideals. To this end we envision a new home built on principles and practices that model respect for the earth rather than excessive consumption of the world’s finite resources. We want a building that is beautiful, designed to inspire and facilitate individual spirituality and positive communal interactions: A Holy place.

By making “sustainable” and “green” decisions in our building process we hope to inspire both JRC members and the broader community to make similar environmentally aware decisions in their own lives.

To this end we would like to target LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification at the Gold or Platinum level.

Our sense from discussions with Sharon Feigon at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) is that this can be attained within a normal construction budget if, and only if, it is part of the initial concept and design and follow through and part of our contract with the architects.

We would include a LEED consultant in the earliest phases of the design concept, to plan with him/her how to attain this goal. They would be able to evaluate the probable cost and payback of various “LEED point” options and decide on the level of certification to go for – Gold? Platinum? — and which “LEEDs points” we can realistically expect to receive.

Include LEED/Green plans in the contract with the architect/engineer and designate the JRC project manager/owners’ rep as liaison to follow up and be sure these items stay in the plan. During the construction phase, delegate a person to keep all the documentation and paperwork current as LEED point criteria are met.

The following are some ideas of features which we hope will be considered to meet LEED criteria for our beautiful new home:

Sustainable Site:

  1. Minimum site disturbance during construction. Preservation of existing landscaping if possible, especially trees planted in memory of loved ones.
  2. Roof: highly reflective to avoid a “heat island” – consider a green roof or photovoltaic roof.
  3. Bike racks and stroller parking to encourage an alternative to driving.
  4. Parking – priority spots for car-pools.
  5. Public transportation – if considering a new site be sure that we are accessible to public transportation.
  6. Landscaping with deciduous trees or vines for shading in summer.
  7. Landscaping with natural plantings to avoid the need for pesticides, chemical fertilizers and watering as well as providing habitat for animals.

Water Efficiency:

  1. Lo-flow plumbing fixtures.
  2. Roof runoff into rain garden or special closed barrels for garden use.
  3. Pervious material in parking lot and water-absorbing side plantings.

Minimize energy consumption by:

  1. Energy-Star appliances throughout (kitchen, offices, HVAC).
  2. Zoned Heating/AC with high performance controls and operable windows – a compact 3 story building has inherent efficiencies in HVAC.
  3. Reduce heating and cooling loads by: Top level insulation siting windows and skylights for maximum natural lighting designed for maximum winter sunlight and awnings or overhangs for summer shading and winter sunshine. Possible dark flooring for passive solar heating.
  4. Energy efficient lighting systems – at a minimum fluorescents and compact fluorescents – possible LED lighting available by the time we are building (LED lights use 1/80 the power of incandescent bulbs).
  5. Consider alternative energy sources such as solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, geothermal and wind. Minimum – a symbolic photovoltaic Ner Tamid.

Materials and Resources:

  1. Minimize waste and landfill during demolition by seeking out organizations or companies who will reuse or recycle as much as possible from the old building, e.g.: there is a carpeting company who will take and recycle our old carpeting if we spec their recycled carpeting for the new building. There may be other architectural specialty companies.
  2. Have separate dumpsters for recyclables, reusables and landfill.
  3. Use materials that are as sustainable as possible:
    • Wood from certified sustainable forests
    • Furnishings made from recycled materials – carpeting, flooring, parking stops, playground equipment, decking
    • Furnishing made from rapidly renewable sources such as bamboo or cork flooring, sunflower seed or wheat board for furniture.
  4. Use materials that are produced as locally as possible, limiting transportation costs.

Indoor environment/air quality:

  1. Have a non-smoking environment.
  2. Avoid toxic emissions from paints (Non VOC or Low VOC), adhesives, carpeting, office furniture (wheat board not pressboard).
  3. Outdoor air ventilation (again operable windows) in conjunction with high efficiency HVAC.
  4. Possibly a separate room for printing and duplicating, to keep fumes from staff and kids.
  5. Interior green plants and natural spaces for aesthetics and air purifying
  6. Washable floor mats to wipe shoes to avoid tracking in pollutants

Innovation and Design:

  1. Explore innovative technologies such as solar and wind power, the frozen ball cooling system a la CNT.
  2. Recycling bins attractively designed into public spaces (foyer?, social hall?, classroom corridor?) to facilitate community leadership in special recycling programs (we already collect batteries and eyeglasses).
  3. Community leadership as an “entrance to Evanston.” We have a high profile site with an opportunity to showcase green architecture as a way to live our values.

