First Parish Needham was among the first ten houses of worship to earn an ENERGY STAR label for their facility after the rating program for worship facilities was announced September 2009. Using Portfolio Manager, congregations are able to track energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions, set targets for investment priorities, and verify efficiency improvements. Houses of worship must have a score of 75 or higher on a 100-point scale to earn the ENERGY STAR. First Parish Needham earned the ENERGY STAR for their building with a score of 94.
The journey to become a labeled facility and now receive a 2010 ENERGY STAR Congregations Award began in 2005. The congregation voted to undertake a capital campaign for building renovation when a growing congregation and the condition of the meeting house built in 1836 necessitated the effort. First Parish is Needham's oldest religious community dating to 1711. Today the community has about 270 members. During the week, church space is rented to the Needham Children's Center and a ballet school uses the Parish Hall. A number of public and private events take place at the facility including the Homegrown Coffeehouse featuring folk and blues music.
The capital campaign raised $2.5 million to fund a renovation. To manage this work, First Parish created a congregational building committee consisting of an architect, consulting engineer, contractor, facilities manager, interior decorator, and artist. The full membership was involved in establishing targets for the project through open meetings and surveys. The goal of creating a "green" house of worship was a high priority supported by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) statement of beliefs.
"Building green was not the only objective," states Edward Quinlan, property committee chairman. "There were many 'needs' competing for finite dollars. The building committee tried to maximize the energy saving potential by scrutinizing available technologies and employing those that promised a good return-on-investment. Committee members were very knowledgeable and able to study plans and specifications to ensure consistency with our goals."
First Parish Needham believes that most goals were accomplished. The building square footage was increased by 25 percent while the historic character of the sanctuary remained unchanged. Although their facility is larger, energy usage is down 30 percent. Energy costs have been reduced by 50 percent and the facility's carbon footprint has been reduced by 43 percent. A Parish Hall was added for functions and the facility infrastructure including HVAC, electric, plumbing, and fire protection was rebuilt. Like many building owners today, First Parish went beyond energy-efficiency and included many other "green building" features.
"We obtained $13,550 in utility rebates from NSTAR, our utility provider, for many of the energy-efficient features," Quinlan states. "We used the money to insulate the 12-inch void cavity walls of our historic sanctuary."
"Unfortunately, the $40,000 cost of a 5kW solar PV system had to be postponed," Quinlan adds. "We installed the conduit and left space for inverters so the system can be added as soon as funds are available. The system will be on the pitched Parish Hall roof adjacent to the main town parking lot. We want it to be a reminder to citizens of the potential of solar."
First Parish is planning other upgrades in the future such as rezoning some large lighting circuits within the electrical system, minimizing power consumption from electrical equipment and switching to LED lighting in the sanctuary. Architectural and design work on the project began in 2006, and in fall 2007, when construction began, the congregation had to vacate the building. They returned to the renovated facility in fall 2008 and had everything running smoothly by January 2009. They used Portfolio Manager data from February 2009 through January 2010 to measure their successes.
First Parish and its building committee were introduced to Portfolio Manager as well as other ENERGY STAR tools and resources by a committee member who specializes in building energy-efficiency engineering as a consulting engineer. The Congregations guide 'Putting Energy Into Stewardship' was not yet published, but much of the basic information was available in the small business guide 'Putting Energy Into Profits.' "When we reviewed the Congregations Guidebook and looked at what we had done, one would think that the document was our playbook," Quinlan jokes.
"The ENERGY STAR and Congregations websites are great resources for creating a strategy," Quinlan says. "We've informally adopted some of the recommendations from the ENERGY STAR 'Facility Energy Management Assessment Matrix.'"
As highlighted from their use of the ENERGY STAR Assessment Matrix, communications has been an important element of the overall program at First Parish. "We used the media to get the story of what was happening out to both the congregation and the general public," Quinlan states. He cites an article in the "Boston Globe." The "Needham Hometown Weekly" ran an article after the congregation earned the ENERGY STAR label for the facility in early 2010. "We also published an informational bulletin about the achievement and announced it at Sunday service," Quinlan adds. "We provided a handout which graphically detailed our 'before' and 'after' results."
First Parish Needham now has a "Green Sanctuary" committee that is working to achieve the "Green Sanctuary" certification presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association to churches demonstrating a deep and ongoing commitment to caring for the Earth. The process involves all aspects of congregational life — worship, religious education, social action, and sustainable lifestyles. The Green Sanctuary committee has undertaken a number of community outreach programs to help communicate the importance of environmental stewardship to the congregation and the wider community. One of these was the Green Needham 10% Energy Challenge. This promotes Needham's 10% Energy Challenge based on the ENERGY STAR Pledge for homes and the ENERGY STAR Challenge for businesses. Last year, 65 First Parish families took the ENERGY STAR Pledge.
"We are proud of our success," Quinlan concludes. "Beyond the numbers, we've proven to our congregation and the community at large that we can make a difference. With modest amounts of money targeted in the right places, significant gains can continue. Our success has generated enthusiasm and stimulated others to make an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. In the process, we have created a building environment that is more comfortable, healthy, and truly spiritual."
First Parish, Needham estimates that they are saving more than $8,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their worship space. The savings of nearly 5,000 gallons of fuel oil per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly two homes.
Frank Olney, Architect
Thompson Consulting, Inc., Engineer