Success Stories From Around the Country

Be sure to also visit:

  • Congregational Stories from Earth Day 2014: Working Towards Sustainable Communities, Part 2
  • Congregational Stories from Earth Day 2013: Working Towards Sustainable Communities, Part 1
  • Congregational Stories from Earth Day 2012: Immigration and Environmental Justice
  • Congregational Stories from Earth Day 2011: Sacred Waters
  • Congregational Stories from Earth Day 2010: Food and Environmental Justice

UU Church of Palo Alto Receives "Cool Climate Award" from IPL

UUCPA received a Cool Climate Award from California Interfaith Power & Light for Education, one of seven categories awarded.  Interfaith Power & Light is a multi-faith organization dedicated to reversing climate change and protecting the earth's environment.  Awards were presented at a ceremony on November 12, 2014 at St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.  The Rev Earl Koteen, a member of CIPL's Steering Committee, presented the award to UUCPA President Bill Hilton, Vanessa Warheit and Jeb Eddy, Co-chairs of the Green Sanctuary Committee and Rev Amy Zucker Morgenstern, Parish Minister.  
Regarding the award to UUCPA, CIPL's website says: 
  Long known as a leader in the community on environmental education, UU Church of Palo Alto has accomplished a variety of actions, including holding an eco-faire demonstrating everything from fossil fuel divestment to raising urban chickens; hosting "4th Friday Films" with Transitions Palo Alto; presenting forums on sustainable living; participating in IPL's Preach-In on Climate Change; and donating to the UU Ministry for Earth. In addition to its educational activities, UU Palo Alto's grounds have a California native garden and low water use garden, and have implemented energy efficiency measures in its facilities.

Recognition for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

CIW accepts Roosevelt Award(October 2013) After two decades of work, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was recently recognized with the Freedom from Want Medal by the Roosevelt Institute. CIW is an internationally-recognized human rights organization working to eliminate modern-day slavery and sweatshop labor conditions in agriculture in Florida. The Fair Food Program, with its principal architect being a workers’ organization, has a unique design and structure, all constructed with one goal in mind: to protect farmworkers’ rights.

Many UU congregations have supported CIW through campaigns and contributions, but Florida  UU congregations stand out: they have supported CIW for many years and have been instrumental in organizing interfaith awareness and action.

UUs of Clearwater at Publix For more than 13 years, the UU Congregation of Clearwater has had an active partnership with CIW and supported their work with educational and letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, picketing and marching within a larger interfaith effort. In March of 2013, UUC supported the CIW 200-mile march on Publix by providing lunch for 300 marchers. In December of 2012, UUC members protested at the Publix market in Dunedin. UCC has also been involved in FAST, a new multicultural, interfaith Social Justice Group in Pinellas County. Through the connection with CIW, the congregation helped organize support for compassionate immigration reform on the state and local level. In June 2013, the UUA awarded the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Actionto UUC. Read more on the UUA website.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers also has a lengthy history of education and advocacy for CIW.  Rev. Allison Farnum serves as a Board member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida.  1st U Orlando, UU Lakeland, and UUFC (Port Charlotte) are also very involved.

California UU Congregations Nominated for 2012 Energy Oscars

Two California UU congregations have been nominated for an Energy Oscar for Advocacy by California Interfaith Power and Light!  Congratulations to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the First Unitarian Church of Oakland.  When UU congregations get engaged in EJ advocacy and action, they do amazing things.  These nominations are just two in a string of successes by California UU congregations recognized by CIPL for leading the fight against climate change.  Both congregations were recognized for their advocacy work.

Healing Our World and Ourselves

By Irene Keim, UU Church in the Pines, Brooksville, FL and UUMFE Board Chair

(05/2013) In February 2013, three accomplished keynote speakers from three different disciplines and participants from many UU congregations in Florida came together to explore ways we can connect the dots to heal ourselves and our world in the face of social, political, and environmental challenges. The speakers and their topics were:

  •  “The Rights of Earth” – Patricia Siemen, Director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, Barry University School of Law;
  •  “Maintaining the Right To Be Heard” – David Cobb, National Projects Director of Democracy Unlimited and the national spokesperson for Move to Amend; and
  •  “Addictions in the Broadest Sense” – Bruce Alexander, professor and author of The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit.

