Getting started on greening your institution can feel overwhelming. When there is so much to be done, it can be difficult to navigate which steps to take and which projects to prioritize. Look for tangible, realistic goals and target “low-hanging fruit” — projects that are cost-effective and easily executed. These ten tips provide stepping stones towards becoming a more sustainable institution. Harvest these low-hanging fruits and dig in!
Ten Tips for Greening Your Institution
1. Form a Green Team
Greening isn’t a solo job. Put out a call for staff or volunteers interested in sustainability and convene a sustainability committee, or “green team.” It’s helpful to have a representative from the facilities staff, as well as your organization’s board or leadership team. After forming a green team, use our “institutionalizing greening checklist” to make greening a permanent part of your operations. Try incorporating “sustainability” into a staff person’s job title. The JGF Green Team Evaluation Report provides useful insights into forming and sustaining a green team.
2. Conduct an Energy Audit
If your building hasn’t undergone an energy audit, now is the time! Energy audits help institutions peel back the mystery surrounding their energy use, offering recommendations for better efficiency and lower utility bills. The green team should use the Hazon audit’s recommendations to guide their greening efforts. In New York, NYSERDA offers free energy audits and incentives for small non-profits, and subsidized Flex Tech audits for larger institutions. The federally-funded BlocPower firm connects houses of worship with these incentives and with energy efficiency contractors. Outside New York, Interfaith Power & Light, a multifaith environmental coalition, can help your synagogue start greening. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) to find out what kinds of energy incentives your state offers.
3. Conduct a Food Audit
Use Hazon’s Food Guide & Food Audit to identify areas in which your institution can improve its food sourcing, food service, and food waste management. Learn how to organize sustainable holiday-themed meals, purchase healthier, local, and fair trade products, and start composting. Even small changes — like serving less soda, or switching to Equal Exchange coffee — can make a big statement, and contributes to a healthier and more sustainable global food system.
4. Host a Green Kiddush
Green a weekly event at your institution. For synagogues, a green kiddush offers a way to publicly showcase your institution’s commitment to greening through a Jewish lens. Make a few small changes, such as serving a meat-free meal, cutting out plasticware, or offering local produce and organic grape juice. Time the green kiddush with holidays like Earth Day, Tu B’shvat, or the reading of Parshat Noah (the Torah portion describing the biblical Flood), or go a step further and institute one each week. Read about one synagogue’s sustainable kiddush success story to learn how to reduce waste and enliven your next kiddush or simcha.
5. Start Educating
Give a sermon, host a lecture series, show a movie, or form a book club about food, water, sustainability, or climate change. These events build momentum around your sustainability efforts and inspire participants to green their own lives. If your organization has programs for children, invite Teva educators to teach a Jewish environmental lesson, or incorporate green activities into the existing curriculum. Use one of Hazon’s curricula or sourcebooks to help you get started. Post clear signs (with Jewish content) that identify recycling, paper, and compost bins and remind people to turn off the lights.
6. Implement Small Facilities Upgrades
Start upgrading your building by installing programmable thermostats and low-flow faucet aerators, replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LED bulbs, and placing recycling bins next to every trash bin. These small improvements will save your organization money and demonstrate the long-term benefits of greening. They will build momentum for bigger projects like solar panels and HVAC retrofits.
7. Purchase Green Products
Conduct an assessment of your organization’s purchasing habits for office supplies, kitchen supplies, and cleaning products. Wherever possible, purchase recycled paper, biodegradable cutlery, and natural cleaning products free of hazardous chemicals. These products are often just as cheap, if not cheaper, than “standard” supplies. Check out the “Green Products and Purchasing” section in Greening Resources for a list of sustainable product providers.
8. Plant a Garden
Start a garden in the front of your building, in a courtyard, or on the roof. Host a community planting event at the beginning of the season, and create a gardening club to make sure it is well-tended. Gardens not only improve an institution’s image, but also offer a myriad of educational opportunities — and local, healthy food! They are a wonderful tool to help children learn about the natural world and the cycle of the Jewish year. Learn how one JCC set up a garden and nature classroom for all ages.
9. Speak Up and Get Active
Advocate for public transit, fight to shut down a coal-fired power plant, or plant trees in your neighborhood park. There are environmental and social justice campaigns underway in every corner of the country, at the local, state, national, and international levels. Sign up for newsletters from League of Conservation Voters, 350.org, Greenfaith, Religious Action Center, Sierra Club, Jewish Climate Action Network or Citizens’ Climate Lobby to stay up to date, and follow the Jewish Climate Change Campaign’s Facebook page.
10. Spread the (Green) Word
Share your greening successes! Start by adding a tab to your institution’s website that documents green improvements. Use social media to announce green upgrades and events. Encourage staff and community members to compost at home, unplug their personal electronic devices, use reusable water bottles, mugs, and shopping bags, and carpool or bike ride to work. Finally, fundraise by sharing greening stories with potential donors. Let organizations nearby know what you’re up to.