Green Sanctuary

Green Sanctuary 2020:  A Faithful Response to Climate Urgency

This is the 7th iteration of the Green Sanctuary Program since it began in 1989. Learn more about Green Sanctuary 2020 vision, mission, and outcomes.

Getting Started or Renewing Your Green Sanctuary Accreditation

Procedure

Each congregation performs a self-assessment, writes a plan, and completes projects across: Environmental Justice / Climate Justice, Worship and Celebration, Religious Education, and Sustainable Living.

Collaboration

Congregations are also encouraged to join other UU initiatives, as well as inter-faith organizations. Createclimatejustice.net is a primary vehicle for collaboration. Examples of UU organizations dedicated to environmental / climate justice are:

 

2019 Green Sanctuary Program

Our Vision

A world that is viable and just for humanity and for the whole of the web of life, including present and future generations.

Our Mission

The Green Sanctuary Program provides structure, leadership and support, in broad collaboration, for the UU faith community to engage in an ambitious Environmental Justice and Climate Justice movement that seeks to live fully our seventh principle and achieve our vision of a viable and just world for all.

Our High-Level Goals and Strategies Forming the Mission

  • Provide a structure for congregations to engage with environmental and climate issues and to move along the spectrum of awareness and action. Congregations join a website organizing community, createclimatejustice.net, as one way to learn, share and leverage our collective work.
  • Help connect UUs together working on the front lines of environmental and climate justice work, thus building movement capacity and collaboration for effective action.
  • Act with love and justice to heal the earth, our home.
  • Support frontline communities to protect people and the web of life.
  • Take courageous action to fight against environmental and climate injustices

Created in 1989, the Green Sanctuary (GS) program historically provided a path for congregational study, reflection, and action in response to environmental challenges, worshiping and acting - grounded in justice and Unitarian Universalist values. 254 (25% of UU congregations) achieved GS accreditation, plus 70 in process (list of Accredited GS Congregations). GS accreditation recognizes a congregation’s service and dedication. A part-time GS Program Manager (part of UUA's Multi-Cultural Growth and Witness Staff Group), and the GS Advisory Board formed in 2014, provide support and guidance.

Getting Started or Renewing before September 15, 2020

Procedure

Each congregation performs a self-assessment, writes a plan, and completes projects across: Environmental Justice / Climate Justice, Worship and Celebration, Religious Education, and Sustainable Living.

Collaboration

Congregations are also encouraged to join other UU initiatives, as well as inter-faith organizations. Createclimatejustice.net is a primary vehicle for collaboration. Examples of UU organizations dedicated to environmental / climate justice are:

 

Green Sanctuary 2020 Process

Accreditation Process

For congregations who wish Green Sanctuary accreditation, the Green Sanctuary program guides them through a process of education, opportunity assessment, and discernment that produces an action plan composed of activities and projects for campaigns that address the above three goals. It must include some form of activism/civic action. The plan must also describe intended impacts and measures of success. 

Along the way, Green Sanctuary teams have available to them information on this site and support from staff and volunteers (all congregations are invited to use these resources whether or not they are interested in Green Sanctuary accreditation or reaccreditation).  There are suggested educational resources, assessment templates and multiple examples of successful plans which will provide teams both inspiration and a clearer understanding of what is required.  

Congregations have a good deal of flexibility in making their plans and are encouraged to select activities and projects that best suit the context of their own congregation and surrounding community.  Plans will be reviewed by staff and the volunteer Green Sanctuary Review Team, who offer feedback in order to ensure that the plan is sufficiently robust and that the congregation is on the road to accreditation.  

Accreditation is achieved when the plan has been implemented and the congregation submits a final report describing and documenting the extent to which the intended impacts have been achieved. This typically takes two to four years and is intended to transform congregations by creating new structures for long-term congregational engagement in climate justice work.  

Reaccreditation Process

For reaccreditation, the congregation assesses what they have accomplished since they received accreditation and where they are at the point of starting this current cycle of work, then creates an a action plan that includes either new or significantly deeper work with each of the three goals (mitigation, adaptation/resilience, justice) as well as significant activism/civic action.  The plan will be reviewed by a Review Team and reaccreditation will be achieved when the plan is accomplished, and a final report describing and documenting the extent to which the intended impacts have been achieved. 

Stages of the Process

The Green Sanctuary program is done in five stages:

Stage 1: Team Building and Congregational Education  

A Green Sanctuary Team forms and educates itself and the congregation about the program. The Team starts its application process by submitting the Congregational Profile on createclimatejustice.net.  

Stage 2: Opportunity Assessment 

The Green Sanctuary team ascertains what is currently happening in various aspects of congregational life and its community, including calculating the congregation’s carbon footprint. The Opportunity Assessment is submitted to Green Sanctuary via the online application for review and feedback. The Assessment becomes the core of the Action Plan.   

Stage 3: Action Plan

Based on the assessment results, the Green Sanctuary team designs campaigns with projects that address the goals of carbon mitigation, adaptation/resilience, and justice and includes some form of civic action/activism. Action Plan is submitted to the Green Sanctuary Program staff, who give feedback and suggest any necessary modifications to the Plan.   

  • Overview of Green Sanctuary 2020 Program Requirements

Stage 4: Final Report

The congregation implements the Action Plan and reports on the results in an online template where it will be reviewed and approved for accreditation/reaccreditation, or returned with comments suggesting what else needs to be done.

Stage 5: Accreditation or Reaccreditation

Once approved the final report will become a public document for information sharing across congregations and organizations. 

 

Green Sanctuary 2020: Stage 1

In this stage, you’ll (1) create a Green Sanctuary team and charter, and (2) educate and engage your congregation around the Green Sanctuary process.

Also, when the team is ready, create a congregational account on createclimatejustice.net

  • There you will fill out and submit “Congregational Profile”. Once submitted, your team will receive all important communications and will be invited to become part of a supported cohort of congregations doing similar work. Download the profile template.

Developing a Green Team and Charter  

Sometimes the Green Sanctuary Team forms first, then educates the Board and the congregation; other times an exploratory group brings the program to the Board, and the Board charters a Green Team. In addition, for congregations in which the minister is responsible for programs to enact Vision and Mission, it may be the minister or ministerial team that will determine the process. The team’s formation should reflect how your congregation does its best work.  