The speakers provided many ideas to ponder. For example:

  • Real change happens when human beings raise hell. 
  • Environmental law is based on property law, not rights of Nature.
  • Social movements need to do homework and build coalitions BEFORE deciding strategies.
  • We can’t win at Whack-A-Mole.
  • There is no ‘away’ for all of our stuff.
  • The faith community is one of the pillars of the movements founded in sustainable values.
  • Humans must reclaim our ecological identity.
  • It is important that we listen to Earth before we speak up for Earth.
  • Two of the most damaging addictions in society are the addiction to money and to the media circus.

The unique learning experience of the conference was, however, the interaction of these creative leaders. None of the three had met or shared ideas before the conference, yet in a panel discussion after their individual presentations, they modeled for the audience how to begin to illuminate the intersection of their fields of concern and expertise, how to do some systems thinking. For many of us venturing out of our congregations into the wider community, this was a valuable exercise. Wisely, the conference planners allowed time later in the conference for the connecting to others, processing the ideas flowing around us, and planning the next steps. One session to facilitate this connection to action was a panel of activists from Florida including myself, who represented UU Ministry for Earth.

The creative exchange of information and ideas at the conference was the result of visioning by three different organizations: the UU Church of Brevard, Florida provided much of the planning and organizing; the UU Legislative Ministry of Florida participated in the planning and is supported in part from a grant from the Fund for UU Social Responsibility; and the members of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando hosted the event. The conference was so meaningful for the attendees that planning for the next conference began the very next week and a Facebook group has kept issues and information flowing across the state.

UU Church of Spartanburg, SC wins Earth Day 2012 Raffle

(04/2012) Congratulations to the UU Church of Spartanburg, SC, winners of a $50 gift certificate to the UUA Bookstore! Their name was drawn from the pool of congregations that registered their Earth Day events on the UUMFE website. This congregation celebrated Earth Day with an intergenerational worship service that included a conversation with a magic frog, a river rock communion, and time to honor their Eco-Hero. The service asked congregants to reflect on finding their place in the family of things and to discover how to live in loving relationship with the Earth and all her various and complicated life-forms.

UU Church in Eugene Is Prize Winning Recycler

(11/2011) Adapted from an article by Mat Wolf for Register-Guard, Nov. 12, 2011

The UU Church in Eugene, OR, was among nine organizations to receive “Trashbuster Awards” from the Lane County Resource Recovery Advisory Committee during the week leading up to the annual National America Recycles Day last fall. The awards are presented to those who seek to reduce waste of resources while contributing to the county’s economy and environmental ethic. The church won because of its efforts to repurpose and reuse old lumber in new renovation projects.

The church has been renovating the site of its future home, a former Scottish Rite building, for more than a year, and in doing so has employed an army of 280 volunteers who have sought ways to recycle a range of materials in the 18,000-square-foot building.

Member Edwin Zack said the church has reused or recycled nearly 85 percent of all the materials in the building. “If there’s a will to work, you can discover all kinds of wonderful ways to reuse materials that would have gone in the Dumpster,” Zack said, “(The goal) is to be ‘green’ while walking as lightly on this planet as possible.”

During the renovation, Members pulled 250 pounds of nails from lumber; truckloads of fir paneling, fire suppression piping and more than 40 doors were cleaned and prepped; several thousand acoustic tiles were reclaimed; stage equipment and fixtures were given to a community theater; electrical wiring was stripped and either sold or used for scrap, along with approximately 10 tons of ducting and other metals.

Because of volunteer labor on the project, the church was able to reduce its estimated renovation costs from $2.3 million to $1.7 million, Zack said. The projected completion date is April 15, 2012.

Chandler, AZ UUs Participate in's Moving Planet on Sept. 24

(10/2011) By Ellen McClaran, UUMFE Board Member

Karen Stucke, Green Sanctuary chair at Valley UU Congregation in Chandler, AZ sent UUMFE the Arizona Republic’s coverage of Chandler’s Moving Planet event, organized by the Interfaith Power and Light group of Phoenix and the ASU School for Sustainability. Her Green Sanctuary group participated and Karen reports: “It was a story-telling event about the effects of climate change on people, animals, and ecosystems throughout the world. There were about 100 people attending. We marched on the ASU campus and vicinity carrying arrows with the message, ‘Move Beyond Fossil Fuel’.” The title of the newspaper article was, appropriately, Pointing the Way!

