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Green Team reduces church’s carbon footprint

By Stuart Mann

Parishioners who sit in the back pews at Holy Trinity, Thornhill will be feeling a little warmer this winter, thanks to the efforts of the church’s “Green Team”.

During a recent green energy audit of the church building, the team learned that a small section of the roof wasn’t properly insulated. “The parishioners in the back pews were always saying they were cold, and we always thought it was because they were sitting close to the entrance door,” explains Iverson Grimes, chair of the team.

Some handy parishioners climbed up to the area in question and sealed off the draft. “On the following Sunday, quite a few people said they noticed a difference,” says Mr. Grimes. “That was our crowning glory.”

The energy-saving step is one of many the historic Thornhill church has undertaken to improve its carbon footprint. It has managed to do this by tapping into expertise that exists in the parish and partnering with a not-for-profit agency that helps places of worship go green.

Members of the Green Team.
The Green Team, from left to right: Stephen Collette; Jesus Cruz Arango; Swan Li; Dianne Rimmer; Ron Tolhurst; Iverson Grimes; Robin Parravano and Steven Law.

Holy Trinity’s efforts started in 2015, when it approved the diocese’s vestry motion that asked parishes to take steps to address climate change. It drew together a diverse group of people at the church who had the passion, skill and knowledge to drive the initiative forward. The Green Team, as it’s called, consists of Mr. Grimes, Steven Law, who is an environmental engineer, Dianne Rimmer, Ron Tolhurst, Robin Parravano, Swan Li and Jesús Cruz Arango.  

The team’s initial task was to analyze the church’s energy consumption and identify the building assets such as the heating and cooling system, the insulation in the walls and roof, and the windows and lighting. The study showed that the church was relatively energy efficient, but there was still room for improvement.

The group presented its findings at the church’s 2016 vestry meeting and was given $5,000 from the parish’s Our Faith-Our Hope campaign funds to continue its work. It also received a $1,000 grant from Faith and the Common Good, a national interfaith network, to conduct a green audit of the church. The audit cost $1,500, so the church had to pay just $500.

Stephen Collette, Faith and the Common Good’s building audit manager, led a tour of the property, looking at energy-consuming appliances and activities, wiring and piping, windows and doors, recycling efforts, cleaning products and pesticide use, signage – virtually anything that could be greened.

Mr. Grimes says Mr. Collette was easy-going and patient. “He was very pleasant. No question from us was considered insignificant. He was very easy to work with.”

The audit was an eye-opening experience, he says. “Stephen’s team was able to point out stuff that really needed to be done, and identified areas that gave us the biggest bang for our money. They pointed out areas of concern that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Holy Trinity, Thornhill. Photo by Michael Hudson.

Mr. Collette put his findings and recommendations into a report, which has formed the basis of a roadmap for the Green Team’s efforts over the next 10 years. Importantly, the plan contains action steps that the group can implement right away at little cost – what Mr. Grimes calls the “low-hanging fruit.”

Some of the fixes have already paid off. For example, the old air conditioning fans in the balcony storage rooms have been covered over, stopping cold air from drifting down into the heated area. The simple renovation, done by parishioners at a cost $140, will save hundreds of dollars in heating bills over the coming winters.

Mr. Collette also gave some practical advice. He cautioned the church against accepting donations of old appliances from parishioners, as they usually weren’t energy efficient.

Some of Mr. Collette’s recommendations will require a greater investment of time and money. For example, the church plans to upgrade its entire lighting system to LED bulbs, at a cost of about $15,000. It also hopes to replace its air conditioner with an energy efficient model in the next year or two.

The church’s vestry provided the Green Team with a further $10,000 this year from its Our Faith-Our Hope funds, so it now has about $14,000 in hand to make the changes. But Mr. Grimes admits the group might have to go looking for government grants to pay for those and other high-end improvements.

Still, he’s happy with the progress to date. “For now, we said, let’s concentrate on the low-hanging fruit. Yes, we may not be able to do the high-cost things right away, but there’s a benefit to doing the low-cost things. We have 50 to 60 items on the list and have done a lot of them.”

He says Holy Trinity has shared its knowledge with other churches that want to go green but don’t know how to start. “They’re a little intimidated, but we explain that you’re going to do it one step at a time. We’ve gone through this without too much pain, and you can too.”

Donna Lang, the Toronto animator for Greening Sacred Spaces, has worked with several parishes in the diocese, including St. Matthew, Islington and St. Cuthbert, Leaside, to reduce their carbon footprints. She is hosting an “Energy Savings Webinar” for churches on Nov. 15 and Jan. 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The webinar will look at incentives and rebates for retrofits, lighting, heating and cooling. It will also examine how a United Church in Toronto reduced its lighting consumption by 10 per cent and saved money. During the webinar, Ms. Lang will launch a three-year project that helps faith communities measure their energy and greenhouse gas footprint. To sign up for the Nov. 15 webinar, visit