Monk Overlooking at a Temple

Take action today for people and planet

Case studies – Buildings, land, water

Faith groups from around the world have been demonstrating that they are responsible managers of their land, buildings and other physical assets, and that it is possible to manage their physical resources in ways which both benefit the planet and respect their core beliefs.  

Here are some examples of groups which have put their faith into practice by changing the way they administer their assets for the good of the environment.

Our world  is irreplaceable. Let’s save it.

Faiths are key stakeholders in the planet

The faiths own around 8% of the globe’s inhabitable land mass, and more than 5% of forests, including around 15% of commercial forests. They also have influence over land that they don't own but which has spiritual significance. They run a great many buildings, from places of worship to schools, hospitals, halls of residence, meeting rooms, restaurants and much more. As a result, they have significant role to play in managing their land and in reducing the environmental impacts of their buildings.

A. Construction & existing buildings

Every aspect of running a Sikh temple, or gurdwara, could benefit the planet

 Green Gurdwara Guide 

"A deep reverence for all creation is an integral part of the Sikh way of life", states the introduction to the GreenGuide prepared for the Sikh environmental organisation EcoSikh.

'Spiritual buildings are valuable centres for like‐minded individuals to form, discuss, and exchange ideas and beliefs. Sacred places breed trust and receptivity – two key ingredients for embracing the concept of universal collectivity. Therefore, to disseminate the message of sustainable living, environmental stewardship, and the cosmology of ‘oneness’, what better place to start than the gurdwara itself?" states the overview to the guide, prepared in 2014 with the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC).

Traditionally, gurdwaras have been resource centres for the community. Gurdwaras were designed to include water as a community resource, and were surrounded by community land, jagirs, which served as shelter groves and a source of firewood. The buildings housed community kitchens (langars), as well as facilities for health care centres and education, and guest rooms  for travellers.

With such a range of uses, there are clearly many ways in which those who run gurdwaras can adopt more sustainable practices. And the GreenGuide

 Case study: Buildings 

Solar cookers atop the roof of the Lord Vishnu Temple, Tirumala, India. One solar cooker can feed 50-100 people. A similar scheme at Shirdi Saibaba Temple in Maharashtra is expected to pay for itself within four years.

goes into great detail about the environmental practices which Sikh communities in India and elsewhere have adopted.

Our picture (left) shows the use of solar cookers at the Lord Vishnu temple in Tirumala, one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in India. The langar are called on for tens of thousands of meals a day, which would require substantial use of fossil fuels or wood. But the temple is equipped with four arrays of solar reflectors, which focus sunlight onto water pipes to produce high-pressure steam at 180C – saving 500 litres of diesel fuel each day.   

Other food-related recommendations in the GreenGuide include establishing vegetable plots in the gurdwara grounds, composting as much waste as possible, and ditching disposable tableware in favour of washable bowls and utensils.

Many gurdwaras have taken further advantage of India's plentiful sunlight by fitting solar electricity (PV) and solar hot water systems. Some are also connected to the local electricity grid, supplying surplus power to others.

Gurdwaras are also encouraged to reduce their need for energy-hungry air conditioning. Alternatives include the cheaper (but less effective) evaporative air coolers, which work by filtering warm air through water. A simpler way to reduce summer temperatures is to improve insulation, which also has the effect of retaining heat better in the cold months.

 

The Green Guide contains a myriad of other green practices, from use of low-energy light fittings to the filtering and re-use of "grey" water from sinks and showers, the local sourcing of food, and use of less polluting transport, favouring bicycles over cars.

"A deep reverence for all creation is an integral part of the Sikh way of life", states the introduction to the GreenGuide prepared for the Sikh environmental organisation EcoSikh.

'Spiritual buildings are valuable centres for like‐minded individuals to form, discuss, and exchange ideas and beliefs. Sacred places breed trust and receptivity – two key ingredients for embracing the concept of universal collectivity. Therefore, to disseminate the message of sustainable living, environmental stewardship, and the cosmology of ‘oneness’, what better place to start than the gurdwara itself?" states the overview to the guide, prepared in 2014 with the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC).

Traditionally, gurdwaras have been resource centres for the community. Gurdwaras were designed to include water as a community resource, and were surrounded by community land, jagirs, which served as shelter groves and a source of firewood. The buildings housed community kitchens (langars), as well as facilities for health care centres and education, and guest rooms  for travellers.

With such a range of uses, there are clearly many ways in which those who run gurdwaras can adopt more sustainable practices. And the GreenGuide

How Catholic groups are switching to renewable energy, saving money and the planet

 Catholic Climate Covenant 

The Catholic Church has more schools, universities, hospitals and clinics than any country in the world, and it’s also one of the largest investment groups on the globe. 

