IN 2007, the Church Times organised the first Green Church Awards. Scores of churches entered, giving details of imaginative schemes for reducing their church’s environmental footprint, preserving the natural world, campaigning for change, and educating the next generation in sustainable living.
In the past ten years there have been great advances in scientific understanding and public awareness. At the local level, reducing energy use has become an everyday concern, and awareness of the need to combat the effects of global warming is widespread. Recycling has been embraced, and it is now possible to subscribe to clean-energy suppliers. Internationally, impressive efforts have been made to build on the Kyoto Agreement, culminating in the Paris Agreement, now signed by 117 countries, and ratified officially in November.
That’s the good news. In the same period there has been a relentless increase in climate chaos, as predicted by climate scientists. A series of 16 record-breaking years since the turn of the century, each hotter than the last, has had a recordable effect on the natural environment, to the detriment of plant and animal life, including human life. Polar ice is receding, deserts are advancing, coral reefs are dying, and disastrous climate events have become more frequent.
Despite this, denial has retained its foothold. Green subsidies in the UK have been cut, and the advances made by the EU are in jeopardy. Some of the world’s worst polluters are taking action, but only when life in their cities becomes insupportable. And the new administration in the United States has filled its top table with climate-change sceptics and oil barons.
As a result, individual efforts to save the planet have become all the more important — not in themselves, although every effort at damage-limitation helps — but as part of a popular movement to re-awaken governments and global corporations to the responsibility that they owe to future generations.
The Church needs to play a greater part in this. Its national and global reach put it in a position to influence large numbers of people. Its central investments and collective wealth give it leverage with governments and power-brokers. But if its voice is to be heard, its own house must be in order.
Fortunately, although still the subject of theological debate, recent messages coming from the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and other faith leaders show how care for God’s planet and our common home is a priority around the world. And around the country there are thousands of groups and individuals working sacrificially to change the climate — and the climate of opinion. It is these whom we wish to encourage and honour with a new round of Church Times Environmental Awards.
The awards will be made in collaboration with the Church of England’s environmental campaign, Shrinking the Footprint, but they are open to all Christian churches in the UK. They are still a work in progress: partners are still coming on board, and the application process will not be open for a few weeks (the deadline for entries will be June). But it is not too soon to be thinking about your entry. The awards are these:
The Green Building Award
We will be looking for notable efforts that are making church buildings greener: innovative ways to save or generate energy, either by adapting existing buildings or in new builds, to reduce draughts, retain heat, or take advantage of natural daylight.
The Green Congregation Award
We want to hear about congregations who have come up with clever initiatives to save energy or water, to use less and recycle more, and to make imaginative use of space inside and outside the church. But, more than this, we would like to hear about ways in which the congregation has reached out to the wider community through campaigning and direct action.
The Biodiversity Award
Churchyards and church land often provide the only green lung in a community, providing a habitat for rare plants, trees, and wildlife. This award is for inventive action to protect and improve the natural environment, and increase the biodiversity around churches.
The Green Champion Award
We are looking for special people, often unsung heroes, who have done great things for the environment by example and inspiration, or by coming up with ideas, large or small, that raise awareness and inspire and challenge others.
The Green Shoots Award
The first four awards are for work achieved or well advanced. This award will provide funds for projects that the judges consider could go on to inspire and excite even more. We are in the process of gathering financial pledges to allow us to provide substantial grants for the best entries.
Details of how to enter for the awards will be available within a few weeks, and we will soon be announcing the judging panel. We are grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for allowing us to present the awards at Lambeth Palace on 16 October.