Many JRC members have come forward with skills, energy and resources to contribute to this effort. We are eager to support this process in any way that we can.


3/10/04, notes from COEJL Rabbinic Fellow Fred Scherlinder Dobb to JRC environmental committee leaders: Julie, Jerry, Sybil, et al–

…Remember that there is a value in partial steps — shoot for gold or platinum LEED certification, absolutely, but be aware along the way that even silver would be remarkable, and probably a first in synagogue history. Depending on the nature of the board, it might be easier to get approval of this document if it defines success in analog terms, not just digital…

As for money, I wish I had sources! …for now, nada. Again, however, there are ways to craft the Capital Campaign that (a) use the green agenda as a source of pride and purpose which helps the larger building effort, and in turn reinforces commitment for eco-enhancements, and (b) might enable a dedicated stream, or at least trickle, of funds raised specifically for or in the name of such eco-enhancements.

…I’m looking forward to happy updates, to more collaboration, and to someday visiting your new facility that’ll be the talk of the movement… Thanks again! l’shalom, Fred

 Wood For Synagogues

Eitz chayim hi l’machazikim ba — “It (Torah, or wisdom) is a tree of life to those who hold onto it” — Proverbs 3:18, incorporated into the end of the Torah service liturgy

Few environmental issues elicit such gut-level Jewish support as saving trees. Trees are elemental in the biblical and rabbinic imagination. Righteous people (Psalm 92), as well as Torah itself, are repeatedly made analogous to trees. Planting trees became a core element of early Zionism (see the efforts of the Jewish National Fund); trees become the basis for much contemporary Jewish-environmental scholarship (see Trees, Eath, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Arthur Waskow, Ari Elon, and Naomi Mara Hyman, JPS, 2000). And COEJL’s own activist efforts have been nowhere so successful as with defending forests and the endangered species that dwell within them.  

In architecture, trees are vital for their wood, commonly accounting for a huge percentage of the total building materials employed: heavy beams as structural elements, two-by-fours for framing, pulp for drywall, planks for flooring, columns for porticos, shingles and shakes for exteriors, and specialty woods for the ark and other interior design elements. Any alternative design elements you can choose (like component trusses or stressed-skin panels) — and especially, any percentage of that vast quantity of wood which can be taken from sustainably managed forests or from reclaimed wood — translates into trees saved and habitats preserved.

Creativity, and research, will be called for. Far too few contractors are even aware of many existing alternatives; and far too few lumber and hardware stores stock much certified wood, if any. But with a bit of work, and sometimes only a small (if any) cost premium, you can find ways to reduce the amount of wood in your synagogue, and can locate wood of all shapes and sizes and types which bears a “hekhsher”, a stamp of approval by the people who certify wood as sustainable — as kosher, if you will. (Start your search at the Forest Stewardship Council; remember that distance from the forest or mill is a major environmental factor alongside the source of the wood itself).

Leading organizations working on this include the Forest Stewardship Council and SmartWood (a project of the Rainforest Action Network). A summary of their approaches follows:

Forest Stewardship Council Endorsed:

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) endorsed and certified products include forest products that were harvested from a forest certified by an FSC-accredited certifier. Under this program forest products are harvested from forests that are managed under compliance with the principles and criteria of the FSC.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, not for profit, non-government organization that provides standard setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services for companies and organizations interested in responsible forestry.

Founded in 1993, FSC’s mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests. FSC forest management standards are based on FSC’s 10 Principles and Criteria of responsible forest management.

FSC’s governance structure ensures that FSC is independent of any one interest group by requiring an equal balance in power between its environmental, social and economic chambers as well as a balance between interests from the economic north and south.

The distinctive FSC trademark – the check and tree symbol – as well as the letters FSC and words ‘Forest Stewardship Council’ enable customers to recognize responsible forestry products in stores around the world.