 

Catholic Climate Covenant is a wonderful example of a Catholic organisation that addresses the pressing issue of climate change through its Catholic Energies programme, which helps Catholic congregations switch to renewables in order to reduce the financial and ecological burden of high energy costs. 

Dan Misleh, Executive Director of Catholic Climate Covenant, says: ‘We created Catholic Energies to provide a trusted energy advisory service for the Catholic community.' Currently, Catholic Energies is working on 25 projects across 11 US states, and Puerto Rico. 

 

The biggest solar project in Washington DC

 

It started by helping church properties make energy efficient upgrades, including boiler upgrades and switches to LED lightbulbs. In 2018, there was a shift to solar energy, and now the organisation has overseen the largest solar project ever achieved in Washington, DC.

 Case study: Buildings 

This two-megawatt solar system for Catholic charities based in the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington cost US$5 million to build and reduces energy costs by several hundred thousand dollars per year, every year, for 15 years or longer. Underneath the solar panels, flowering plants have been carefully chosen to boost the yield of the panels (they have a cooling effect) and to flower for most of the year in Washington, DC.

Read the full story

B. Land and forests

'The Maronite shrine to Our Lady lies at the heart of the forest. Her statue towers over the mountain, which is appropriate as she might be seen as the key to its deliverance' 
 

A church saved one of the last precious fragments of Lebanon's ancient forests 

 Harissa forest, Lebanon 

Just north of Beirut lies the Harissa forest, one of the top 10 “Forest Hotspots in the Mediterranean”, according to the WWF. At more than 1,000 years old, the forest had been largely untouched, until recent construction and real estate projects began to pose a threat, both to the physical environment and the wild animals and plants that rely on it.

 

More than 27 endangered and 52 rare plant species thrive in the Harissa’s 400 hectares (only 4 sq km), as well as 168 species of animals, 152 types of butterflies and 69 species of birds.

The Maronite Church’s cathedral and shrine to Our Lady lies at the heart of the forest. Her statue towers over the mountain, which is perhaps appropriate as she might be seen as the key to its deliverance. The Maronite Church – representing Lebanon’s most popular form of Christianity – owns a large proportion of the Harissa forest and made a public pledge to preserve the forest in the year 2000 – the world’s first Maronite Protected Environment.

 

The pledge was made with the support of with the Association of Forest Development and Conservation and ARC, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. It enabled conservation of a diverse range of species, including ancient oaks and pine, and served as a model of forest conservation for other religious groups in Lebanon and across the wider region.

 Case study: Forests 

The project was successful in inspiring other Lebanese programmes including the creation of a protected oak forest in the church lands surrounding the monastery of St George, Bherdok, and an ecology education centre in the monastery itself.

 

A management group to oversee the protection of the Harissa forest was established in 2003, and worked with the municipality of Jounieh to purchase a further 35 hectares of adjoining forest land to preserve its natural state. These ventures are all done in the spirit of the 7th Century founder of the Maronite church in Lebanon, St Maron, who chose to live a life outside in nature.

The Maronite cathedral of Our Lady towers over Beirut and sits amid a small but vital sanctuary for nature – the 400-hectare Harissa forest. The Maronite church owns much of the woodland and has been central to its preservation

 Case study: Forests 

Buddhist monks are central to efforts to preserve woodland in Cambodia, where deforestation is rife. Trees are seen as worthy of respect and some have been ordained as monks to reinforce their great value to human communities

In Cambodia, trees have been ordained as monks as part of a successful effort to encourage communities to protect them

 Monk's community forest, Cambodia 

t/c

C. Water

'I learned how a girl can manage her menstruation ... they told us that menstruation is not a disease but is normal and natural for everyone. I feel
​so good!' 

– Asima Evers, 14, Kitoba Primary School, Uganda

Water is for much more than drinking: it underpins human dignity 

 Faith in Water 

 Case study: Water 

Water is not just a simple necessity for human life; it is core to religious traditions, to social practices and to basic dignity for people the world over. Much attention is paid by secular charities to the supply of clean drinking water, but it is needed for so much more.

The UK charity Faith in Water, which grew out of the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC), works with faith groups to promote the need for clean water and the importance of WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – for everyone, particularly women.

Faith in Water tries to bridge the gap between secular bodies and faith groups. A prime example is its work with Muslim and Christian groups in Indonesia , Kenya and Uganda, encouraging them to focus more on water, sanitation and hygiene in their teachings, traditions and practices.

The results have been impressive. At Ebukoola primary school in Kenya there are 80 per cent fewer cases of water borne diseases among pupils, and 80 per cent less absenteeism rates due to illness as a result. At Gisire Academy, also in Kenya, there was no water supply at all. After David Chacha, the head teacher, attended an ARC training session, he decided to install an 8,000 litre tank to be filled by rainwater. This has greatly improved hygiene and sanitation and saved money because the school doesn't need to buy water, except in the dry season. 

