For the past four months, I have been a co-op student working with Greening Sacred Spaces (GSS) Halton-Peel, a program of Halton Environmental Network (HEN) and a chapter of Faith and the Common Good (FCG). My focus was helping to develop and implement the Energy Benchmarking Program in Halton and Peel. This program allows our team to monitor and measure the energy consumption of faith communities and help them reduce or become more efficient energy users.
With this program I had the amazing opportunity to be put into an environment that I was not used to. I am used to speaking about the importance of the environment and saving energy. However, until I started to speak with the different faith communities that we worked with in Halton and Peel, I never realised the important role the environment plays across faiths.
My first experience was with the Dar Foundation. They are a mosque in Oakville that GSS Halton-Peel has been encouraging to participate in environmental programming. Our team had the opportunity to observe a prayer session on a Friday afternoon where Imam Feras discussed the importance of not only being a good community member to take care your fellow human, but also the importance of taking care of the environment. The Imam made it clear that to be a good, practicing Muslim you had to care for the environment. This showed me the role that one faith can play when it comes to the environment.
Another community that has been a great partner to work with is the Shaarei-Beth El Synagogue in Oakville. GSS Halton-Peel provides many kinds of workshops for different purposes or communities. Whatever makes your community want to act in a positive way for the environment, we focus on that aspect and are very capable of adapting our capacity building efforts. The Jewish community celebrates a holiday called Tu BiShvat – the new year of the trees. The GSS Halton-Peel team went to Shaarei-Beth El to do activities with children to get them engaged and talking about the environment. We decided to plant kale with the children. This was one of my favourite parts of the position, as the kids had so much fun being a part of this program and I saw the benefit and energy of our workshops first-hand.
The position wasn’t all fun and games though, I was also a point person for the energy benchmarking program. For this role, I analysed and summarized the energy usage of different faith communities. This was to help explain and clarify the different energy consumption metrics that we were presenting within the program. We wanted to offer faith communities ways to increase their energy efficiency and were able to offer some communities a free professional green audit because of generous funding by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to GSS Halton-Peel. I was able to participate in one of these green audits at Shaarei-Beth El Synagogue, where I learned some cool tips and tricks to reduce energy usage to become a more efficient consumer. One of these tips that I learned was that you can tell where air is flowing based on where cobwebs are. According to the FCG environmental engineer David, spiders are lazy and want the bugs to come to them so they use areas where air flow exists. This is something that is easy to see and anyone can identify, so I found it very interesting.
During my time with GSS Halton-Peel, we were able to sign up three faith communities to the Energy Benchmarking Program, and we have many more who are very interested in signing up. Of course, our goal is not to only help communities achieve a sustainable place of worship, but it is also to inspire those in the community to act. We are not saying everyone needs a geothermal unit or major environmental project, but we hope to empower the community with the message that small actions, such as using natural light or having weather stripping on doors and windows, can make an impact on their carbon footprint and energy bills.
I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to work with my colleagues at GSS Halton-Peel, HEN and FCG. Not only have I learned the importance of reducing our energy consumption, I have also learned the strength and power that faith communities have that allows them to empower people to act and to create a better world.
If you are interested in any of our programs or would just like more information please feel free to get in contact with us: firstname.lastname@example.org, 905.815.6185 Ext 2.
University of Waterloo Co-op Student