Schenectady UU Society Completes Environmental Justice Project

(10/2011) By Nancy Peterson, First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, NY

The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, NY, (FUSS) has completed a three-year Environmental Justice project. Working with Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM), a grant proposal was submitted to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Office of Environmental Justice in April 2008. Grant approval was received in October 2008. FUSS Green Sanctuary initiated the idea, Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM) submitted the grant to DEC, and FUSS continued to be involved, with several volunteers working throughout the project and others joining in as needed.

The grant was for $50,000 for education in the inner city about proper handling and disposal of household hazardous waste. In 2009, the working committee planned, prepared public education materials, hired an outreach worker from the inner city community, and started the public outreach campaign. We had one collection day in October 2010 and another in June 2011, both at the SICM Food Pantry parking lot, which was centrally located and easily accessible to the population we were serving.

After the meager household hazardous waste collection we did in October 2010, our June 25, 2011 collection was successful beyond our wildest dreams. About sixty people had pre-registered, almost double the number in 2010. People who pre-registered were assigned to come at 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, and 1:00, about a quarter of the total at each hour. By 9:45 there were over twenty cars already lined up!

When we started checking the registrations, we found far more unregistered than pre-registered. Although we had an incentive program to encourage pre-registration (a $10 gift certificate to Target), most people were there not for the gift certificate, but because they wanted to get rid of many years’ accumulation of household hazardous waste. By noon, the truck was almost filled to capacity. At that point we decided to turn away unregistered people so that those who were assigned to come at 1:00 wouldn’t be justifiably irate. Of course many unregistered were irate, because pre-registration was not required.

Although the County has a monthly collection at Hetcheltown Road, many people hadn’t heard about it. There is obviously quite a need for this service.  We hope our three-year grant program has served as a pilot for the city or county to follow up at various locations, convenient to various populations within our local area. Jeff Edwards, County Solid Waste Planner, said he is interested in continuing to hold a collection day at the SICM Food Pantry parking lot once each year.

UU Church of Davis Celebrates Earth Day with Earthfest

(5/2011) By Judy Moores, Green Sanctuary Co-Chair

Earthfest was held on April 17 at the UU Church of Davis in Davis, CA. We had an all-church picnic, Veggie cook-off, a play put on by teens for our children – "How the Flowers Got their Colors" – face-painting, book sale and exchange, etc. as our Earth Week celebration. The play took the children on a walk around the church grounds to see flowers of different colors. At each stop, they also had an activity – looking for insects, smelling or gently feeling poppy petals, etc. We also gave an Eco-hero award to Lynne Nittler and collected over sixty letters in support of the UULMCA’s sacred water effort to get legislation passed on "Human Rights to Water." We had perfect weather and it was a lovely day!

Mt. Vernon Church Breaks Ground for Net Zero Energy System on Winter Solstice

(2/2011) By Mary Paden, Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church, Alexandria, VA

On the snow-patched lawn of Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church (MVUC), on the chilly afternoon a few hours before the church’s Winter Solstice celebration, Rev. Kate Walker, clad in black robes, bade a ceremonial goodbye to a black-draped rusted heating and air conditioning unit before a small crowd that included U.S. Rep. Jim Moran and State Sen. Toddy Puller.

Rev. Walker began by noting that the congregation had been kept “comfortable” for many years by an energy system that allowed coal miners to “die deep beneath the Earth, mountaintops to be torn apart, soils to wash into the sea, and streams to turn orange with acid and metals.” She said the congregation has decided to enter a new world “where lives are not devalued and the Earth is respected.” Turning to the unit, she said “Today, I offer these words for our old-world heating and air conditioning system: You have served your duty. But your time is up. We say ‘no more’ to what you represent. We created you in a time of need and we shall terminate you now for our needs have changed. We have created your replacement.”

Board of Trustees Chair Joan Darrah stepped forward to cover the unit in a tasseled black cloth, as Rev. Walker pronounced, “Your existence is over, as ours begins anew.”

With that, Rev. Walker and Ms. Darrah, broke ground for a new geothermal heating-cooling system that, together with solar panels, will allow MVUC’s 5,200 square foot meeting house to become a net zero user of energy from the grid by spring, possibly making it the first church in Virginia to do so. As she took the shovel, Rev. Walker said, “May this represent the turning over to a new future of living our deepest values.”

Inside the Meeting House, Rep. Moran praised the church for its leadership in converting to renewable energy. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to get new energy legislation through Congress this year,” Moran said. “So programs must be done at the grassroots level, like here at MVUC, which has put its money where its mouth is. It is one thing to say wonderful, inspiring things and another to do them. “MVUC could have gone the easy, cheap way and replaced its fossil fuel system, but it decided to do the right thing, and, as a result has set a high standard and become a national model. It is right for a faith-based community to help make a better future for our children. You found a way of using federal financial incentives and a creative company to make it work for you. You have made the right investment and others will come from around the country to see how you did it. This is a really big deal and I couldn’t be more pleased that it is being done in our district.”