Dignity4Girls: A project in Kenya is one of several around the world encouraging schools to promote WASH – the importanc e of water, sanitation and hygiene – with special reference to girls. 

Results are not limited to individual schools. In each country where Faith In Water works, good practice has spread by example. In Indonesia, Muslim and Christian groups are spreading the message that water and sanitation is essential for young girls' health. 

In the same way, the Dignity4Girls programme in Uganda has reach almost 32,000 people – more than four times the original target, despite the inevitable interruption caused by the Covid pandemic. The project raises awareness on menstrual hygiene management. It is the first menstrual health programme to work with three major faith groups in Uganda: the Catholic Church, Church of Uganda and Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.

WASH issues are a key focus of the Faith-based Education for Sustainable Development Teacher's Toolkit, launched in Kenya in July 2013.

The crisis

Dirty water and inadequate sanitation are the second biggest killer of children aged under five worldwide. More than a third of the world's population – 2.5 billion people – lack adequate sanitation facilities. And one in nine – 750 million – lack access to safe drinking water. 

 

The  approach

Water and cleanliness play a role in belief and practice in many faiths. Linking those beliefs to practical action adds a powerful motivator for behaviour change. Faith In Water inspires faith groups to give greater priority to these issues and broker partnerships with secular organisations.

 

Engaging faith schools

Faith groups are involved in more than 50 per cent of schools worldwide. Working with faith schools offers a unique opportunity to engage the wider community. That's because they are usually part of a bigger faith structure – one that is highly trusted and influential. 

'I learned how a girl can manage her menstruation ... they told us that menstruation is not a disease but is normal and natural for everyone. I feel
​so good!' 

– Asima Evers, 14, Kitoba Primary School, Uganda

Water is for much more than drinking:
it underpins human dignity 

 A Rocha 

 Case study: Water 

Water is not just a simple necessity for human life; it is core to religious traditions, to social practices and to basic dignity for people the world over. Much attention is paid by secular charities to the supply of clean drinking water, but it is needed for so much more.

The UK charity Faith in Water, which grew out of the Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC), works with faith groups to promote the need for clean water and the importance of WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene – for everyone, particularly women.

Faith in Water tries to bridge the gap between secular bodies and faith groups. A prime example is its work with Muslim and Christian groups in Indonesia , Kenya and Uganda, encouraging them to focus more on water, sanitation and hygiene in their teachings, traditions and practices.

The results have been impressive. At Ebukoola primary school in Kenya there are 80 per cent fewer cases of water borne diseases among pupils, and 80 per cent less absenteeism rates due to illness as a result. At Gisire Academy, also in Kenya, there was no water supply at all. After David Chacha, the head teacher, attended an ARC training session, he decided to install an 8,000 litre tank to be filled by rainwater. This has greatly improved hygiene and sanitation and saved money because the school doesn't need to buy water, except in the dry season. 

Dignity4Girls: A project in Kenya is one of several around the world encouraging schools to promote WASH – the importanc e of water, sanitation and hygiene – with special reference to girls. 

Results are not limited to individual schools. In each country where Faith In Water works, good practice has spread by example. In Indonesia, Muslim and Christian groups are spreading the message that water and sanitation is essential for young girls' health. 

In the same way, the Dignity4Girls programme in Uganda has reach almost 32,000 people – more than four times the original target, despite the inevitable interruption caused by the Covid pandemic. The project raises awareness on menstrual hygiene management. It is the first menstrual health programme to work with three major faith groups in Uganda: the Catholic Church, Church of Uganda and Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.

WASH issues are a key focus of the Faith-based Education for Sustainable Development Teacher's Toolkit, launched in Kenya in July 2013.

The crisis

Dirty water and inadequate sanitation are the second biggest killer of children aged under five worldwide. More than a third of the world's population – 2.5 billion people – lack adequate sanitation facilities. And one in nine – 750 million – lack access to safe drinking water. 

 

The  approach

Water and cleanliness play a role in belief and practice in many faiths. Linking those beliefs to practical action adds a powerful motivator for behaviour change. Faith In Water inspires faith groups to give greater priority to these issues and broker partnerships with secular organisations.

 

Engaging faith schools

Faith groups are involved in more than 50 per cent of schools worldwide. Working with faith schools offers a unique opportunity to engage the wider community. That's because they are usually part of a bigger faith structure – one that is highly trusted and influential. 

Interested in finding out more?

If your organisation is interested in learning more about the Faith Plans programme, please contact us. And don't forget to sign up to our newsletters to be notified of new resources and webinars.

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