Over the past 10 years, 42 million hectares in more than 60 countries have been certified according to FSC standards while several thousand products are produced using FSC certified wood and carrying the FSC trademark. FSC operates through its network of National Initiatives in more than 30 countries.

SmartWood Rediscovered Wood Certified

The SmartWoodCM Program of the Rainforest Alliance has developed the “SmartWood Rediscovered Wood Program” for certification of reused, reclaimed, recycled and salvaged wood products.

Please Note: The Rediscovered Wood Program of the Rainforest Alliance is not formally endorsed by the FSC. However, Rediscovered Wood certified products, may qualify as neutral material under the FSC percentage based claims policy. This means that Rediscovered Wood products may be used together with FSC endorsed products to make a final FSC endorsed product with a percentage based claim in some cases. The SmartWood Program seeks to encourage and reward the reuse of wood by awarding the “SmartWood – Rediscovered Wood” seal of approval to acceptable reclaimed wood products. Sources of Rediscovered Wood may include:

  1. demolition projects for antiquated buildings
  2. dead, fallen, diseased or nuisance trees from (sub)urban private and government properties
  3. orchards where unproductive trees are cut for replacement
  4. fallen trees carefully reclaimed from rivers and lakes
  5. usable wood safely reclaimed from demolition landfills
  6. wood by-products from secondary manufacturers

Source:www.fsc.org/fsc/about

Another helpful resource should be forthcoming from the Natural Resources Defense Council – their site now says that “in Fall 2004 we will introduce an online green building guide for building decision-makers.”

 PVC/Vinyl and Alternatives

Among the most pervasive, persistent, and problematic building materials is PVC, polyvinyl chloride, or just “vinyl.” It is toxic in its production, deadly if burned in fire or incinerated, and a near-permanent contribution to landfills if ultimately dumped. Avoiding vinyl should be a primary concern for all ethical building initiatives, and vinyl’s marriage of social and environmental justice concerns make it a natural area in which to focus green synagogue efforts.

Jewish groups have a powerful and vital educational tool in activist filmmaker Judith Helfand’s award-winning documentary, Blue Vinyl. The educational campaign in which she and her partners engaged often included COEJL, leading to the creation of source-sheets on why vinyl is a Jewish issue. And the website they created — myhouseisyourhouse.org — is an incredibly helpful repository of information and ideas for combating this pervasive pollutant. (One of the pictures at that website shows “Rabbinic students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College in Philadelphia, PA, after BLUE VINYL screening and discussion about ‘building in good faith’. After their discussion about building just institutions out of non-toxic materials, they posed with their BLUE VINYL ‘tchotchkies’ in front of the Torah.”)

Alternatives to vinyl do exist! And they come in all forms and all price-ranges. Sometimes they may be more expensive than vinyl; as an example, linoleum can be much pricier than PVC tile flooring (though the former is also more durable, and is made from renewable linseed oil rather than from oil and chemicals). But sometimes the alternatives look entirely different — recycled carpet, cork, or other flooring, for instance. And sometimes it involves going back to tried and true approaches — wood rather than vinyl-clad windows; sheetrock and drywall rather than PVC wallboard; and so forth. All it takes is a bit of research and persistence to find alternatives which aren’t responsible for cancer in Louisiana, increased casualties in fires, and perma-pollution in our solid waste.

The most vexing alternative issue has usually been windows, but there’s a new and more accurate life cycle analysis from GreenSpec in England that says it all — read, and show your architect and contractor, the information found here.

COEJL has long collaborated (through Working Films, involving Judith Helfand, Daniel Gold, and others) with the Healthy Building Network, which is a key resource for learning about PVC and the alternatives to it.

Click here for the Healthy Building Network’s PVC Fact Sheet online.

Click here for the HBN’s alternatives to vinyl online resource.

 The Kitchen

Just behind or perhaps tied with the office, the kitchen is the most resource-intensive room in most synagogues. Many of the choices to be made concern procurement of various materials, which are dealt with in the following sub-section, “2. Purchasing.” Yet in the design phase of a building or renovation project, choices about the layout of the kitchen will either enhance or limit your ability to save energy and materials.

