Sikhs find greener ways of managing their temples

Mass catering: Sikhs are using solar cookers – rooftop mirrors which generate high-pressure steam for large-scale cooking – in the Lord Vishnu temple in Tirumala, India, to conserve energy as they continue their practice of providing food for all comers. Above: Preparing porridge

A deep reverence for creation drives the spread of sustainablility measures at Sikh temples all over India and beyond

"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 usually included some access to water, and were surrounded by community land, jagirs, which served as shelter groves and a source of firewood. The buildings housed community kitchens (langars), where meals are given freely to all visitors whether sikhs or not. Gurwaras may also include health and education centres, and guest rooms for travellers.

EcoSikh provides a blueprint for custodians of gurdwaras With such a range of uses, there are clearly many ways in which those who run gurdwaras can adopt more sustainable practices. And EcoSikh’s GreenGuide goes into great detail about the environmental practices which Sikh communities in India and elsewhere have adopted.

‘To disseminate the message of sustainable living, environmental stewardship, and the cosmology of ‘oneness’, what better place to start than the gurdwara itself?'

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 (though 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 GreenGuide 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.