The team could be an Executive Team that coordinates the work of many sub-groups; a committee composed of the chair of every other committee; or a team of two or three Board-approved people charged with coordinating congregational activities and the application process. The size of the Green Sanctuary team will depend on the process or governance that works best in your congregation.

The purpose of this team is to manage the entire process. The Green Sanctuary team could be called a committee, ministry, or whatever term is customary in your congregation. The team can invite the possibility that climate change work be suffused with a UU sense of possibility, love and celebration of life, and understanding and strategy deeply rooted in the intersection of race, class and climate. In other words, the team can bring a UU Faithful Response to the urgency of this climate crisis.  

  • Roles: The entire congregation is responsible for completing the Green Sanctuary projects. The team leads the effort by conducting assessments (or charging committees with specific aspects of assessment). With help from the congregation and minister(s), the team oversees each campaign addressing the three goals of mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and justice. The team assists with providing resources and logistical support, communicating with other leaders and staff, and preparing required documentation. The team’s key role is to act as climate and climate justice cheerleaders, encouraging participation.
  • Selecting Team Members: It’s not enough for the Board to assume the team will consist solely of the people who suggested earning Green Sanctuary accreditation. Although most or all of them may want to participate, additional team members may be needed. It is also true that many people who care about this issue will not be able to be on a committee so that it will be important to make tasks clear and invite broad participation. 
  • Varied Expertise: Identify a variety of talent and expertise from within the congregation to perform various tasks: communication, worship and celebration, sustainability expertise, social justice expertise, etc. When it’s time to define the three campaigns (focused respectively on mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and justice) and the component projects, seek input from the whole congregation or committees, and recruit additional expertise.
  • The Charter: Usually, the authority granted by the Board to the Green Sanctuary team comes in the form of a charter stating the team’s purpose and some rules of operation (for example: “...organizing and facilitating the Green Sanctuary process.”). For some congregations a charter is less important than a public Proclamation or signing onto one of the many powerful campaigns such as Green New Deal.

Educating the Congregation

Present to the Board: Typically, the initial organizers make a presentation to the congregation’s Board of Trustees (or other governing body) explaining what the Green Sanctuary program is, and its benefit to the congregation. If the board members agree the idea has merit, they authorize the group to start a Green Sanctuary program.

If your congregation operates under Policy Governance, the direction for this work will come in partnership with the Executive staff team (Minister, Justice Minister, Religious Education [RE] Director, etc.). Find suggestions about this here.

Introduce Green Sanctuary to the Congregation

At this point, it is likely that only a small number of people are aware the Green Sanctuary program started. However, the process cannot be successful or meaningful without the participation of the entire congregation.

  • Objectives: In the beginning, the team’s objectives are to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the capacity of the program to help congregational response. It will be critical to work with the Justice and Faith Formation teams to build understanding of the intersectional core of this work. Also important is generating a sense of possibility for a collective impact to build a sustainable and just world. Teams are more likely to succeed when they create a tone of support and enthusiasm for the congregation, and work to inspire commitment and active participation.
  • Methods: Every congregation has their own style of engaging congregants in important issues or programs. It can be particularly helpful if the team brainstorms with the congregation after sharing some of the information they have gathered.
  • Worship: Many choose to introduce Green Sanctuary during a Sunday worship service, since that is the best opportunity to reach the majority of congregants. Ideas on how to introduce Green Sanctuary during worship are listed here.
  • Coffee hour: Staffing a Green Sanctuary table at coffee hour is another way to get the word out, and facilitate participation in assessments and action plan activities.  
  • Communications: Throughout the process, make use of all effective communications: announcements, newsletters, the congregation’s website, committee presentations, and so on.

Green Sanctuary 2020: Stage 2

The purpose of conducting an opportunity assessment is to enable the congregation to identify and describe opportunities and challenges to achieving the greatest impacts with respect to:

  • Mitigating the climate-change crisis.
  • Adapting and building resilience to impacts of the crisis.
  • Securing justice by collaborating with marginalized communities most impacted by but least responsible for the crisis.

The assessment gathers data which guides development of an action plan to achieve those impacts and engage in that collaborative work.  It also establishes baselines, which make it possible to measure and describe the impacts and results of the congregation’s Green Sanctuary efforts. 

The assessment questions can help you understand your congregation’s current environmental practices, and encourage further reflection. Think of them as a guideline more than a prescription - you may encounter issues not listed here, or find you need more specificity in some areas. The objective is to begin thinking as broadly as possible, eventually targeting specific issues as you learn. While not every item will be relevant to your congregation, the items required as part of your Action Plan are starred and should be part of your Assessment. Be selective, spending time and resources where it matters most. Remember, too, that the purpose of the assessment is to document where you are right now so you can plan how to move forward. Focus on what your congregation is actually doing, not what you’ve talked about, or think you “should” do. Don’t worry about whether your current practices are “good enough.” No matter where you are starting from, the Green Sanctuary program will give your congregation the opportunity to grow.

Once you have collected the data from the assessment, you will use it to create an Action Plan, where you will create three campaigns (one each for mitigation, adaptation/resilience, and justice) that make sense for your congregation’s circumstances and passions.  These campaigns- a combination of education activities, projects, and civic action- will be the heart of your work towards Green Sanctuary accreditation.

Green Sanctuary 2020: A Faithful Response to Climate Urgency

This is the 7th iteration of the Green Sanctuary Program since it began in 1989.

Introduction

The climate-change crisis with Global Warming is the existential threat to the human species and the web of life. It is the urgent, overarching survival and justice issue of our time, calling us to impactful action now. In an era in which the call to dismantle racism could not be more clear, and when the COVID 19 pandemic stunningly highlights that systemic racism is inextricably bound to climate degradation and injustice, Unitarian Universalist Faithful Response calls us to bring our individual and collective gifts together to act with bold, inspiring, collaborative, networked, and effective leadership to ensure a livable world for all descendants and create climate justice with those who are systemically oppressed. 

Climate action and climate justice call us to mitigate (reduce) climate change, along with better adaptation (coping) and increasing resilience (ability to adapt) to increasingly disastrous climate impacts. It calls us to balance urgency with open minds and hearts to learn and collaborate with communities most impacted. The result will be a difficult but creative and exciting transition to a clean renewable world with opportunity, survivability and justice for all, now and for future generations. 