The top issue at this phase concerns storage areas, as well as dishwasher(s) choice and location. Will you have reusable plates, cups, and silverware for kiddush or oneg which will be used weekly, or will the kitchen only be used for catered simcha events? Installing an industrial-strength diswashing, along with plentiful storage areas for the reusable ware, will at least give you the option of more eco-friendly practices. 

Of course kashrut is a key concern here as well — how many sets of dishes are needed, and which posek (halachic decisor) do you hold by in figuring out what degree of separation is required in dishwashers, refrigerators, countertops, etc? Remember the ecological as well as financial cost involved in the production and installation of extra appliances or counters; the creation and transporting of extra sets of dishes; and the construction and heating and cooling of ever-larger spaces to accommodate same.  

More decisions will follow, but much thought about the kitchen and its future uses should attend this phase of the design process.Click here for a document by long-time Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington, DC leader (prepared for the Green Faith Guide of the DC Energy Office, 2004), for some ideas. On her list of things to consider are disposable ware; plastic table coverings; soft drinks; local purchasing; containers for food and beverage; composting; educating congregants; and advocacy.

HVAC (heat-vent-air-conditioning) system

The heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is often a building’s single biggest user of energy. That also makes it the single best place to start trimming utility bills, energy use, and environmental impact. This is obviously an issue of financial and ecological importance; it is also eminently a Jewish concern, as explained here. Most helpful actions fall under three basic categories:

  • Turn it off, when not needed;
  • Run it less, employing more efficient settings via a programmable thermostat;
  • Make it more efficient in the first place.

The first category is simple — avoid using the system altogether, whenever possible. Often the desired temperature can be reached by opening windows, using shades or blinds, or other simple, non-energy-consuming approaches. When the weather is nicer outside than in, use the vent rather than the heat or air conditioning; it’s far more efficient. Ceiling fans are an efficient, economical way to distribute heat in the winter, and provide a cooling breeze in the summer. If you do have a manual thermostat, turn it to its overnight setting a half-hour or hour before the last person leaves, to take advantage of the residual heat or coolness. But on/off is too simple of a choice for your HVAC system, given today’s remarkable opportunities.

Running it less involves programmable thermostats, the best of which bear the Energy Star seal. Most single-unit thermostats cost under $100, though building-wide arrays across various zones will cost much more. In either case, they quickly pay for themselves in reduced energy bills, and after the short initial payback period, they save the synagogue money, month in and month out. Just reminding staff and volunteers to switch the settings on a typical old manual thermostat is inefficient and often ineffective. This is one upgrade you’ll never regret.

Of course, simply installing such a thermostat will do nothing; the challenge is to program it well. When it’s cold outside, be unafraid to let the building cool off overnight (or for days on end in the case of a social hall or education wing which may be mostly unused except on weekends), down to just the point where you protect the pipes from freezing. When it’s warm out, let the unoccupied building (or wing/s) heat up a bit. Set the thermostat to move to a desired temperature just a few hours before folks get there. Then educate the community to wear seasonally-appropriate dress. There’s nothing wrong with praying at 75 degrees in the summer, or 67 degrees in the winter — every degree by which you tell the thermostat not to run the system saves an average of three percent on utility bills, and concomitant greenhouse gas emissions.

So it’s important to use your HVAC system for the fewest possible amount of time. But the efficiency of the system itself is just as important. New technologies enable the same amount of heating or cooling with the input of much less energy, but you have to look carefully (on the ubiquitous yellow EnergyGuide label) at each component of the system, to ensure that you are getting one of the most efficient units for its class and size. Round down the amount of square footage that a particular unit will cover, and get the smallest possible unit for the area. Consider heat pumps and other supporting systems which can further reduce your energy use (and electric bills). And no matter what, be sure your system is well-maintained — filters changed often, coils and blowers cleaned, duct leaks plugged, registers adjusted, thermometers calibrated, and so on.

