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Building in Good Faith - Green Building Resource for Religious Institutions

Planning & Decision-Making

Getting Started

Involve all the voices in your community

Perhaps the most important moment in a green building project is the moment you start. Starting right gives you the best possible chance to educate the members of your community to maximize their support of the project. Starting right also gives you the best possible chance to make sure your project stays on time, on budget, and meets your objectives.

Creating a representative leadership team is an important part of successful green building projects.

There are many ways you can green the operation of your current facilities - visit www.GreenFaith.org to learn how). But when you are beginning a new building or renovation project, you’ve got a particularly important chance to make a positive environmental and financial impact. By comparison, think of the different ways you can get good gas mileage when you are driving. You can keep your speed to 55 miles per hour, keep your tires inflated to a proper pressure, and so on. But the most important factor is your car’s design. It’s the same with your building. The best way to have a building that operates in an environmentally and financially sound manner is to build it for that purpose in the first place.

Ideas about building green usually starts with a small group of people (perhaps a committee) or even one person, lay or ordained.

If you are that person or a member of that small group, your first task is to involve all the voices in your community. You need to educate your community and its key decision makers about green building, gather and share information relevant to your project, provide a forum for discussion, and, ultimately, create a good decision-making process.

Most institutions form a new committee or team for this purpose, such as a building planning committee. To promote green building effectively, make sure to talk, early on, with key stakeholders--group by group or person by person, as the case may be--from clergy, to staff, to members of your congregation. Remember to talk early to potential major donors. If helpful, convene a community-wide gathering to discuss the merits and challenges of building green and what it may mean for your community. Use resources from the Building in Good Faith site for this purpose – it’s what they’re designed for.

Building green will be a new undertaking for most people in your community. Anxieties--and there will be anxieties--about cost and effectiveness are best discussed as early as possible. Treat these questions and anxieties as opportunities to educate and to build support. Green building is a powerful, positive idea. Over and over, we’ve seen doubters become advocates when given accurate information in a calm, confident, consistent manner.

Create a theological mission statement for your project

For many religious organizations, a theological mission statement for a green building project helps build support and enthusiasm. Again, involving a number of your organization’s leaders in this .project helps make it a success.

Such a statement can directly invoke sacred texts (see our Three Religious-Environmental Themes and Seven Judeo-Christian Theological Principles for Green Building).

Most of all, such a statement can reflect your community's mission and values. Creating this mission statement establishes from the start that "green" goals for your project are important to you. The statement can also be incorporated into your case for support when you begin your capital fundraising efforts.

Communicate effectively and consistently

Religious groups that carry out successful green building projects communicate consistently and effectively about their efforts. Good communication makes successful green building projects possible.

Here are some tips:

  • Anticipate what people don't know. In this context, the first tasks of effective communications are learning and teaching. Many people have heard the phrase “green building.” Very few people know anything about what it actually means. Embrace the fact that you will need to play the role of an educator.
  • Tone and simple themes matter. Communicate with assurance and confidence, and stress these three themes: green building is consistent with religious values, green buildings and technology are market-tested and reliable, and green building can save large amounts of money for religious institutions.
  • Welcome "resistance" as part of achieving consensus. As we’ve noted before, resistance to green building is to be expected – and provides an opportunity for education. In our experience, resistance usually represents a low level of understanding of what green building actually means, along with a fear that it is far more costly than conventional building. We recommend that you help your community come to a shared sense that building green protects human health and the environment, saves precious dollars and is genuinely reliable.
  • Teach people how to spread the word about building green: Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it clear. Avoid jargon. Use everyday language. For example, "The sanctuary will be filled with natural light" or "Using green materials means the air our children breathe in their classrooms will be healthy."
  • Make your professional team (architects, builders, etc.) aware that they need to articulate clearly to your community the specific green aspects and benefits of your plan - from health to social good to financial stewardship. You need all the leaders of your project to be pulling in the same direction – so make sure they are prepared to do their part.

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