The cliché is that everything's bigger in Texas. So it is fitting that the nation's largest regularly used worship center, Lakewood Church , would be located in Houston. The church is housed in the former Compaq Center, an arena that was once home to the Houston Rockets professional basketball team. Repurposing such a major facility into a worship center that seats 16,000, saving it from possible demolition and not building a completely new complex, create an additional recycling and green success story, aside from the energy-efficiency program now underway.
Pastor Joel Osteen addresses an average of more than 43,000 attendees during the three services he hosts Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings. Associate pastors host another four services in the main sanctuary each week, two on Sunday (one in Spanish), plus one each Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Pastor Joel's messages are broadcast into every television market in the United States and viewed in almost 100 nations around the world.
In addition to the main sanctuary, the former arena houses children's classrooms for infants to four-year-olds, primarily in what were once team and concession areas. An adjoining five-story building was built during the remodeling for administrative offices, classrooms for children in kindergarten through high school, meeting rooms, and broadcast suites. In total, the complex comprises nearly 700,000 square feet. Considering the size of the facility, the ever-growing membership, and a near-endless list of events, classes, and meetings seven days per week, it was no surprise that the utility bills at Lakewood had grown to nearly $1.5 million annually.
"We are a non-profit church organization and our primary income is the donations and tithes of our members," says Lisa Ward, who oversees the energy-efficiency program. "Lakewood Church understands the great responsibility of demonstrating good stewardship of those financial contributions. The savings of more than $360,000 the church has realized in the first year of the program leaves no doubt that continuing the process is in the best interest of the church and the people it serves."
Since its inception, the energy-efficiency program has focused on four major efforts. The first is education of the staff, which is, in turn, asked to educate the more than 5,000 volunteers. "We began by adopting an Energy Management and Conservation Policy. This is distributed to all staff. We make it the responsibility of each staff member to communicate our policy to their volunteers and contractors," Ward explains. "We include the 24-hour security team in the distribution and make it one of their duties to report any areas they find not in compliance with our policy during their regular tours of the complex. We want to empower as many people as possible to assist in our stewardship efforts."
Another major effort was scheduling heating, cooling, and lighting zones to coordinate with activity schedules. "We thought we were doing a good job," Ward states, "but we quickly learned we could do much better." Scheduling activities within areas that have similar HVAC zones allows systems to be turned off in other parts of the facility that are not being used. A constantly changing calendar and the tendency of people to want to always use a particular room has been the biggest challenge, according to Ward. "Sometimes change can be difficult to embrace so you might have to use a little gentle persuasion," she says. Lakewood Church opted to form a partnership with Energy Education, Inc. (EEI), a Dallas-based energy-management consulting firm with a heavy emphasis on the people factor when it comes to implementing and managing an energy program. "They have experience with other large facilities and we thought implementing their behavior-based program was prudent," Ward adds.
Ward credits EEI with introducing Lakewood to the many tools and resources available from ENERGY STAR to help generate ideas, to educate staff and volunteers, and to measure and track the progress of the program. Working with EEI, Lakewood analyzed energy use throughout the facility, then formulated and implemented an Energy Management Action Plan. ENERGY STAR materials have helped show staff members how they can efficiently manage the energy use they control. Each member of the facilities department has been given a copy of the ENERGY STAR Congregations guidebook 'Putting Energy Into Stewardship.' It helps explain the reasoning behind the actions Lakewood is implementing.
A third area of focus has been changing out incandescent and fluorescent lighting for CFLs or light emitting diodes (LED). "We're doing this on an on-going basis, making the switch as new bulbs or fixtures are needed in the facility," Ward says. She estimates that about 70 percent of the lighting changeover is complete.
Lighting is also an area targeted for future focus. "An upgrade in our lighting software is needed to refine zoning and better control circuits and relays," Ward states. "Right now our maintenance staff does some of this manually and we know this is not the most efficient method." A similar 'make the change when change is due' policy is applied to equipment. "Whenever we have to replace or add a piece of equipment, we look for ENERGY STAR qualified products," Ward continues.
The fourth effort has been recalibrating and resetting HVAC equipment for more efficient operation and using programmable ENERGY STAR qualified thermostats. Ward admits that the Houston climate with a combination of high temperatures and high humidity requires careful management of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. "When our facilities were built and remodeled, the engineers designed our systems for the worst-case scenario of a 100 degree day with 90 percent humidity. But not every day is like that. We want to protect our buildings and ensure the comfort of our staff and members throughout the week," she states. "But that criteria doesn't require the maximum setting at all times. A great deal of energy can be saved by adjusting systems to current conditions."
Lakewood Church also uses the ENERGY STAR's online energy management and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager, to benchmark progress. This is coupled with EEI's proprietary EnergyCAP® software to report progress to the church leadership and the chief financial officer.
Ward says that Lakewood's successes ensure that the energy saving program will continue to grow. She admits that she has not even begun to tackle the audio/visual, and broadcast areas of the operation that have both large demands and specific criteria outside facility operations. She also hopes that the general membership will become increasingly involved in the energy effort and will take some of the lessons home to initiate better energy management on an individual basis. "We have classes on financial management and overcoming debt," she says. "I can see where a module on energy cost savings could be added as another step in improving household finances. I think we're just beginning a journey that will make us better stewards of our church finances, better stewards of our environment, and ultimately leaders who can demonstrate to our members and our community what is possible."
Lakewood Church estimates that they are saving more than $360,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their worship facility. The savings of more than 2.4 million kWh per year in electricity and 11.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of nearly 254 homes. Annual savings include nearly $30,000 in water usage savings.
Energy Education, Inc.