Sen. Puller, who lives near the church, noted that, “This church has been on the cutting edge for many years. This project is historic.”

MVUC member Albert Weinstein, one of the instigators of moving to renewable energy, presented the church with a check for $10,000 toward the new system. Of his donation, Weinstein said, “A lot of people talk about solar energy. I decided to jump start the process.”

MVUC went through a months-long process of evaluating alternatives to its ailing conventional heating system. According to the report of the committee, headed by Ken Pilkenton, the equipment costs of purchasing a new conventional system would have been about $50,000 plus maintenance and monthly utility bills, while buying, installing, and maintaining a geothermal system would have cost about $300,000, a very high initial cost for the church.

Then Zachary Fettig, President of Shenandoah Sustainable Technologies (SST) of Harrisonburg, Va., proposed to design, install, operate, and maintain a geothermal system under a 20-year contract, during which time MVUC would make a monthly payment. SST was able to offer this long-term package through a combination of favorable private financing, various government tax incentives for alternative energy projects, and the virtually no-grid-based power consumption costs once all the equipment is in place. At the end of the contract MVUC would own the equipment.

The MVUC finance committee determined that the SST proposal was comparable to purchasing geo-thermal equipment, but without the high initial cost. The conventional option was somewhat cheaper, but did not figure in likely increases in the cost of energy over 20 years or the environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels.

MVUC wanted a system that met its environmental and social values, and also provided a solid investment for the future. Finding an affordable renewable energy system would fulfill a long-term dream of MVUC, which had constructed its Meeting House in the mid-1880s with the chapel roof designed for solar panels and with a previous generation of a geothermal heating-cooling system, which had failed after a time.

The church contracted with SST in late November and broke ground on the Winter Solstice.

The geothermal system relies on extensive underground fluid-circulating pipes branching-out from opposite ends of the Meeting House (which contains a chapel, commons area, kitchen, nursery, and church offices). The pipes are buried several feet underground where the ground maintains a steady temperature of about 55 degrees. SST will remove all of the Meeting Houses’ conventional heating and cooling equipment and replace it with state-of-the art geothermal equipment. In addition, solar panels will be installed on the south roof of the chapel to generate the electricity for the building and the heat exchange pumps for the geothermal system.

Last year SST installed a modern closed-loop geothermal system at St. Mark’s Church in Springfield, which has received praise from church officials there. The MVUC system is different in that it incorporates solar energy for electricity to make the Meeting House a net zero energy user from the power grid.

The transition will come none too soon, Rev. Walker said, “because the old system has required half a dozen visits from the furnace repair people in the past ten days, including today.”

UU Church West in Brookfield, WI partners with Johnson Foundation at Wingspread for a Different Water Communion 

(submitted 09/29/2010)

Thanks to the support of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the UU Church West is having a different kind of Water Communion at our Ingathering Sunday this September. Many Unitarian Universalists use water as a symbol for our individual lives – gathering our waters into one stream as we come together each fall for a new church year.  How many of us, however, as we enjoy this ceremony, truly take a hard look at the freshwater crisis in our nation and our world, and the water cost of the way we live? 

This year, using the Our Commitment To Water handout generously provided by the Johnson Foundation’s Environment Programs department, Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin, will do just that.  It’s an easy-to use guide with practical steps that families can follow to reduce their water footprint.

The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread is dedicated to serving as a catalyst for innovative public and private solutions to regional and global problems.  Their Freshwater Summit held on June 8th and 9th, 2010, brought leaders in business, government and not-for-profits together to develop a national call-to-action and a set of key water initiatives. Specifically, participants included senior level representatives from Mars Incorporated, Diversey, Inc., Kohler Co., U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council of Environmental Quality, Pacific Institute, World Wildlife Fund and Iowa Soybean Association. In total more than 25 leaders convened at Wingspread to discuss the challenges, opportunities and solutions to addressing the nation’s freshwater crisis.