All these steps will make an enormous difference. Of course, there are other vital steps that work in tandem with the HVAC system. Incandescent bulbs waste electricity as heat, so it’s a two-in-one savings during warmer months (or year-round in warmer climes) to switch them to compact fluorescents or other more efficient bulbs. And no step is more basic than simply sealing up leaks around doors and windows, and insulating well. You can get more energy-saving ideas — and perhaps even rebates, peak-hour pricing arrangements, or other incentives — from your local electric utility (parts of this webpage were based on How to Reduce Your Energy Costs, a booklet produced and distributed by a consortium of utilities). 

A few further tips follow:

10 Ways to Save Energy

  1. Turn off lights when not needed.
  2. Remove unneeded light bulbs.
  3. When replacing bulbs, use lower watt- age or more efficient ones.
  4. Lower your heating settings.
  5. Raise your air conditioning settings.
  6. Reduce heating and air conditioning during unoccupied hours.
  7. Turn off heating and air conditioning somewhat before the end of your operating hours.
  8. Have your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems serviced and adjusted.
  9. Turn off machines and equipment when not needed.
  10. Make sure all automatic controls are in good working condition and are set properly.

3 Ways to Save Lighting Energy

  1. Reduce light levels whenever there is more light than needed.
  2. Install more efficient lighting or controls.
  3. Do proper maintenance to minimize

2 Ways to Waste Lighting Energy

  1. Transmission losses- when dirt or some other obstruction blocks some of the light; or when the light source is too far away from what you want illuminated.
  2. Over lighting- when more light is used than is needed or when a “free” light source such as daylight is not used.

Some Recommended Lighting Levels
(in footcandles)

  • 1-5    Outdoor walkways
  • 5-10    Cafeteria dining areas
  • 10-20    Reception areas, lightly used office areas
  • 20-50    Typical office work
  • 50-100    More demanding visual tasks (office or shop)
  • 100-200    Especially difficult visual tasks – low contrast

Tips for Operating your HVAC Efficiently

  • For heating, set thermostats lower and higher for cooling.
  • Eliminate unnecessary use of your HVAC system during unoccupied hours.
  • Have someone test, clean, and adjust your boiler or furnace.
  • Have your air conditioner, heat pump, and chiller properly maintained.
  • Reduce fan speeds.

Hot Water: Major Ways to Save

  • Reduce the heat loss in the system.
  • Reduce the temperature of the hot water; it is often much hotter than necessary.
  • Reduce the amount of hot water used.
  • Reduce the time the water heater operates.
  • Maintenance.

Maintenance of your Envelope System

  1. Seal cracks with caulking or other materials.
  2. Tighten up window and door frames.
  3. Replace broken glass.
  4. Fix doors and windows to operate properly.
  5. Adjust, replace, or install automatic door closers.
  6. Cover window air conditioners in cold weather.

Envelope your building properly by stopping infiltration, reducing heat transfer, controlling the humidity in the building and controlling the amount of sunlight in the building.

12 Basic Rules for Reducing Energy Consumption by Machines

  1. Turn it off whenever possible.
  2. Don’t forget the “hidden” machines and equipment, such as computers and photocopiers.
  3. Adjust controls to a temperature, speed, or other setting that uses less energy by still does the job properly.
  4. Use your equipment more efficiently.
  5. Clean, tune and adjust, lubricate, replace worn parts, and otherwise maintain the equipment.
  6. Don’t create unnecessary problems.
  7. Manage your electricity use to avoid high demand charges.
  8. When equipment that is worn out must be replaced, choose the most energy-efficient replacement.
  9. If cost-justified, do a major overhaul to make equipment more energy efficient.
  10. If cost justified, replace equipment that still operates, with more energy-efficient equipment.
  11. Install new automatic controls.
  12. Consider using waste heat to advantage.

Electric motors account for about three quarters of total electricity use in industry and half of the electricity use in commercial and institutional buildings.


Passive Solar Energy

It’s no accident that the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership Excellence in Environmental Design) program gives a good number of points for sustainable siting. Better even than efficient cooling or heating mechanisms is to locate the building in such a way that the sun does the heating or cooling for you. This concept — “passive solar” — basically involves using extensive glass on the south face of a building and appropriately dark and heat-retaining flooring to turn the building into a solar collector, a heat storehouse, and a heat trap during cooler times; and using eaves and shades and other design elements to prevent the entry of solar radiation during hotter times. The thickness and materials used in the walls (including alternative approaches like straw bale construction), and how much of the building lies underground (which moderates temperatures year round), are vital parts of the same equation.