The 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit galvanized people of color who have led work addressing environmental and economic justice and health issues as basic civil and human rights as delineated by the Principles of Environmental Justice. The UN Sustainable Development Goals comprise a general framework, making clear that climate action is intersectional, addressing justice issues including poverty, hunger and inequality.

Many UUs are already leaders in the forefront of climate action. This 2020 edition of UUA Green Sanctuary (GS) calls for a much more widely shared level of UU congregational climate action and climate engagement, infused with spirit and passion to join others in climate action and justice. GS provides a path that offers the gift of transformation to congregations. It begins with spiritually grounded depth and moves the whole congregation through a continuous spiral of awareness and commitment, resulting in transformed congregational life and courageous, ongoing climate action. 

With optimism to move forward, courage to confront obstacles, and persistence to address the present and increasing impacts of climate change, we UU’s can faithfully respond to the urgency of this moment and live our values.

Vision

A world that is sustainable and just for humanity and for the whole of the web of life, including present and future generations.

  • Outcome

A Unitarian Universalist culture that is characterized by bold, collaborative, urgent, effective, action to mitigate the climate crisis, build resilience and adaption to climate change, and secure environmental and climate justice.

Mission

Green Sanctuary provides structure, leadership and support, in broad collaboration, for the UU faith community to engage in an ambitious environmental and climate justice movement that seeks to live fully our seventh and eighth principles and achieve our vision of a sustainable and just world for all. 

  • Outcome

UU congregations have the knowledge, resources, and support to engage in an ambitious climate-action and Environmental Justice /Climate Justice movements that seek to honor the interconnected web of life and achieve our vision of a viable and just world for all.

 

Overview of Green Sanctuary 2020

All congregations are invited to use this program whether or not they are interested in Green Sanctuary accreditation or reaccreditation. If accreditation or reaccreditation is desired, the congregation must document its assessment, action plans, and impacts of significantly increased participation for campaigns to meet the following three intersectional goals.

Mitigation

MITIGATION is action to reduce the causes of global warming. Mitigation is essential for climate justice and a livable future with fewer disastrous climate impacts. Mitigation to accomplish a livable and just world needs to reduce global net carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and to near zero by mid-century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Robust mitigation will reduce the risks of severe climate impacts and make possible a transition to a sustainable future for all. 

To meet this goal, after determining the baseline carbon footprint at the beginning of the Green Sanctuary process, the congregation must describe and implement a combination of strategies aiming toward or exceeding the IPCC targets of a 45% reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.    Congregations should determine the actions that will have the greatest impact - which will likely include a combination of the congregation, the wider community, state and/or the world.  Engagement in meaningful and ongoing civic action advocating mitigation is required.  Find examples of mitigation activities here.

Adaptation and Resilience

ADAPTATION AND RESILIENCE - Adaptation is the process of (a) reducing vulnerabilities to the harmful effects of climate change (b) making the most of potentially beneficial opportunities associated with positive responses to the crisis. Resilience is the capacity to maintain function in the face of external stresses created by the climate-change crisis.

  • Congregational Adaptation/Resilience   

To meet this goal, building upon the assessment of the congregation’s knowledge and commitment, the congregation must plan and implement an accumulation of actions and experiences that transform the culture of the congregation, creating a foundation for long-term response to climate crisis.  

  • Adaptation: similar to the aforementioned work in the community, congregations should address their own adaptation to increasingly severe climate conditions and weather events as applicable.  

  • Resilience: The plan should provide climate-focused educational and spiritual content to worship services, religious education and congregational life.  The intended impact is twofold: greater awareness of the climate-change realities we are facing and will continue to face, and the spiritual grounding in Unitarian Universalist values that is needed to inspire and sustain congregants to engage in the long haul of climate justice work.  

In addition to their congregational plan, Green Sanctuary candidates must choose one or both of the following systems as part of their Adaptation/Resilience campaign:

  • Natural Systems Adaptation/Resilience:  

Congregations identify a local or regional ecosystem endangered or impacted by existing and intensifying climate change.  After assessing the current status, the congregation initiates actions or collaborates with existing groups that seek to increase the ecosystem’s capacity to withstand climate change, and documents results.  

  • Human Systems Adaptation/Resilience:  

Congregations identify a local or regional human community endangered or impacted by existing and intensifying climate change.  After assessing the current status, the congregation initiates actions or collaborates with existing groups that seek to increase this community’s capacity to withstand climate change.  Examples of this would be addressing disaster preparedness and response and recovery.  If this work is done in collaboration with a front-line community, this could also count toward the justice goal, see below.  Congregations are encouraged to select actions that will enable them to submit measurable results in their application for accreditation.  

Justice

JUSTICEWorking in partnership with communities who experience and confront the reality that the greatest impacts of the climate crisis are disproportionately imposed on those (a) historically oppressed and least responsible for the crisis (b) with the fewest resources with which to face the crisis while already under environmental stresses, and (c) future generations. These communities are sometimes referred to as front-line, vulnerable or marginalized.

To meet this goal, congregations will deepen or expand an existing collaborative relationship or form a new partnership with a front-line community or front-line led organization that is battling the effects of climate change and the economic and political systems that sustain climate injustice.  In their application congregations describe the process of building and strengthening that relationship and identify the primary focus of the group.  Because the focus of this work must address the priority of the collaborating group, the project might be described as part of the campaigns that address mitigation or adaptation/resilience. Congregations will provide a statement of intended long-term impacts resulting from the partnership (including impact on the congregation) and they will describe the practical steps for action identified in collaboration with their partners.  When the plan has been implemented, congregations document actions taken and resulting actual impacts.  If it is not imposing on their time and/or capacity, partners from front-line groups and communities could be invited to provide feedback and assessments, if they wish. 

Introduction to the Green Sanctuary Program

Created in 1989, the Green Sanctuary program is a path for congregational study, reflection, and action in response to environmental challenges. It provides a structure for congregations to examine their current environmental impacts and move towards more sustainable practices grounded in Unitarian Universalism.

To date, 254 or 25% of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations have achieved Green Sanctuary accreditation, with another 70 in process. They support one another as they strive to embody environmentally just principles and improve the condition of our planet.

