By Kendra Langdon Juskus
Flourish magazine, Spring 2011
Energy was not a particularly important concern when a congregation of 18 people founded First Baptist Church (FBC) Orlando in 1871. But since then, the church has expanded several times, moved from a central city to over 100 acres in southwest Orlando, grown to 15,000 members, added several buildings, and incorporated The First Academy (TFA), a K–12 fully accredited education facility.
With all of that growth to support, energy costs mean a lot more than they did 140 years ago.
Leading the way
In 2007 energy costs became particularly important for the leadership at FBC Orlando as utility costs soared. A 17 percent increase in the church’s utility rates when a utility contract with the local provider expired made energy even more expensive for the historic congregation. FBC Orlando was faced with utility expenses climbing to nearly $1 million annually.
If energy costs could be controlled, the church could use the savings in a multitude of domestic, local, and foreign ministries and missions. That was important for a church community that gives $1.5 million per year to missions, making it the largest contributor of any Southern Baptist congregation.
But money wasn’t FBC Orlando’s only concern. Of equal importance was a desire to be good stewards of nature’s resources.
“Jesus’ command to his disciples in John 6:12 is ‘. . . let nothing be wasted,’” says Jim Hughes, energy and project administrator for the congregation. “We understood our role in protecting the environment and that this is a Biblically rooted task from God. With a church our size, we have to be at the forefront of providing energy-efficient, ‘green’ solutions. We have to demonstrate leadership if others are to follow. This is why we view our program as energy stewardship—not simply energy conservation.”
The church began a focused energy stewardship program in 2008, launching an information program to let the FBC Orlando community know what changes would gradually be made and the goal of those changes.
But efforts of the sort that FBC Orlando was undertaking are difficult to do alone. So the church began working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR Congregations program. The Congregations
If energy costs could be controlled, the church could use the savings in a multitude of domestic, local, and foreign ministries and missions.
program provides churches with tools to measure their savings and successes, as well as free educational webinars and resources through its website. FBC Orlando uses EnergyCAP® software to diagnose and focus audits on particular areas. This works in conjunction with ENERGY STAR’s online energy management and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager, to benchmark progress. Hughes also requires that all new purchases made by the church be ENERGY STAR qualified products, appliances that are certified by ENERGY STAR for their outstanding energy efficiency.
The support from ENERGY STAR was crucial, but so was another partnership. The church began working with Energy Education, Inc., a Dallas-based energy-management consulting firm that offers congregations a people-based program designed to change behaviors and to correct habits that have become part of a church’s operation.
Energy Education has helped FBC Orlando focus on three specific areas:
- Energy accounting — Energy consumption is logged and analyzed to identify trends and focus on opportunities to reduce consumption.
- Mechanical operation — Best practices training helps identify better and more efficient ways to operate equipment and adjust existing equipment for optimal performance, building protection, and comfort.
- Energy awareness — Staff members are trained to analyze the energy use they control and how to best use systems and individual items for maximum efficiency. Employees at all levels learn how their use affects the utility bill for the whole organization. The goal is to change behaviors and break bad energy habits.
With these three practices guiding them, FBC Orlando and Energy Education developed an Energy Management Action Plan for the church. Part of this program was the creation of a full time position for an energy educator and manager, which Hughes—a veteran with 25 years experience on the church leadership staff—now holds. His role is to perform regular audits of buildings and systems to make sure they are operating within prescribed parameters based on usage, season, and weather changes. He also trains staff, volunteers, and members on energy efficiency and serves as a full-time “face” for the energy program, a constant reminder of its importance and each individual’s responsibility.
With this support and expertise, the FBC Orlando community began both reducing its energy use and instilling an ethos of wise energy stewardship in its congregation. Certain practices—like the precise scheduling of events so that certain locations’ lights and climate control can be turned off when they’re not in use and adjusting temperatures to be no lower than 71 degrees—require, and receive, the cooperation and understanding of church attendees.
“Our staff and members have responded more positively than I could have imagined,” says Hughes. “We started making changes in the ways that we ran things, and as results started to roll in [we] ramped up our program. As people see positive change they react positively. We began to get responses from the staff and members that showed they had “green” ideas and they were happy to see that the church embraced the same “green” ideals. Prior to the beginning of our energy program it was not uncommon to get only comments wanting it colder and colder. Now it is not uncommon to get calls asking me why [electricity in] a particular area is on when nothing is scheduled there.”
The program has been a huge success.
“Our total program savings from October 2008 through March 2011 is $1,106,091.40,” reports Hughes. “Over all that is a reduction of 37.8% in costs. That is a decrease in kilowatt-hour consumption of 10.4 million kilowatt hours in 30 months. While it took us 28 months to achieve our first $1 million in savings, we are now on target to achieve the second $1 million in about 20 months.” Progress is shared regularly with the staff, and the pastor announces successes from the pulpit, reinforcing the fact that the church’s stewardship program is the entire church’s responsibility.
In 2010, FBC Orlando received a special affirmation for its stewardship efforts. In the early spring it applied for the annual ENERGY STAR Congregations Award. This annual award is given to several congregations to recognize outstanding upgrades to their facilities.
That summer, Hughes and the FBC Orlando community learned they had won.
“The award has . . . given real validation to our efforts,” says Hughes. “The recognition of the EPA has given us the platform with which to further share our programs’ successes and to quite possibly reach more individuals with the concept of creation care.”
Jerry Lawson, national manager of the ENERGY STAR Congregations Network for the EPA, cites FBC Orlando’s
“Our total program savings from October 2008 through March 2011 is $1,106,091.40,” says Hughes.
tremendous energy savings and serious commitment to energy stewardship as what qualified it for the 2010 award. He also points out that FBC Orlando is one of many churches discovering the benefits and importance of similar stewardship efforts.
“Out of 5,251 national ENERGY STAR Partners,” he says, “1,461 are congregations. This is 28% of our total and a strong statement that the faith community is prioritizing energy stewardship. I truly can’t say whether financial stewardship or creation care is the greater motivator, because all the churches I hear from seem to see them as a unified, consistent motivation. Saving the money inherently reduces energy waste and the pollution entailed, but at the same time using energy efficiency to protect God’s creation will save money, whether that is the driver or not. Talk about win-win-win.”
A bright future
“Energy stewardship is an on-going effort,” Hughes explains. “Right now we are replacing many of our incandescent lamps with ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). The project is about 70 percent complete. We’re also testing ENERGY STAR qualified light emitting diode (LED) lamps for use in our exterior lighting.”
FBC Orlando has communicated the church-wide energy conservation policy and associated guidelines to the entire membership, but the training focus has been on leadership and staff. The face-to-face time that Hughes has with each department is judged to be most important. It will continue be the foundation of a program that, although it also helps the created world, ultimately serves people: According to Hughes, every ministry at FBC Orlando is benefiting from funds that used to be lost to the utility companies but now are being used to make a difference.
“We’re excited about what we have accomplished so far,” says Hughes, “and that these funds can be reserved for ‘Kingdom’ service. We think there is more to come, and our savings in energy costs contribute to our ability to better serve our members and our community.”
FBC Orlando, with all it has accomplished, is still only one community of the many that can follow in its footsteps and multiply its efforts.
“There are about 370,000 U.S. worship facilities,” says Lawson, “so all of us who care about the earth have much work to do together.”
Kendra Langdon Juskus is a writer and editor and managing editor of Flourish magazine.