Energy was not a particularly important concern when a small congregation founded First Baptist Church (FBC) Orlando in 1871. Since that time the church has expanded several times, moved from a central city to a 125-acre site in southwest Orlando, grown to 15,000 members, added several buildings, and incorporated The First Academy (TFA), a K–12 fully accredited education facility.
In 2007, energy became an increasing concern for the leadership at FBC Orlando as utility costs soared. Since that time there has been a 17 percent increase in utility rates when a utility contract with the local provider expired. FBC Orlando was faced with utility expenses climbing to nearly $1 million annually. If energy costs could be controlled, there were a multitude of opportunities for the funds to be used in domestic, local, and foreign ministries and missions.
Of equal importance was a desire to be good stewards of nature's resources. "Jesus' command to his disciples in John 6:12 is '...let nothing be wasted,' " says Jim Hughes, energy educator and manager for the congregation. "We understood our role in protecting the environment and that this is a Biblically-rooted task from God. With a church our size, we have to be at the forefront of providing energy-efficient, green solutions. We have to demonstrate leadership if others are to follow. This is why we view our program as energy stewardship — not simply energy conservation."
The program has been a huge success according to Hughes. "In 20 months we have saved $792,000, which is a larger-than-expected reduction of 31.9 percent," Hughes states. "Our highest cost meter serves the Worship Center and Education buildings. In May 2010 we achieved an astonishing 43.9% reduction on that meter alone. One meter saved our congregation $44,000 in one month. That's money for our ministry mission that is not going to the utility company."
Through the ENERGY STAR program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plays an important role in the overall energy stewardship program. "We established and maintain a Portfolio Manager account to provide the most accurate measurement and verification of our program," Hughes states. "I've attended several of the free, educational webinars offered by ENERGY STAR, and the ENERGY STAR website is our primary research site for procedures, equipment, and ideas. We have many ENERGY STAR qualified products, and it is a requirement for all new purchases." Hughes adds that FBC Orlando has joined the ENERGY STAR Congregations Network and uses the monthly ENERGY STAR Congregations E-Update for ideas and for information on new tools and resources available from ENERGY STAR.
Another important element of achieving the FBC Orlando goals is a partnership with Energy Education, Inc., a Dallas-based energy management consulting firm. Energy Education offers a people-based managing and consulting program designed to change behaviors and to correct habits that had become part of the operation. Part of the Energy Education program was the creation of the full time position for an energy educator and manager, which Hughes — a veteran with 25 years experience on the church leadership staff — now holds.
"The success of our energy stewardship program hinges on three elements," Hughes explains. "The strong and unwavering support of our pastoral staff and members, a support staff that is willing to accept and help promote change, and a partnership with Energy Education to provide training and support for their proprietary energy conservation program."
Energy Education works with a congregation to focus attention on three specific areas:
This three-pronged approach is used to develop a customized Energy Management Action Plan. Hughes' role is to perform regular audits of buildings and systems to make sure they are operating within prescribed parameters based on usage, season, and weather changes. He trains staff, volunteers and members on energy efficiency and serves as a full-time "face" for the energy program, a constant reminder of its importance and each individual's responsibility.
FBC Orlando uses EnergyCAP® software to diagnose and focus audits on particular areas. This works in conjunction with ENERGY STAR's online energy management and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager, to benchmark progress.
"Energy stewardship is an on-going effort," Hughes comments. "Right now we are replacing many of our incandescent lamps with ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). The project is about 70 percent complete. We're also testing ENERGY STAR qualified light emitting diode (LED) lamps for use in our exterior lighting."
FBC Orlando has communicated the church-wide energy conservation policy and associated guidelines to the entire membership, but the training focus has been on leadership and staff. Progress is shared regularly with the staff, and the pastor announces successes from the pulpit. The face-to-face time that Hughes has with each department is judged to be the most important. "These sessions are essential for creating the 'attitude of awareness' that is primary to this people-oriented program. This is also the time to assess the needs and the conservation opportunities of each area," Hughes explains.
"We're excited about what we have accomplished so far and that these funds can be reserved for 'Kingdom' service," Hughes concludes. "We think there is more to come and our savings in energy costs contribute to our ability to better serve our members and our community."
First Baptist Church of Orlando estimates that they are saving nearly $373,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their worship space. The savings of more than 4.4 million kWh per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the annual electricity use of over 300 homes.
Energy Education, Inc.