Each congregation performs a self-assessment, writes a plan, and completes several projects across four focus areas: Environmental Justice, Worship and Celebration, Religious Education, and Sustainable Living. The goal is to engage a two to three year process of bringing congregational culture into greater alignment with environmentally aware faith and practices. Green Sanctuary accreditation is a formal recognition of a congregation’s service and dedication to the Earth.

Get Started

Goals of the Green Sanctuary Program

More than a study curriculum, Green Sanctuary is a way for congregations to educate themselves on environmental issues and take part in transformational activities designed with several goals in mind. The Green Sanctuary Program seeks to:

  1. Deepen ties to UU faith and the seventh principle, bringing congregational culture into greater alignment with environmentally sustainable practices.
  2. Empower congregations, families, and individuals to embrace and integrate effective stewardship of the Earth into their daily lives.  
  3. Grow the environmental movement among people of faith by inviting congregations to support Commit2Respond, a UU-affiliated coalition addressing climate injustice through activism.

Why Become a Green Sanctuary

Our world is faced with enormous, overwhelming environmental challenges. Green Sanctuary offers a way to amplify the efforts of UU congregations to develop and achieve a healthier, more sustainable future.

The GS accreditation process empowers congregations by:

  • Calling us to simply to do our part through small steps carried out consistently, with faith in our power to make a difference. Religious leaders from most of the world’s faith traditions claim that our environmental crises may be the greatest moral challenge facing humankind in the 21st century.
  • Considering the long-term impact of our individual and communal practices and behavior. Green Sanctuary congregations learn how their choices can damage or enhance our environment, weaving related moral, emotional and spiritual issues into worship. This creates space to care for and help one another in challenging times.
  • Identifying as a faith community with a historic and deep commitment to justice that respects the interdependent web of all existence. We understand that caring for the Earth and all of its inhabitants is a critical ingredient in building true justice.  

Program Organization

In 2015, after recognizing the need to directly connect environmental sustainability with racial and economic justice, Green Sanctuary became part of the UUA’s Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group. Part-time staffing is supplemented with consultants and a large cadre of volunteers including an Advisory Group, Review Teams, and Coaches.

Green Sanctuary’s parent organization, UU Ministry for Earth, and participation in the Commit2Respond coalition provide environmental expertise and movement building capacity.

Program History

The Green Sanctuary program began as an outgrowth of the Seventh Principle Project, a UUA-affiliated environmental organization created in 1989. In 1991, the Seventh Principle Project published the first Green Sanctuary Handbook, introducing UU congregations to a process intended to integrate environmental consciousness into UU  faith communities.

Since then, the program has undergone six revisions, ensuring it remains relevant in supporting congregational responses to environmental and environmental justice issues. 

Green Sanctuary History and Acknowledgements

Program History

In 1989, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) created the Seventh Principle Project as an affiliated environmental organization. By 1991, they published the Green Sanctuary Handbook with the intent of integrating environmental consciousness and faith-based community, imagining a congregational life reflective of the seventh Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

In 1999, Fred Small—an early promoter of the Green Sanctuary concept—proposed a comprehensive Green Sanctuary program as his Harvard Divinity School thesis. Modeled after the very effective Welcoming Congregation process, Green Sanctuary invited congregations to engage in a series of actions to address environmental issues, resulting in congregational recognition or “accreditation”.

After a presentation at the 1999 General Assembly, a group of enthusiastic activists took on the challenge of translating Fred Small’s proposal into a functional program. Seventh Principle Project member David Cockrell convened a task force to add new material to the manual, and craft a step-by-step congregational process. Green Sanctuary’s second edition was ready for distribution in the fall of 2000. Mr. Cockrell called for a number of “Founders” congregations to pilot the program, resulting in five congregations completing the program in 2002, followed by three more in 2003.

The pilot illustrated Green Sanctuary’s potential, but it required more flexibility to be truly accessible to congregations of varying sizes, capabilities, geographic locations, and organizational cultures.

Green Sanctuary’s third edition (2003) invited congregations to create their own activities and projects, encompassing all aspects of congregational life. By 2005, when the Seventh Principle Project became the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), there were thirty-one accredited Green Sanctuary congregations.

Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations began to devote more attention to environmental issues around 2006, culminating in a two-year period of study and action on the issue of global warming. Delegates to the 2006 General Assembly campaigned for and voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Statement of Conscience on the Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change—arguably the clearest and strongest statement by a religious institution to date. This was a grassroots effort, closely tied to many congregations’ Green Sanctuary work.

At that same General Assembly, a record nineteen Green Sanctuary congregations were recognized, bringing the grand total to fifty. For the first time, certificates were presented in a public ceremony on the plenary stage, dramatically increasing the program’s visibility.

UUMFE published the manual’s fourth edition in the fall of 2007, while over 125 Unitarian Universalist congregations were formally enrolled in the Green Sanctuary program. The new version provided detailed information about managing the process, creating a comprehensive action plan, and renewing accreditation status.

By 2008, the Green Sanctuary program had become so successful that UUMFE staff had difficulty keeping up with demand. In July of that year, the UUMFE handed responsibility for the Green Sanctuary program to the UUA’s  Stewardship and Development Office.

Supported by the resources of the larger organization, Green Sanctuary continues to thrive. In the summer of 2009, there were 98 accredited Green Sanctuary congregations and 116 in candidacy—representing over 20 percent of UUA congregations.

In 2012, Green Sanctuary underwent a series of reviews to assess the evolution of congregational environmental justice work, and the potential for coordination with UUA staff and related environmental justice organizations. At the same time, UUMFE launched an investigation of "The Theology and Ethics of Environmental Justice" with Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry, sponsored by funding from the UU Funding Program. By now, there were 194 accredited Green Sanctuaries and three re-accredited.

The possibility for greater collaboration between UUA leadership and UU organizations focused on environmental and social justice occurred in 2013, when Green Sanctuary became part of the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group. In the same year, a Green Sanctuary Manual revision incorporated environmental justice, experimenting with ways to encourage and support congregations in an intersectional approach to addressing environmental issues.  

