In order to reduce energy bills that had risen significantly, Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, NJ, formed an Environmental Committee to create an energy efficiency program. The committee, co-chaired by Harriet Shugarman and Mark Niederman, became the primary motivational force behind its energy efficiency program. It was named T’Green Olam as a reflection of the Jewish tenet “tikkum olam” or healing the world. Said Niederman of the facility, “when the Temple was rebuilt in 2000, the focus was on aesthetics and making it visually appealing and not on energy efficiency.”
Niederman is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional and says that consciousness is being raised around energy efficiency and sited the goals set for 2030 by the Bloomberg Administration in nearby New York City as one example. “We wanted to take a proactive approach, do something tangible, and begin reducing our energy and energy costs before it became a mandated necessity,” he added. The formation of the T’Green Olam Environmental Committee and Temple Beth Rishon’s development of an energy program coincided with the development of a house of worship certification program by GreenFaith, Interfaith Partners for the Environment. GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental group that works with a growing list of congregations around the country. Founded in 1992 in New Jersey, GreenFaith’s mission is to educate and mobilize diverse religious communities to be environmental leaders.
Temple Beth Rishon was the first synagogue to participate in the GreenFaith Certification Program. The Certification Program is the first of its type in the world and provides diverse congregations with a roadmap for religious-environmental engagement, and the support and resources to succeed. Use of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) free, on-line Portfolio Manager tool is now required in the Certification Program for benchmarking—tracking and reporting on energy and water saving efforts undertaken by participating houses of worship. In 2008 when Temple Beth Rishon began its energy efficiency journey Niederman says he was not aware of Portfolio Manager; “We began tracking our energy usage on spreadsheets. We haven’t yet taken the time to transfer data to Portfolio Manager. I think GreenFaith’s decision to require its use with congregations joining the Certification Program is a good one. It can be a valuable tool for someone getting started.”
Beth Rishon began investigating going green in 2007 and started tracking energy use in March 2008 as they began efficiency improvements. By 2011 they had made a 30 percent cut in their electricity usage and a 19 percent reduction in natural gas. That amounts to more than $17,000 in annual savings since the efficiency upgrades began and well over $50,000 in total by June 2012, according to Niederman.
The facility includes the sanctuary and two ballrooms that can be joined for larger functions. In back of the building is a school that serves as a pre-school for approximately 100 children and as a religious school with after school programs for children and adult education classes for the nearly 450 families that comprise the membership of Temple Beth Rishon. The facility has catering capacity with a walk-in refrigerator and freezer in addition to freestanding units. Working with a refrigeration contractor, pump-down switches were installed so the walk-in units could be safely powered down and turned off when not in use.
“Improving facility management can be one of the most effective, and least costly, energy efficiency steps you can take,” Niederman said. Another initiative was mapping the thermal zones and hours of operations within the building and powering down zones during times they are not used. “The sanctuary is occupied less than 10 percent of the time,” Niederman noted. “Providing minimal lighting and temperature control in some areas and aggregating activities in others has a significant impact on the overall energy costs.”
The temple spent a nominal amount of money, and followed the well-researched and tested energy conservation recommendations outlined in the GreenFaith Certification Program. The thermostats were lowered in areas not in use, small meetings were moved out of large rooms, mid-winter services moved out of the sanctuary into the small ballroom and heat distribution was balanced between rooms that were too hot or too cold.
“The ways we shaved our energy use had to do with vigilance and common-sense approaches to ways we use the building and the way the building is kept when it’s not occupied,” Niederman said. “After returning over $30,000 to our operating budget over a couple of years, we requested a line item in the proposed budget for $4000 to reinvest in energy-saving improvements. The board was happy to give a green light to that investment.”
Making the congregation aware of the changes and the accomplishments has also been part of the overall program. Rabbi Dr. Kenneth A. Emert has supported the effort from the beginning and acknowledges accomplishments during services. In addition, a Watt$ Green Worth (992KB) contest was held which became an enormously successful tool for communications. Members were asked to guess the amount of total savings in the synagogue with the top three answers receiving prizes presented at a Friday night service. By reviewing the energy data and activities to make guesses for the contest, members came to understand the significant results of the effort.
According to Niederman, Temple Beth Rishon will continue efforts to achieve greater energy efficiency. “We intend to focus on the school area next,” he said. “Plans for changes in this area are being discussed, but the possibilities range from a completely new building to remodeling. Until the decision is made on the building, we are circumspect regarding energy efficiency. It wouldn’t make sense to invest in capital-intensive efficiency measures now. We are considering lighting upgrades with rapid returns on investment. Once we know what form the changes at the school will take, energy efficiency and sustainability will definitely be integrated into our plans moving forward.”
In 2010 GreenFaith presented Temple Beth Rishon an award for their energy program and savings. Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, characterized them as “standard-bearers for the entire religious community in terms of integrating environmental leadership into their identity.”
“We give GreenFaith the credit for driving home the importance of leveraging our efforts through communications with the congregation and the community at large,” Niederman added.
The GreenFaith Certification Program is a two-year commitment by participating congregations that includes a holistic set of activities spanning worship, religious education, spirituality, ‘greening’ of the building and consumption practices, education of members, and environmental justice activities. Greening is addressed through a range of topics, including energy, transportation, food, water, waste, toxins, and ground maintenance. Progress reports every six months, with resources, mentoring and support from GreenFaith, help keep the congregations on track.
“Certified houses of worship become environmental leaders with their members and in their communities,” said GreenFaith Program Director Stacey Kennealy. “There is a definite ripple effect as the activities progress. The education and cost savings are significant, but the real impact is the increased environmental responsibility on a broad scale. Raising everyone’s consciousness about the topic is essential.”
There are currently five congregations that have graduated from the program and another 44 that are in some stage of completion. Temple Beth Rishon is scheduled to complete the program and earn certification in Fall 2012.
“The ENERGY STAR resources and materials are indispensable for our participants,” Kennealy said. “Incorporating the use of Portfolio Manager into the GreenFaith Program has made energy and water tracking consistent, which helps congregations communicate with one another and with us. It has also helped simplify and standardize some of the reporting requirements and tracking.”