Towson UU Church Wins Cool Congregation Prize from Interfaith Power and Light

(submitted 7/20/2010)

Today, Interfaith Power and Light announced the winner of this year’s Cool Congregation contest. Towson Unitarian Universalist Church (TUUC), in Lutherville Maryland, accepted the $5,000 cash prize for the most reduction in energy use. Carel Hedlund, Chair of TUUC’s Green Sanctuary Committee, said, “our actions focused on three areas: energy efficiency of our building, educating our members on ways they could make changes in their own lives to reduce their individual footprints, and participating in energy efficiency community projects. We are very excited and grateful to win this prize. Our Board has voted to place the award funds into reserves for further ‘greening’ of the church.”

 The Cool Congregation contest challenged participants to calculate a starting carbon footprint, and then compare a year later after making energy saving changes to measure total reductions. The contest was open to approximately 10,000 congregations nationwide. “We wish to congratulate Towson Unitarian Universalist Church for being good stewards of Creation,” said The Reverend Sally Bingham, president of Interfaith Power and Light. “They have demonstrated a real commitment to making their congregation as energy efficient as possible and in the process have provided a wonderful role model for other congregations wishing to address the threat of climate change.”

Towson Unitarian Universalist Church is a 50-year old congregation in suburban Baltimore with many glass windows and skylights. According to Hedlund, they set out to reduce their carbon footprint by first conducting an energy audit.  It was no surprise that the audit revealed a need to seal the old windows and the duct system. Hedlund estimates air leakage in the meeting room has been reduced 67% and heating and cooling capacity improved by 25%. Next, they installed solar film on skylights and on a large, southwest-facing window in the sanctuary and swapped out old light bulbs for energy efficient ones. They just recently replaced the front doors and one side door. They also purchased carbon offsets for some staff travel and 50% wind power through their utility. Interfaith Power and Light estimates that TUUC’s total carbon footprint has been reduced by nearly 20%. This is not TUUC’s first environmental award. In April 2009, the church was accredited by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a “Green Sanctuary.”

This month, Interfaith Power and Light will launch the 10% Challenge for congregations wishing to follow in the footsteps of Towson Unitarian Universalist Church in reducing total carbon footprint 10% or more.  Interfaith Power and Light is a campaign of The Regeneration Project. The mission of Interfaith Power and Light is to assist congregations in being faithful stewards of creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. To learn more, visit

Harmony Celebrates Earth Day

(5/2010) By Karen Dunsmore, Co-President, Harmony UU Church

Harmony Unitarian Universalist Church is the newest UU congregation in the Cincinnati area, with services starting in January 2010. Earth Day was Harmony’s first social action event. The children made displays about new recycling rules in the Cincinnati area and also about local food resources. Several families started seeds for our seed giveaway at the Arbor Day Celebration and Earth Walk in Mason, Ohio, a northeast suburb of Cincinnati. While it was too windy for the display boards to stay upright, the seedling giveaway was a hit. We gave out almost 200 seedlings, which included heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, basil, and a few mystery plants. Everyone had fun and luckily the rain held off until the end of the event.

Ethical Energy

(2/2010) By Emily Kao, UUA Environmental Justice Intern

As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the seventh principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” and understand the detrimental effects of our fossil fuel consumption and the resulting emissions, pollutants, and waste. Around the country UU congregations are taking steps to reduce their own CO2 footprints, use renewable resources, and change their consumption methods. These congregations, in partnership with the Green Sanctuary program, recognize the effect their energy consumption has on the environment and strive to lower their demand on Earth.

In 2007, the UU Society of the Daytona Beach Area pledged to reduce their use of non-renewable energy and thus their carbon footprint. Since then, the congregation has worked hard fulfilling that pledge. The church installed what was the largest and most complete solar energy system in Volusia County, consisting of a solar hot water system, two solar fans, and photovoltaic solar panels that produce 10kw of energy. With these and other electricity saving equipment and practices, such as turning off equipment and lights and reducing the use of air conditioning, the congregation has reduced its use of electricity by over fifty percent and increased members’ awareness of their energy consumption at the church and in their homes.

When the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut audited its environmental and environmental justice footprint, it found that many crucial opportunities to save energy had been missed. In the face of these findings, the congregation launched a campaign to change its usage and emphasize conservation. Under its Clean Energy Initiative, the church switched to purchasing all of its electricity from clean sources. Through the church’s example and education efforts, 105 families also demanded clean energy from their energy providers.

First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City

(submitted 9/2009)

First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, UT was recognized by Interfaith Power & Light as a "Cool Congregation." ( Interfaith Power & Light honors congregations for outstanding efforts in reducing carbon footprints and educating members about global warming.