Acknowledgements

The 2009 Green Sanctuary manual was adapted from the UUMFE publication Green Sanctuary: Congregations Working Together To Restore Earth and Renew Spirit, Fourth Edition (October 2007) by Rev. Katherine Jesch, Director of Environmental Ministry. The Green Sanctuary Program was originally nurtured and managed by the UUMFE, and we are grateful for their shepherding of the program.

2013 edits were made in consultation with Pamela Sparr under the management of Rev. Karen Brammer, and the administrative support of Brent Jurgess. Input for the resulting web-based manual came from the Green Sanctuary Review Team, UU Ministry for Earth and the Theology and Ethics of Environmental Justice Task Force (supported by the Unitarian Universalist Funding Panel), UUA Multicultural Ministry staff member Jessica Halperin, past Executive Director of UU Legislative Ministries in CA, Lindi Gifford, and many others. With deep thanks.

Thanks to Rev. Robert F. Murphy for his contributions on the history of the Green Sanctuary Program and the Environmental Justice Movement.

Thanks to past and present Green Sanctuary Review Team members: Happy Bradford, Gene Burr, Cathy Cramer, Dotti Doyle, Bill Fischer, Stan Grant, Rev. Katherine Jesch, Peg MacMorris, Dave Segel, and Frank Silovsky for their commitment to the Green Sanctuary Program and their consistently helpful guidance, Michael Akillian and Suzi Novak.

Thanks to the many UU congregations whose stories, photos, and examples appeared throughout the previous paper manuals. And a special thanks to the congregations whose sample applications appeared in the indexes.

Thanks to Jesse Holm, UUA Congregational Stewardship Services Administrator, for her thoughtful review and comments.

Thanks to Robin Nelson, UUA Congregational Stewardship Services Program Manager, for her research on UU congregational participation in the Green Sanctuary Program, and her assistance with the publication of this guide.

A special thanks to Kathy Carter, Professional Freelance Editing, for her thoughtful and diligent reorganization, rewriting, and editing of this newest version of the Green Sanctuary Manual (2017).

Becoming an Accredited Green Sanctuary

Green Sanctuary (GS) is a unique opportunity for deep congregational growth and transformation through a commitment to make every aspect of congregational life as sustainable and environmentally responsible as possible. This comprehensive program educates congregations about their environmental impact as institutions and individuals. Action plans seek to increase building sustainability, improve congregational practices, and create relationships within the wider community.

Please join createclimatejustice.net to step into the growing community of congregational leaders using Green Sanctuary to support environmental and climate justice work in their congregations.

Congregations seeking Green Sanctuary accreditation will educate themselves and create projects in four focus areas:

  • Environmental Justice
    Environmental Justice acknowledges that marginalized communities are often hit first and hardest by environmental crisis. Congregations shift from providing charity to working in solidarity with communities most affected by climate change.   
  • Worship and Celebration 
    As we work together towards a cleaner, more just and sustainable world, worship enables us to stay connected to each other and to celebrate the work we have accomplished.
  • Religious Education 
    Religious Education shapes more than minds. It shapes the attitudes and practices of children, families and the entire adult congregation while inspiring us to keep working toward our goal of sustainable practices.
  • Sustainable Living 
    Sustainable living requires us to treat the world more gently by using fewer resources and being mindful of the choices we make.   

Congregations follow a customized, five-stage process towards accreditation:

Stage

What’s Involved

Approximate Time Frame / Description

Possible Costs

Exploration

Learning Green Sanctuary program requirements, review of application process and available resources (including the GS website).

Participation in an introductory conference call.

1 -2 weeks

 

Stage 1: Team Building and Congregational Education

Team immersion.

Establishing a Green Team to manage the GS process.

Congregational education, getting congregational leaders on board.

2-4 months

 

Stage 2: Congregational Assessment

Assess congregational energy and water use, waste disposal, food choices, purchasing  and other practices.

Collect data and present it to the congregation.

2-4 months

Professional energy audit

Purchasing “Our Place in the Web of Life” curriculum

Stage 3: Creating an Action Plan

Choosing and creating project plans in the four focus areas based on data from the assessments.

Creating a communications plan to inform the congregation about all GS work.

2-4 months

Will depend on frequency of Green Team meetings  and congregational dynamics. Best to include input from the congregation.

 

Stage 4: Applying to be a GS Candidate 

Preparing and submitting application.

Receive feedback, modify plan.

10 – 20 hours

Review team will offer feedback within two weeks.  

$100 Application Fee

Stage 5: Gaining GS Accreditation

Carrying out the action plan

Applying for Accreditation status

1 – 3 years

Major transitions or congregational crises can lengthen this timeframe. It may also take time to develop partnerships in the community.

 

Stage 1: Team Building and Congregational Education

Your congregation may express its desire to become a Green Sanctuary in a variety of ways. Usually, a small group of congregants immediately sees the connection between the program and the core values of Unitarian Universalism. They find out how the program works, and start organizing.

These first steps are very important. It’s true that Green Sanctuary work has the potential to be transformational, but success depends on everyone knowing about and supporting the process. Problems develop when a committed group of people gets too invested in the program, and gets too far ahead of everyone else.

The goals in this stage are:

  • Learning about the Green Sanctuary process and determining if it is a good fit for your congregation.
  • Establishing a team that will lead the work, inviting others to participate along the way.
  • Educating the entire congregation so everyone is aware of your faith community’s commitment.

This section details action stepsreflectionsresources, and a checklist.

Stage 1 Action Steps: Building A Team and Educating the Congregation about Green Sanctuary

In this stage, you’ll (1) create a Green Sanctuary team and charter, and (2) educate and engage your congregation around the Green Sanctuary process.

Developing a Green Team and Charter  

Sometimes the Green Sanctuary Team forms first, then educates the Board and the congregation; other times an exploratory group brings the program to the Board, and the Board charters a Green Team. The team’s formation should reflect how your congregation does its best work.  

The team could be an Executive Team that coordinates the work of many sub-groups; a committee comprised of the chair of every other committee; or a team of two or three Board-approved people charged with coordinating congregational activities and the application process. The size of the Green Sanctuary team will depend on the process or governance that works best in your congregation.

The purpose of this team is to manage the entire process and ensure the required steps are completed. The Green Sanctuary team could be called a committee, ministry, or whatever term is customary in your congregation.

