Poms go for heated cushions in church – to save carbon. Laugh. But what are we doing?

The Church of England is turning to heated cushions to help beat climate change as part of its new zero carbon strategy, the Telegraph reports. The Church’s big energy problem is heating big spaces in winter.

“The church says it needs to move away from gas and oil heating  in favour of more renewable energy sources to heat its 16,000 churches – many of them ancient, cavernous buildings – alongside thousands of community halls, schools and offices,” the paper reports

“Providing central heating for a church can cost anything from £20,000 to £80,000 a year,” That’s $A38,500 to $A154,300 a year.

With a deadline of zero net carbon emissions by 2045 at the latest – the Church of England’s target will be set this month – new technologies are needed. That is where the cushions come in. The Synod’s (church parliament) Climate Emergency paper says the cushions will be part of a strategy to “heat people not the building”. Originally invented for restaurant outdoor eating areas, for use instead of gas heaters,  the cushions are chargeable with batteries, with a plug-in version also available.

The Church of England’s zero net carbon emissions target will set a challenge to Australian churches to set firm targets of their own.

No Australian denomination has so far adopted a formal zero net carbon target, at least at the national or state level. (If Eternity has overlooked somebody, please let us know. We’d be glad to be wrong.)

“The most likely candidate  is the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA),” Thea Ormerod,  president of the multi-faith network, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change  (ARCC), predicts to Eternity. “Another possibility would be the Anglican Church, but I think their [policy documents] are still quite general.”

“There are churches who have adopted a target of becoming carbon neutral.” – Jessica Morthorpe

Eternity has confirmed that setting a carbon target is under active consideration in the UCA’s NSW/ACT branch, with a taskforce in place.

In Australia, the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, an ecumenical environmental change program for churches, begin with an energy audit of a church building and then step the church through change.

“Yes, there are churches who have adopted a target of becoming carbon neutral,” Five Leaf founder Jessica Morthorpe tells Eternity.

The first Five Leaf stage is to conduct an energy audit of a church building – much like the Church of England proposes. The link to an audit handbook is here. (The handbook was produced by the Uniting church Victoria and Tasmania Synod (region).

Stage one includes taking simple steps to highlight how to reduce energy consumption such as introducing more efficient lighting, putting timers on hot water units and switching to GreenPower, plus behaviour change campaigns to use buildings more efficiently along with a worship service. These steps get you your first Five Leaf certificate.

By the third award, the church will be meeting some serious energy use reduction targets. For example, electricity usage – a 30 per cent reduction to earn the award, then an extra 10 per cent reduction every two years.

At the fifth award the church is helping its members to live more sustainably with “at least 50 per cent of their energy use via alternative energy or via sourcing green power”.

Hillsong’s rooftop solar plus lighting upgrade program had a target of reducing the church’s energy consumption by more than 30 per cent.

The Port Melbourne Uniting Church was the first to get the basic certificate, and the most recent award Eternity could find on the Five Leaf Eco-Awards site was Sydney’s Pitt Street Uniting. Most of the churches listed so far have been from the UCA, but there are Anglicans, Baptists and Catholics as well.

The ARCC group also provides guides to audit church building and switch to green power.

Probably the main change already made by Australian churches – just as in the community – is to install solar panels. The prize, if there were one, for the biggest installation goes to Hillsong’s main campus. According to Verdia, the company overseeing the installation, Hillsong’s rooftop solar plus lighting upgrade program had a target of reducing the church’s energy consumption by more than 30 per cent. The reduction of CO2 is equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by 8.3 hectares of mature forest each year, or 316 personal vehicles taken off the road.