Helping Congregations get Green – Michigan Interfaith Power and Light

Michigan Interfaith Power and LightIn each of our religious traditions, we find the idea that we are the stewards of the Earth, responsible for preserving the beauty and the bounty of creation. For those who believe we have cause to be concerned about our execution of that sacred duty, there are many ways to work towards better stewardship.

In 2002 Father Charles Morris of Wyandotte convened an interfaith group from around the state to address concerns about global warming. This diverse group founded Michigan Interfaith Power and Light (MIPL), and became the 4th state affiliate of the Interfaith Power and Light organization founded in California in 1998. Since then, IPL has expanded to 40 states.

Their mission is to “inspire and equip people of faith to exercise stewardship of and love for all creation.”

“The way that we have done that historically is that we started our focus on helping houses of worship be more energy efficient,” says Bob Chapman, Executive Director of MIPL.

The idea he says is that saving money on utilities means more money for a congregation’s mission- that’s good for the planet and good for the faith group – less footprint and good fiscal stewardship.

MIPL consults with congregations, providing information to help congregations be more Earth-friendly in the areas of land and water use, recycling, and renewables.

“As a general thing, one of the big areas we’re promoting more is renewable energy. The economics have changed so that renewables are much more feasible. It’s a clean energy. Renewables are a great thing for our congregations that want to be green to look at,” says Chapman. “We have partnered with utilities and are now helping bring energy efficient upgrades to congregations, in some cases, at no cost.”

MIPL consults with and shares information with over 250 member houses of worship around the state. In addition to the metro Detroit area, there are many in the West side of the state, Grand Rapids, Holland area, and all the way north to the Houghton-Hancock area.

“We are truly both interfaith and statewide – committed to being both interfaith and diverse, both from the standpoint of gender, race, and geography,” says Chapman.

In the Flint, Saginaw, and Jackson areas, MIPL has partnered with Consumers Power, which helps congregations with lighting, controls (timers and controls) and water efficiency resources like low flow faucets and shower heads, which use less water.

“We’ve seen houses of worship that are saving hundreds of dollars a month, several thousand dollars a year in terms of their energy savings,” says Chapman.

“We also do advocacy work – a voice for people to let them know what’s happening in the state and national level around environmental and energy issues, and what they can do about it,” says Chapman.

One of the issues that has become an area of significant concern for congregations in Detroit and in the inner suburbs is drainage fees. Lacking separate storm water and sewer systems, rain water run-off from rooves and parking lots goes into the sewer and onto a congregation’s sewer bill.  Fees have recently skyrocketed from approximately $40/per acre/per month to $125, and will go up to $677 by 2022 (see article). MIPL is becoming a resource to help cut down on or get credit against these drainage fees. Chapman says that it’s not economical to create a new system, so they’re focused on ways to keep water out of the system by diverting it into the ground.

Techniques to manage run-off include disconnecting down-spouts, and creating bioswale or rain gardens.

“Water is going to be a bigger and bigger deal all over the world. We’re blessed in the great lakes area. We have taken clean water for granted, but not so much now,” says Chapman. “Water shut off. It’s about justice, about creation care as it affects the poor. Almost all faith traditions have a strong care for creation and protecting the poor ethic. What we’re recognizing is that those two things go together. The way that they wind up being used, it’s the poor that are living near the power plants, getting the smog, having to worry about not getting clean water. Care for creation, when it’s done is a thoughtful way is also about care for the poor.”

On May 22, MIPL is sponsoring a free film with Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, called Catching The Sun at MSU Detroit center.

Click on MichiganIPL.org for more info or to become a supporter of MIPL.