  • Roles: The entire congregation is responsible for completing the Green Sanctuary projects. The team leads the effort by conducting assessments (or charging committees with specific aspects of assessment), planning projects, providing resources and logistical support, communicating with other leaders and staff, and preparing required documentation. The team’s key role is to act as environmental cheerleaders, encouraging participation.
  • Selecting Team Members: It’s not enough for the Board to assume the team will consist solely of the people who suggested earning Green Sanctuary accreditation. Although most or all of them may want to participate, additional team members may be needed.
  • Varied Expertise: Identify a variety of talent and expertise from within the congregation to perform various tasks: communication, worship and celebration, sustainability expertise, social justice expertise, etc. When it’s time to design specific projects, seek input outside your team, and recruit additional expertise.
  • The Charter: Usually, the authority granted by the Board to the Green Sanctuary team comes in the form of a charter stating the team’s purpose and some rules of operation (for example: “...organizing and facilitating the Green Sanctuary process.”). 

Educating the Congregation

Present to the Board: Typically, the initial organizers make a presentation to the congregation’s Board of Trustees (or other governing body) explaining what the Green Sanctuary program is, and its benefit to the congregation. If the board members agree the idea has merit, they authorize the group to start a Green Sanctuary program.

If your congregation is operates under Policy Governance, the direction for this work will come in partnership with the Executive staff team (Minister, Justice Minister, Religious Education [RE] Director, etc.). Find suggestions about this here.

Introduce Green Sanctuary to the Congregation

At this point, only a small number of people are aware the Green Sanctuary program’s started. However, the process cannot be successful or meaningful without the participation of the entire congregation.

  • Objectives: In the beginning, the team’s objectives are to raise awareness of the program, generate support and enthusiasm, and inspire commitment and active participation.

    Generally, the congregation is asked to formally approve Green Sanctuary participation at a later stage. In some cases, the Board or congregation may call a congregational vote at the start of the process. If this happens, it is still the team’s first task to build awareness and support before asking for approval.

    It can be particularly helpful if the team brainstorms with the congregation after sharing some of the information they have gathered.
  • Methods: Every congregation has their own style of engaging congregants in important issues or programs.
  • Worship: Many choose to introduce Green Sanctuary during a Sunday worship service, since that is the best opportunity to reach the majority of congregants. Ideas on how to introduce Green Sanctuary during worship are listed here.
  • Coffee hour: Staffing a Green Sanctuary table at coffee hour is another way to get the word out, and facilitate participation in assessments and action plan activities.  
  • Communications: Throughout the process, make use of all effective communications: announcements, newsletters, the congregation’s website, committee presentations, and so on.

Stage 1 Reflection: On Team Building and Congregational Education

Joanna Macy, the eco-philosopher and author, reminds us, “The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others—other people, other species, and other resources—for our own gain. To heal any aspect of our separateness helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that.”

Building Motivation for Change  

  • Recognize that this is hard: The Green Sanctuary program invites us to reexamine some of the basic premises and actions of our lives. If you’ve ever tried to change a longtime habit, you know how challenging that can be. Now imagine asking your entire congregation to change many habits, collectively and individually. That’s a tall order, but not an impossible one—as accredited congregations can tell you. An openness and desire to change is central to engagement in the Green Sanctuary program. The entire community needs to develop an understanding of the need for change and be willing to do whatever is required.
  • Clarify the connection to our Seventh Principle: For many of us, the motivation to change comes when we recognize that our old ways are morally or ethically unacceptable. Throughout the Green Sanctuary program, encourage discussion of how issues and projects relate to personal moral values and the seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.
  • Connect with existing UU efforts
  • Tap local expertise and passion: As you plan and carry out your Green Sanctuary program, look for opportunities to engage people on a personal level. If there are environmental activists in your congregation, find out what causes they are passionate about and why. Ask them to share a presentation or newsletter article, including concrete examples of how human and nonhuman species are affected.
  • Make it personal: We are unlikely to change our habits unless we feel a strong, personal motivation to do so. Although facts and figures about environmental issues have their place, they are not always successful in stirring us to action. It’s when we see environmental damage for ourselves, or hear the stories of affected communities that we more deeply understand the concerns.  Incorporate direct experience whenever possible. For example, if a local creek bed has become a dumping ground for trash, arrange a visit. Have someone take photos to share with the rest of the congregation.  Find ideas for bringing direct experience of environmental issues to your congregation here.
  • Use a variety of educational resources: Direct experience can move us to action when intellectualizing fails. When direct experience is impractical, look for other ways to make the issues real. Reading and discussing an article about the cruelty of animal feedlots may motivate some to seek alternative meat sources, or give up meat altogether. Seeing a documentary about the impact of global warming on Native villages in Alaska might be the impetus to step up activism for greenhouse gas regulation.  Find films and books on environmental issues here.
  • Gather and share information: No matter how motivated we are to solve a problem, determining the best course of action can be confusing. Educational programs about environmental issues can have a major impact, encouraging people to act on their new understanding and awareness. Forums and presentations by experts, book discussion groups, and collaborative research can help your congregation understand the problems and develop possible solutions. Articles, books, films, and websites translate scientific findings into clear, plain language.  Find resources on environmental issues here.
  • Create a vision: To increase motivation, create a vision for your Green Sanctuary efforts. Help your congregation vividly imagine the results of the work you’re doing together. How will it feel when you’ve earned your accreditation? What will it be like to live as a Green Sanctuary? Try creating a “vision board” using pictures and words to portray the future you imagine. You might do this for the Green Sanctuary process as a whole, for each planned project, or both. Having a tangible reminder of your shared vision is especially helpful at the halfway point, when the initial enthusiasm has worn off and the end is not yet in sight. Get motivated with these testimonials from Green Sanctuary congregations!
  • Emphasize the Positive: Like everyone else, Unitarian Universalists are reluctant to sacrifice, and the environmental movement can demand that we give up some of the things we enjoy most. Reframing lifestyle changes in terms of what is gained can increase motivation. Changes in congregational activities and structures may seem insurmountable if you start with, “How much will it cost to make the change?” As you plan and promote Green Sanctuary activities, try to frame the discussion in a more positive way, for example: “How can we live our faith in a way that’s best for the Earth as well as our community?” The answer to this second question rests at the heart of the journey to becoming a Green Sanctuary.

