First Presbyterian Church in Conway, Arkansas, is a Certified Cool Congregation at the 10% reduction level, having reduced their carbon footprint by 36 tons with energy efficiency upgrades to their facility.
First Presbyterian Church in Conway, Arkansas, is a certified Earth Care Congregation through Presbyterian USA and has been working to reduce their impact on the environment for many years. But applying for certification as an IPL Cool Congregation required them to report their energy use data, and they are now delighted to be able to measure their progress in tons of carbon dioxide they have reduced. It has created a greater awareness of their energy use and has inspired them to reduce it even further.
“As an Earth Care congregation, First Presbyterian Church has a long-standing commitment to creation care. Our faith is in a loving God who cherishes all that God has made–and we take joy and wonder in all creation as well. I am proud of our congregation’s dedication of resources toward energy conservation. Becoming a certified Cool Congregation is a reflection of our love for God’s natural world.” – Pastor Mike Ulasewich, Conway, Arkansas
Conserving energy consumption at this heavily used 25,000 sq. ft facility is challenging. The facility includes a preschool and a cradle care program for the infants and babies of teenage mothers at the high school next door. And the congregation serves large number of community meals to those in need in the area.
The Green Team, Mission Committee, and Property Committee worked together to accomplish their goals. For many years, the Property Committee made energy efficiency improvements as repairs and replacements were needed. For example, a portion of the facility has used geothermal energy for years; however, that improvement is not included in their application because it was so many years ago. The Green Team (part of the Mission Committee) encouraged energy efficiency through recent improvements.
Over the last three years, a new energy-saving water heater was installed in 2019; the HVAC was replaced in 2021 with one with greater efficiency, a new furnace was installed in 2021, and a lighting retrofit was completed in 2022. The cost of these upgrades was $15,000, and they are saving about $2,000 annually on their energy bills.
The overall electricity consumption reduction was 22,000 kWh. The gas bill went up 5%, during the same period of time, perhaps because of the addition of a larger gas stove to accommodate feeding two community meals per month to homeless neighbors. The need for meals for the community has increased over that period of time due to Covid, especially among the minority population. Realizing this through the exercise of calculating their carbon footprint for certification as a Cool Congregation, they are considering a retrofit from a gas to an electric stove in the future.
As part of their Earth Care designation through the Presbyterian Church, the congregation is committed to conservation, environmental justice, protecting fragile ecosystems, sustainability, reducing energy consumption, lowering utility bills, and setting an example for our members and the community. Nearly all of their worship services include an element of earth care, and many of their outdoor banners on a busy street express their commitment to preserving the planet for future generations. The “Events” tab of the church website begins with two sections on environmental efforts. https://www.fpcconway.org/community/events
The Green Team also addresses other areas of environmental impact: ensuring that church meals eliminate plastic, styrofoam, and bottled water; working in a community garden that is open for anyone to pick vegetables; facilitating recycling and hosting an EV Demo Day in October 2022.
The First Presbyterian Church Green Team sees that energy efficiency improvements can make a difference in consumption, utility bills, and greenhouse gas emissions. The exercise in comparing energy consumption before and after the changes has motivated the congregation to make additional efforts and improvements. They have plans to install motion detector lights in bathrooms, and other improvements as the IRA and IIJA provisions roll out and become clearer. They consulted with a solar installer years ago and plan to do that again after an energy audit in 2023.
“Like all congregations, ours must make choices about how to allocate resources – our time and money. The Green Team appreciates this cherished recognition from Interfaith Power and Light for our efforts toward faithful, sustainable living.” – Scharmel Roussel, First Presbyterian Church