Sustainability & Ministry Actually Can–And Should–Go Hand in Hand
I'm going to preface this post by asking a favor. Can we throw politics out the window? Sustainability isn't a political issue. It's a stewardship one. I've been passionate about sustainability and conscious consuming from a very young age. I was always finding ways to save and repurpose items. I once saved all of our toilet paper rolls for a month, then used them to build a model castle (I was just a little obsessed with Medieval history). As a Christian, I've always been puzzled as to why so many people are apathetic or straight up opposed to sustainability. God placed us here to take care of and steward his creation, not simply use it to make us more comfortable.
Obviously, when you start thinking about consumption and running a church, it can seem daunting, or outright impossible. But through product trends I've seen and my own experience slowly transitioning into a minimal-waste household, there are several things I believe we could implement in ministry that would make a big difference!
When I was thinking through the biggest areas where we see waste in the church, this was definitely the first thing that came to mind. We go through so many cups, lids, straws, creamer pods, etc. in the coffee areas of our churches. Although this was the biggest one I thought of, it was also probably the easiest one to fix. Here are several ideas to reduce waste in your coffee ministry:
Offer reusable mugs/travel mugs as gifts or to purchase. THEN, instruct your staff and leaders to use these instead of disposable cups as an example. You could even place signage encouraging people to bring their refillable church mug next time!
There will always be people who don't have a mug, so it's good to keep a disposable option. The good news is there are so many companies creating biodegradable or compostable cups, lids and straws. They may cost a bit more, but I believe it's well worth the investment when you think about the cost of the waste we create!
Have separate bins for recyclable waste and compostable waste. There will probably always be trash, but make sure you have another bin for items that can be composted or recycled!
Use large syrup pumps and large containers of milk instead of sugar packets and creamer pods. This one is pretty self-explanatory. In addition, you can opt for glass bottles of syrups and milk when possible.
General Building Upkeep
These items are a little less obvious than coffee cups. However, these items will not only benefit the planet, but could save you some extra on your monthly utility bills!
Make sure to replace all light bulbs with LED bulbs. LED bulbs last much longer and are more energy efficient. I can't imagine any church staffer complaining about changing light bulbs less often!
Use motion-detector lighting in large areas. Replacing the switch with a sensor will make sure the lights are always on when someone is present, but avoid accidents where lights are left on overnight or even throughout the entire week (we've all been there...)
Install toilets with a lighter flush option. I know it seems a little gross to talk about, but toilets with an option to flush heavy or light can help save a lot of water! Again, it's not just responsible, it saves you money too.
Install rotating cloth hand dryers or air dryers. They cut down on paper waste and save you from having to restock & empty the trash as frequently.
Ok this is another big one. Here are just a few suggestions to help cut down on paper waste:
Use recycled paper as much as is in your control
Always have recycling bins at the exits of the sanctuary for envelopes, cards, bulletins, etc.
Place a QR code on the backs of seats or in announcement slides to cut down on the need for bulletins and printed connect cards. More and more people prefer to use their phone now anyways, so it's a win-win!
The Root of it All
Something big I learned in my journey towards sustainability and waste reduction is WHY it's even a problem in the first place. The main reason I found in my personal life was convenience. As followers of Christ, we have to ask ourselves if the things we consume and waste daily are necessary, or if they just simply make our lives easier. We have to think about all of the beautiful places, plants and creatures God has created here on this earth and ask if their well-being is worth our convenience. Why do we feel the need to have so much all the time? I think when we learn to be conscious of what we're consuming and live with less, we actually discover that God truly is enough. What he's given us IS enough. We don't need to fill every little gap of our lives with stuff. There's already so much here to enjoy, and it's our job to steward and protect it.