Operating as a Team

  • Perseverance is necessary: In some congregations, enthusiasm about Green Sanctuary is high from the very beginning. In others, people may need more convincing. Don’t be too discouraged if the congregation seems skeptical or indifferent at first. If your team recognizes the challenge, acknowledges that you may meet resistance along the way, and consciously works to build motivation, your congregation will be more likely to successfully complete the program. Usually, enthusiasm and commitment build as people learn more about the program and see how environmental concerns relate to their faith.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect: After gathering information, we are still challenged to find the right response. Environmental issues are complex; despite our wishes, there is no universal answer for the challenges we face. In almost every case, a response in one direction will result in some unintended impact in another direction. Scientists are still investigating many issues, and people may disagree about the correct course of action.
  • Take the plunge: As you go through the process, it’s tempting to postpone actions as you debate the issues. But  allowing ourselves to become paralyzed with uncertainty will not save the planet! In fact, delaying action can drain enthusiasm and cause the entire process to lose momentum. Remember: although “you can’t do everything, you can do something.”
  • Be flexible: Once you have chosen a course of action, be committed, but flexible. If new information suggests a different course of action, or if a project seems ineffective, be willing to adjust your plans. The Green Sanctuary Review Team understands congregational life: they know things change, and mainly want to know how you handled and what you learned from those changes.
  • Set realistic goals and celebrate successes, especially if they can be expressed visually. Keep in mind that changes need to be relatively low in cost and high in convenience for most people to be willing to go along with them. A campaign encouraging people to become vegetarians overnight is likely to be unsuccessful. Inviting people to choose a vegetarian menu at one additional meal per week—if they can—is more feasible.

Even then, it would be unrealistic to expect total participation. The choices we make depend on personal values, experiences, family situations, health, and economic circumstances, among other factors. Show appreciation for those who adopt lifestyle changes, but be careful not to pressure, chastise, or embarrass those who do not.

  • Respect differences. Find opportunities for openness and collaboration. In the midst of your Green Sanctuary work, take time for discussion and reflection. It is easy for passionate people to get too far ahead of the congregation, creating resentment. Be generous with each other. Don’t expect complete agreement. Different individuals and groups—within and outside of your congregation—may view the natural world in different ways and use unfamiliar language to talk about it. For example, some individuals honor “the Creator” or “the Goddess,” while others are uneasy with these terms. Respect cultural and religious diversity while searching for common ground.
  • Support one another—in your team, in your congregation. Make sure you celebrate! Making individual lifestyle changes without the support of others can be nearly impossible. Most of us find change easier when we have the support of family, friends, community, and spiritual practice.

As leaders of this effort, you are encouraged to engage a sounding board outside the congregation. This could be the Green Sanctuary Manager, an accredited congregation, or your coach (if you have one).

Part of the Green Sanctuary process involves integrating environmental themes into your worship services, celebrations, lifespan religious education, and social justice programming. As you work on the other action plan projects, these programs become a source of support by fostering a sense of community and spirituality.

Support also comes through the strength of acting together. In the Green Sanctuary program, individual actions accumulate to create a larger impact than each person could by acting alone. Together you can see the difference, and together you can reinforce one another’s commitments.

Throughout the process, look for ways to support each other. For example, if shifting away from a materialistic lifestyle seems daunting to many in your congregation, you may want to initiate “simplicity circles”: small groups that provide reinforcement and affirmation for adopting a lifestyle that is healthier for the planet.

Stage 1 Resources: Team Building and Congregational Education

  • The UUA conducts monthly conference calls to review the Green Sanctuary program and answer questions. To participate in an upcoming call, contact uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.
  • Trained volunteer coaches support congregational leadership. If you have decided to work towards Green Sanctuary accreditation and would like a coach, contact us at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.
  • Review the list of accredited congregations and consider contacting them to learn from their experience.
  • Review videos and other Green Sanctuary resources.

Stage 1: Checklist for Team Building and Congregational Education

This checklist is a helpful way to ensure you have completed the steps that build success in subsequent stages, and serves as a good reference for your candidacy application.

Use short phrases, bullets, and references to other documents (full sentences aren’t necessary).

STEP
Briefly state type of activity

HOW YOU CAN TRACK OR MEASURE IMPACT OF  THIS STEP
Some of this may be numbers, but also stories about people’s energy, particular responses, etc.

DATE ACCOMPLISHED OR LAUNCHED

Learn
How does learning happen? Is it ongoing?

   

Build Team
Who? Sense of energy level...

   

Educate Leadership
Reports, Presentations, Worship, RE, Group Conversations...

   

Educate Congregation
Newsletter, Presentations, Worship, RE, Group Conversations...

   

Stage 2: Congregational Assessment

Your first major Green Sanctuary activity will be a comprehensive environmental assessment: a snapshot of your congregation’s current positions on environmental programs and practices. You will review everything from building and grounds management, to worship elements and the content of your educational programs. You will also examine consumption patterns, spending habits, and social activities.

A summary of your environmental assessment is required to become a Green Sanctuary candidate, is valuable regardless. Acknowledging what the congregation does well provides a psychological boost. The assessment will also identify gaps, problem areas, and opportunities for improvement. With this information, you can develop a list of recommendations and opportunities that will strengthen operations and insure long-term sustainability. You will put your passion for justice to work by identifying opportunities to deepen your relationship with the Earth, and healing environmental damage to human and nonhuman communities.

The assessment helps to develop the substance of your Green Sanctuary action plan. As you carry out the plan, the assessment becomes a baseline that allows you to visibly measure your progress.

Your Green Sanctuary candidacy application will include a summary of the key findings of your environmental assessment. You are encouraged to keep the detailed findings as a permanent part of your files. Periodically updating the assessment can help you track changes and evaluate future actions.

This stage has two main goals, with an optional third:

This section describes action stepsreflections, and available resources for this stage.

Stage 2 Action Steps: Conducting a Congregational Assessment

This stage has two main goals:

  • To conduct a professional energy audit of your facilities, and
  • To perform a congregational assessment, gathering information about your congregation’s practices and programs.

Your congregation may also choose to incorporate a personal assessment: an optional survey of the individuals in your congregation to assess attitudes and habits related to environmental issues.  

