Sustainable Jersey® Green Teams Join Forces with Faith-Based Communities

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Wyckoff Township kids promote the “Nifty Fifty” 50 percent recycling goal

As a Sustainable Jersey Green Teams’ ambitions grow, so does the need for energized volunteers and new resources.  With over 8,000 faith-based institutions in New Jersey, including multiple institutions in nearly every municipality, partnerships between Sustainable Jersey Green Teams and the faith-based sector is an enlightened move.

The large networks and sense of community that faith-based groups provide have earned these institutions the nickname of “movement incubators.” A growing number of New Jersey houses of worship have enrolled in the GreenFaith Certification Program, a two-year leadership program for houses of worship that has goals similar to Sustainable Jersey. There are over twenty houses of worship in New Jersey currently participating in the certification program, which is just one of many opportunities that GreenFaith offers.

The Sustainable Jersey (municipality focused) and GreenFaith (faith-based institution focused) certification programs have similar goals and actions.  For both programs, the community-at-large benefits and also serves as the audience.  It makes perfect sense that these groups would co-promote and work together.

Wyckoff Green Team and the Temple Beth Rishon T’Green Olam

Wyckoff Township in Bergen County has benefited from such a union.  Harriet Shugarman is the co-chair of Temple Beth Rishon’s environmental committee called T’Green Olam.  Working through the GreenFaith certification program, this group has saved the temple over $40,000 in energy costs and cut their energy usage by nearly a third.

Harriet Shugarman is also the chair of the Wyckoff Environmental Commission and chairs the Green Team that led the municipality to become Sustainable Jersey certified in 2011.  She is involved in climate initiatives aimed at changing national policy; however, early on she saw the need to work at the state and local level on sustainability issues.  She contends that in order for people to have an ‘ah-ha’ moment they need to get their hands dirty at a community-wide clean up and shredding day, creating a community garden or be part of a movement to generate 1,000 signatures from townspeople to promote the use of reusable beverage bottles at local sporting events, as they have done in Wyckoff.  She says that this type of hands-on work creates ownership of environmental issues that in turn develops a base to help strengthen state and national movements.  She finds that the Sustainable Jersey and GreenFaith certification programs provide the structure and resources for her to engage volunteers and reach the community.

Harriet Shugarman pictured center with Alex Cascardo and Brian Bigler of the Wyckoff Environmental Commission

Red Bank Green Team and the Red Bank United Methodist Church

Janie Schildge, the head of the Green Team at the Red Bank United Methodist Church in Monmouth County, has a similar story.  She is a grandmother and a mother on a mission to educate the community on environmental issues.  As the child of a botanist, she spent a lot of time in the woods where her father instilled in her a love of the outdoors. Later in life, after spending a year teaching in India, Janie Schildge took on a new level of awareness about protecting resources and the need for social equity.

Through her association with the Red Bank United Methodist Church, she has undertaken a range of initiatives to integrate environmental themes into worship, religious education, facility maintenance, and social outreach.  The church has added solar panels, a bike path and runs an outreach environmental work camp.  The solar panels will save the church $10,000 a year and reduce the carbon footprint by 24 tons of CO2.  The spray foam insulation added, saved the church $7,000 in heating costs in 2011.

Red Bank United Methodist Church kids weeding and planting, while their parents mulch the city parks

One example of how the Red Bank Green Team coordinated with the church is by providing a member of the Shade Tree Commission to teach a session for the kids on stewardship of the town’s trees.  She says gaining an appreciation for the environment is contagious.  For example, when the children see the passion that Boris Kofman of the Shade Tree Commission has for trees, they are moved.  After planting trees in Count Basie Park, the kids now regularly check in and make sure the trees are thriving.  In turn, the church has a large network and can promote and link to the environmental work that the town is doing through the Green Team and Sustainable Jersey.

Three Reasons Why a Green Team Should Connect with Faith-Based Institutions:

Although there are many compelling reasons why Green Teams should connect with faith-based institutions, three reasons rise to the top:

  1. Maximize outreach: Through worship services and educational programs held each and every week, faith-based groups offer countless opportunities to educate their members and communities. For a town undertaking many ‘green’ action steps, publicity is a key to those initiatives’ success. Houses of worship, faith-based schools, and other faith-based institutions in your community can help to promote your efforts by publicizing events in their newsletters, on their websites, and through promotional posters. They may also be interested in partnering with you to organize or host events.
  2. Share successes: Many faith-based groups are glad to share their ‘green’ success stories and provide examples that can help municipal efforts. For instance, a religious school may have an environmental lesson plan or a green challenge that has worked well, and can be used in the public schools.
  3. Gain points: While there is not yet a point allocation within Sustainable Jersey for faith-based outreach in particular, these institutions can help municipalities accrue points in a number of ways. For instance, a house of worship may be interested in hosting or helping to organize a community education and outreach program.

In partnership with Sustainable Jersey, GreenFaith created two documents to help develop future collaborations (see document links below).  The Reverend Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith’s Executive Director, is a force behind the faith-community collaboration with Green Teams.  He says that environmental concerns, and the vision of sustainability, represent an important moral challenge. Faith-based institutions can help this movement reach its potential.

Need Some Help Getting Started With Building New Partnerships?

Sustainable Cherry Hill in Camden County is offering a free program for Green Teams and faith-based groups called Our Sustainable Future: The You in the Community on Saturday May 12, 2012. Hosted at Trinity Presbyterian Church, this event is designed to build a sense of community, cultivate leadership skills, create outreach strategies and develop a collective vision of sustainability.

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Images courtesy Sustainable Jersey

Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog

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