This “passive solar” approach works at any latitude by adjusting for the angle of the sun, and designing in ways appropriate to that locale. Much of America lies within a few degrees of north latitude 40, which appears as a line running right through the center of the country (including Philadelphia, Columbus, Denver, and a point just north of San Francisco Bay — the vast majority of U.S. and Canadian population lies between 30 and 50 degrees). At the summer solstice, the sun shines directly down on north latitude 23, meaning that the sun gets more than four-fifths up the summer sky for middle America — it heats buildings from the east in the late morning, south at midday, and west in the afternoon. Yet people at that latitude only see the sun make it below 1/3 of the way up the southern sky, during the short days near the winter solstice.

We must respect the power of the sun, and harness it for our use in sustainable ways. Solar panels (photovoltaic cells) are a brilliant way of doing so, but are not yet fully cost-competitive as a source of electricity. But since the sun shines on nearly every building, allowing or preventing it from heating the place must be our starting point.

For more information on passive solar technologies and siting in general, consult the Department of Energy.

For colder climates, click here for an Alaska example, click here for Nova Scotia, and click here for Wisconsin.

And for warmer climates, click here for Southern California, and click here for the Department of Energy, for shading and other cooling strategies through siting.

Existing Green Structures: Green Built Shuls

More and more synagogues are building green. COEJL will keep adding materials to this section of our website as we learn of shuls which have made such a commitment (and if yours is one of them, please let us know). Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA, put solar panels on its roof. A number of shuls — including Temple Israel of Northern Westchester (NY), the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston IL, and Temple Beth Israel of Eugene OR — are now designing what should become model sustainable synagogue buildings. Beth El – Kesser Israel of New Haven CT, and Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation of Bethesda MD, both received the EPA Energy Star Congregations Award for their efforts. And the list goes on. Contact your movement for more information on synagogues which have done notably well in this area; no doubt the staff and lay-leadership of those communities will be happy to share their experience and expertise with you.

Below are some ‘lessons learned’ from one such experience. And on the webpages which follow you’ll be able to see specific materials from communities like yours which have taken the plunge toward sustainability. Best of luck, and keep us posted! Your shul could be next!
Eco-Building Lessons Learned (Adat Shalom, 2001):

    1. Start early. Make environmental issues and energy conservation clear priorities from the get-go of the design and fund-raising processes. Make the community aware that these are not just choices, they are moral and spiritual imperatives: as a house devoted to God, we must zealously strive to minimize the ways in which its construction and operation might adversely impact God’s creation and God’s children.
    2. Be ready to engage and educate everyone involved — from congregants to contractors — on environmental and energy issues. Plan to do the legwork required to research options, in which case you needn’t be put off by dismissive messages from an architect or contractor. Get ready to pitch slightly-more-expensive-but-far-more-sustainable design elements to the board or congregation or funders. Know how much work it will be, and know how sacred that work is.
    3. Keep sustainability in mind throughout the process. Use the theme of sustainability to remind people of the ethical and religious commitments for which we stand; use it to goad donors into giving more (and feeling good about doing so!); use it as a rallying point for efforts to fund and build your communal home.
    4. Get information from wherever you can, as early as you can. Learn about your architects, general contractors and sub-contractors’ environmental awareness before hiring them. And then plan to work closely with them along the way, both to support and to monitor. Unfortunately “green building” is still new, and we have the chance to educate the professionals about it if we take our responsibilities seriously. Simply asking the questions raises consciousness.
  • Know that unless you have infinite resources, it won’t all get done at once. Do the best you can with what’s available, and keep a ‘wish list’ in mind for future expansions or retrofits. Don’t despair because you can’t have every energy-saving device or construction technique; since you can’t do everything, it’s still better to do what you can. Know that every CFL, every LED exit sign, every double-glazed window, every square foot of recycled carpet, every programmable thermostat makes a difference, and is sacred. As Rabbi Tarfon wrote almost 2000 years ago in the Mishnah (Avot 2:21), “it is not upon you to complete the task — but neither are you free to desist from it.”

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