Our Eco Church Journey – St Paul’s church, St Albans

“St Paul’s church’s journey began in the early 2000s, when a group of us talked together about ways in which the church could be more sustainable in our use of energy and resources…”


Today’s blog written by Philip Nalpanis and Sheila Wright, both members of St Pauls.


What is Eco Church?

Eco Church is an award scheme set up in 2016 and run by A Rocha UK, a Christian conservation/ environmental charity, to motivate and resource churches in establishing caring for the environment as an integral part of their everyday work and mission. It’s supported by denominations and charities across the length and breadth of the church in England and Wales.

The Eco Church award requires self-assessment against a questionnaire in 5 categories (numbers in parentheses are the numbers of questions in each category):

  • Worship & teaching (10)
  • Building (25)
  • Land (17)
  • Community engagement (27)
  • Lifestyle (15)

The full question set, slightly updated from the one we used, can be found here (it has since been further revised in the light of experience). The questionnaire delves into all areas of the church’s life and management – not only those obviously relevant but others such as whether we promote Fairtrade, our teaching (if any) on how we use our money, and how we encourage sustainability in our individual lifestyles as well as what we do as a church.


The Diocese of St Albans is holding an Eco Church conference online – “Working Together to Net Zero” – on Saturday 10th October. Find out more here


The Start of our Journey

St Paul’s church’s journey began in the early 2000s, when a group of us talked together about ways in which the church could be more sustainable in our use of energy and resources. Initially we just changed the light bulbs; we also wrote articles encouraging environmental sustainability which were published in our Church magazine.

As our building project started (2009), we consciously sought to make the whole building – existing and new parts – as environmentally sustainable as possible. Our architects both supported and enabled this. The key elements were material selection and energy efficiency. How did we achieve this?


Material Selection

For the construction, we endeavoured to maximize use of existing materials and, where new materials were required, we sought materials with a recycled content.

  • We retained the existing halls rather than replacing them with new-build;
  • We reused existing materials for hardcore, e.g. for the concourse floor;
  • Enviroblock  (80% minimum recycled/secondary aggregate content) was used for new internal walls.

For flooring, we used

  • Tirex (made from the rubber from the recycled tyres) in some entrances;
  • Carpet tiles with 40% recycled content in the concourse and chancel;
  • Carpet with 25% recycled content in the church itself;
  • Marmoleum in the Large Hall and elsewhere: this is made from natural materials such as linseed oil, wood flour, rosin and jute, renewable resources that do not contain oil-based products.

Energy


Energy efficiency is about using and losing as little energy as possible, so we’ve:

  • Made use of as much natural light as possible, reducing the need for artificial lighting and also saving money.
  • Installed energy saving bulbs (although they’re not yet all LEDs).
  • In many places lighting operates by detecting movement using PIR (Passive Infra Red) detectors.
  • Lighting in the church is zoned, so that it can be switched on only in the areas where it’s needed.
  • We installed high efficiency gas-fuelled condensing boilers.

The control system (in the boiler room) regulates temperature and timing independently in each room/area, so we don’t heat areas we are not using.

  • Thermostatically controlled radiator valves also make sure we do not overheat individual rooms.
  • Underfloor heating in some of the new areas uses less energy to achieve comfortable temperatures.
  • In the new extension, windows are double-glazed units. In the In the hall and other existing rooms, secondary glazing was installed with window bars to match those in the original windows, preserving the external appearance.
  • Existing walls and some ceilings (notably in the Large Hall) were lined with insulated board; all new walls were cavity insulated.

So why didn’t we install more efficient heating? We investigated a biomass boiler but it wasn’t possible to guarantee access for fuel delivery.


Grounds

We retained a small car park (a planning consent requirement) but paved it with Formpave blocks, which allow water to permeate, reducing run-off.


Other Measures

  • We have recycling bins in several places around the building, clearly marked to ensure rubbish is sorted correctly, in line with the District Council’s recycling policy.
  • Our WCs have a low-volume flush: 4 litres rather than the modern standard 6 litres.  Older WCs use 9 litres.
  • We’re a Fairtrade church (all our tea, coffee and sugar is Fairtrade; where possible we use Fairtrade products for events such as lunches).

So how and when did we achieve our Eco Church award?

We carried out our self-assessment starting in 2016, when the Eco Church award was set up, and received our Bronze Eco Church Award in 2017.


And since then?

We’ve re-evaluated our scores according to the current questionnaire as we aspire to reach the Silver Award standard. This figure shows our scores in the 5 categories. We’re well over the threshold required for Silver in three areas, just over the threshold for Land, and only just over the threshold for Bronze in the Lifestyle category, so this is the area where we need to make significant improvement.

We’ve identified the following areas where we could easily make the necessary improvement:

  • Encouraging the members of our church to undertake a personal carbon footprint audit;
  • Encouraging the members of our church to reduce their personal energy consumption;
  • Encouraging the members of our church to limit their waste by adhering to the principles of reduce, re-use, recycle;
  • Personal use and consumption of Fairtrade and/or ethically sourced goods is promoted in our church;
  • Our church encourages members to use food at home that is LOAF (Locally grown, Organic, Animal-friendly, Fairtrade);
  • The ethical investment of personal savings is encouraged at our church.


We’ll be looking at how we can best do these over the coming months. As a start, we recently held a Creation Sunday service (online) when we considered some of these issues and encouraged church members to make changes in their lives that would benefit the environment.

We’re also intending to include more about Creation Care in our regular services, with the support of the church leadership. This would further improve our score for Worship and Teaching. This could include hymns and songs which praise God for his creation, prayers of repentance for how we’ve damaged the environment, suggestions for how members of the congregation can reduce their carbon footprint and take better care of the environment in other ways, as well as teaching on the biblical mandate to care for the environment. We’re in the process of making a short video of our church garden, which we’ll show in a service and may put on our Facebook page @StPaulsStAlbans


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