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How to count the cost of carb(on)s

13 March 2020

Joe Ware identifies ways in which parish churches can reduce their carbon footprint

Alex White/Alamy Stock Vector

THE Church of England’s new target for reducing emissions to net zero by 2030 will be a challenging task, but one with the potential for the Church to show other denominations and institutions how to decarbonise (News 14 February, News and Comment 21 February). It echoes recent plans from the National Trust and the cities of London and Bristol to go net-zero by 2030, as well as calls to bring forward the UK’s petrol-car ban to 2030, and the announcement by National Express of that it intends to have a net-zero bus fleet by the same year.

Before we begin, it might be worth explaining the term “net zero”. Basically, our carbon footprint is the bundle of greenhouse gases — principally carbon dioxide — that we generate. For churches, this is mainly three things: (a) burning oil and gas for heating; (b) the fossil fuels burned in power stations to create our electricity; and (c) the petrol and diesel we use to travel around. These negatives need to be balanced out by positives, such as switching to renewable energy and planting trees.

The good news is that the typical carbon footprint of a church is actually lower than a house’s, as the latter is often heated for longer and to a higher temperature.

The Church’s leadership is already taking steps to accelerate its net-zero plans, but it will rely on individual churches to embrace the challenge and take steps to reduce their carbon footprints to nearly zero over the next ten years. Here are some ideas of what churches can do.


1. Check your footprint

THE first task is to establish the scale of the problem, and calculate a benchmark from which to work. Like anything that requires motivation, tracking our progress is important.

Helpfully, the Church of England is launching a new Energy Footprint tool this month to help churches calculate the size of their carbon footprint. The easy-to-use system uses information already known about your church to pre-populate it, which means that only a small amount of extra information is needed. This will provide useful data on emissions produced, and a graph showing your energy-efficiency rating. Visit cofe.io/footprint for details.


2 Reduce

THE next thing is to reduce unnecessary energy use. Cutting down on wasted energy also has the positive effect of saving money on bills. Putting insulation around pipes to direct the heat where it needs to go, covering stone floors with rugs, fixing any broken window panes, and draught-proofing doors can all stop valuable heat escaping. Fixing roofs and gutters to prevent leaks also helps, as damp rooms are harder to heat.

Make sure, too, that your heating matches usage. One study showed that the best time to turn off the heating is three-quarters of the way into a service, as most heating systems will continue to radiate warmth until the end (www.blackburn.anglican.org). Switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs is also smart. In terms of transport, car-pooling, lift-sharing, using public transport, and substituting the occasional walk or cycle to church will help. These actions may seem humble and small, but they are the building blocks of a savvy net-zero church.


3 Switch to clean

THE single biggest contribution that a church can make is to switch to renewable energy. The Church is trying to stop burning fossil fuels, and our biggest energy use is the heating and lighting of our buildings. Switch to an electricity tariff that is 100 per cent renewable and which can be bought via Good Energy, or through Parish Buying’s energy basket. This pools the buying power of participating churches around the country.

The energy basket doesn’t provide a “green gas” option, but such options are available on the market. The challenge with green gas is that only a small proportion of what some providers offer is truly “green”: i.e. renewable biogas; tree-planting schemes are used to “offset” the bulk of the gas, which is made up of fossil fuels. The problem with offsetting is that not all schemes are credible, and dodgy offsetting schemes may actually mean that emissions rise.


4 Go electric

IF GREEN gas is not available, switching to electric heaters combined with a 100-per-cent-renewable-electricity tariff is the cleanest way to power your church. Inspired by the Bishop of Salisbury’s guidance to “heat people not places”, pew heaters are one option. Others include electric panel heaters fixed to walls and ceilings, or portable heaters that can be moved around. Air-to-water or ground-to-water heat pumps send warm water through existing radiators and underfloor heating systems. Heat pumps are particularly good for busy churches, as they create a steady temperature throughout the week. A Rocha’s Eco Church scheme is a useful source of information on this.


5 People power

GETTING to net-zero will also necessitate changing our behaviour. Appointing an Energy Champion to monitor bills and encourage people to reduce energy use could be useful. Consider holding PCC meetings in a member’s home rather than in the church building, which would require the heating switched on. Create a procurement policy to ensure that any appliances bought are energy-efficient with A+++ ratings. And don’t forget that the General Synod’s historic vote gives churchgoers extra clout to call on politicians to act more swiftly to tackle the injustice of climate change, both at home and abroad. Campaign with a charity such as Operation Noah, or Christian Aid. Check out Hope For The Future, which can advise on lobbying your MP.


THE trickiest issue is offsetting those emissions that cannot be reduced. The difficulty is, how do we know a poorly managed tree-planting project won’t burn down? A recent study found that 85 per cent of offset projects failed to produce the promised carbon reductions. Although offset schemes are well-intentioned, and there will certainly be a use for the really credible ones, in some cases offsetting is seen as a way for privileged people in the rich world to keep burning fossil fuels with a clean conscience.

But the good news is that there is much that we can do to cut our emissions in the next ten years to put our churches well on their way to hitting that prophetic 2030 net-zero goal.

Joe Ware is Christian Aid’s Communications Manager.

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