St. Mary Parish earns national recognition for energy conservation

Johnson City church wins Cool Congregation Challenge by Interfaith Power & Light

By Emily Booker

A commitment to the caring and conservation of creation has earned St. Mary Parish in Johnson City national honors.

Interfaith Power & Light recently named St. Mary as its 2015 Energy Saver Winner in its Cool Congregations Challenge. The challenge is an annual contest between religious congregations across the country to address global warming and reduce carbon footprints.

“It’s a big deal,” said Donald Davis, a member of St. Mary’s Justice-Peace-Integrity of Creation Committee (JPIC). “We’re talking the whole U.S., churches across the country. St. Mary’s is one of five [winners]. It says we’re doing something right.”

In response to Pope Francis’ call to be good stewards of the environment in his encyclical Laudato Si, St. Mary has sought to reduce wasteful energy use in the church.

St. Mary’s JPIC instituted a recycling program in the parish and reduced the use of Styrofoam at church events. With the help of a local green interfaith group in Washington County, Green Interfaith Network Inc. (GINI), St. Mary was able to do even more.

Father Peter Iorio, pastor of St. Mary Church in Johnson City, and parishioner Donald Davis led efforts to reduce the parish’s carbon footprint, resulting in a national award for the parish as well as cost savings.

GINI kick-started St. Mary’s energy-saving initiatives in 2014 through a $500 grant that funded energy improvements around the church and school. The parish Energy Assessment Committee conducted an audit of electricity and water use in the church, school, and outbuildings to see where improvements could be made.

“Our main usage is on Sundays, of course, when we have Masses, when we have our electricity on full speed,” Father Peter Iorio, pastor of St. Mary, said. “We looked at cutting that down.”

Through a private donation, the church got new double doors to the main gathering space. Father Iorio recalled how the cold air would often leak in around the doors in the winter months.

“The new doors not only help with energy, but with comfort,” he said.

“Everything we’ve done has had double benefits,” Mr. Davis noted. The new doors, while saving energy expenses, also meet ADA accessibility requirements, turning the gathering place into a more comfortable and welcoming space.

The church also replaced incandescent and fluorescent lights with light emitting diode (LED) fixtures. The upgrade will save money on both electricity and maintenance over time.

The instant coffee pots were put on timers so they would be ready when needed, but wouldn’t draw unnecessary power when not in use. An old freezer, used only a few times a year, was recycled.

To conserve water, leaky toilets and drinking fountains were repaired, and a water-collection system was installed to provide moisture for the community gardens and school garden.

St. Mary concluded it had saved more than $1,000 in just the first six months. The conservation didn’t stop there. More than 40 families did self-audits at their residences and made energy-saving adjustments in their own homes.

According to Mr. Davis, St. Mary’s energy-saving focus will shift to the school this summer with a change to LED lights and insulation around drafty doors in the school building.

As the Energy Saver Winner of the Cool Congregations Challenge, St. Mary receives $1,000 from Interfaith Power & Light. But that doesn’t mean the parish has finished looking for more ways to be caring stewards of creation.

“I think [winning this award] will spur us on to continue with environmental issues and looking for solutions,” Father Iorio said. ■

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