Conducting a Congregational Assessment

In the second component of the environmental assessment, your team reviews congregational programs and practices in each Green Sanctuary focus area: Worship and Celebration, Religious Education, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Living.

Assigned team members will investigate which issues, practices, and policies need evaluation.

Methods for Gathering Data

  • Document review. This could include bylaws, board minutes, and/or policy directives. Newsletters and annual reports can provide basic information about congregational programs.
  • Interviews and reports. Contact staff members, committee chairs, and other leaders for details about programs and practices. (Suggested questions are provided later in this section.)
  • Direct observation. Take a walk around the building. Are lights usually turned off when not in use? Are people using the recycling bins?

Assign data-gathering tasks based on team members’ skills and perspectives. Someone methodical and analytical might prefer reviewing documents, while tact and communication skills are important when conducting interviews.

The actual assessment process will vary considerably across congregations. Some have well-documented procedures, neatly filed records, and a clear structure of committee responsibilities. Other teams may have to dig through records in storage boxes, or try to find the name of the committee member in charge of a relevant, but years-old project. If you encounter these challenges, find out as much as you can. When information is unavailable, look at it as an opportunity to start fresh by identifying new policies or practices.

“How far back should we look?” is a frequent question. If a practice has been in place for two or three years, it’s safe to say it’s ongoing. If a major event happened four or five years ago (moving to a new building, the arrival of a new minister with very different views on the environment), you might want to include an explanation in your assessment.

Stage 2 Action Steps: Conducting Personal Assessments

Personal assessments are individual surveys that ask about ongoing, environmentally friendly practices and habits. This is an optional step, but can be meaningful.  

Learning which positive environmental actions congregants are already taking can provide reasons to celebrate, and give you hope for the future. Understanding congregants’ interests may suggest projects to include in your action plan. Just taking the survey often raises awareness, motivating respondents to take action. Having people retake the survey after completing your action plan can measure the impact of Green Sanctuary participation.

Most surveys focus on energy and water usage, recycling, food choices, and other elements of sustainability. Some also try to gauge respondents’ knowledge about environmental issues, involvement in environmental action, and interest or willingness to participate in specific activities.

Whether you design your own survey, or adapt one from another source, following these guidelines can help increase participation:

  • Keep it simple. A complicated survey that takes too long to complete probably won’t get a good response.
  • Focus on the positive. Avoid making people feel guilty. Instead of asking about wasteful habits, ask whether people take specific steps to conserve resources.
  • Consider an online survey tool. Web-based services like SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, SurveyGizmo, and PollDaddy let you collect data over the Internet. Most offer a free, basic version, as well as paid packages with additional features.

Stage 2 Action Steps: Professional Energy Audit

A professional energy audit is an important part of your environmental assessment, and the only element that requires technical expertise.

An energy audit is a professional examination of a building with respect to energy efficiency. Considerations include:

  • Efficiency of the heating / cooling (HVAC) and plumbing systems
  • Heat loss potential (insulation and windows)
  • Systems management (use of programmable thermostats)
  • Lighting fixtures (exit signs, light bulbs, motion sensors)
  • Appliance energy efficiency ratings

Based on this information, the auditor calculates current energy usage and recommends high, medium, or low priority improvements depending on estimated energy savings, required investment, and the speed of return on said investment. Auditors often provide information about potential rebates for said improvements.

Cost of the Audit

Unless your congregation is fortunate enough to have a willing volunteer with the expertise to conduct an audit, you will need to contract for it. Many states provide resources for low-cost, subsidized, or free audits. Some contractors that install heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems conduct audits and arrange a payment plan using  savings gained from implementing the recommendations. If your state has an Interfaith Power and Light program, it may be able to provide an energy audit or recommend a contractor. Research all your options before making a decision.

Whether or not you qualify for a low-cost or free audit, the return on your investment usually makes the process worthwhile. The higher your current energy costs, the shorter the payback period once you implement the recommendations.

Special Situations

There are a few situations where an energy audit is impractical or unnecessary. If this is the case, include an explanation in your application.

  • Recent Audit. If you completed a professional energy audit within the last three years, you do not need to repeat the process at this time. Your application should Include the audit summary and recommendations, along with a brief report on steps taken towards implementation.
  • New Building. If your building is five years old or newer and designed with energy conservation in mind, an audit probably isn’t necessary. Documentation of your building design and a review of energy use for the last two years may be sufficient, unless you discover anomalies that concern you.  
  • Low-Use Building. If you own your building but only use it once or twice a week, major capital investments are unlikely to be cost effective. Rather than paying for a complete audit, look for low-cost improvements that can save energy, such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs or adding weather stripping.
  • Rented or Leased Space. If you rent or lease space, it may not be possible to conduct an independent energy audit. Contact the building’s owner to work out a solution. You might offer to find a low-cost resource, share the cost of the audit, or implement one or more recommendations at your own expense if the owner pays for the audit.

NOTE: If you don’t conduct an energy audit, or the audit shows that major changes are unnecessary, you can still include an energy conservation project in your action plan.

Stage 2 Reflection: On Congregational Assessments

Here are some things to consider as you move through your Congregational Assessment.

Courtesy with Staff and Contractors

  • Large congregations can have several staff members who need to be involved in the assessment process. Some may be entirely supportive of Green Sanctuary goals, while others may not see why you consider the project so important. A larger congregation may also engage contractors for janitorial or landscaping services. These employees may or may not be willing to spend time with you explaining how they go about their work.
  • Board commitment to the Green Sanctuary program will help reinforce requests for information from staff or contractors. However, these individuals have other responsibilities. Your timetable is not their top priority, and they may see your requests as an interference. Always express your respect and appreciation for their contribution. It’s important to maintain positive relationships, especially since you may need these individuals’ cooperation later on.

Appreciative Inquiry

Developed by David Cooperrider in the mid-1980s, appreciative inquiry is a fundamental shift from the usual approach to implementing organizational improvements.

It starts with the premise that positive change springs from asking positive questions: When have we been at our best? What are we doing well right now? What do we want more of in the future? Reflecting on these questions can inspire organizations to new levels of excellence.

Assessing congregational practices can bring up many feelings on the part of the staff and the congregation, especially since most of us have been conditioned to focus on solving problems  (“What went wrong? How can we fix it?”). Appreciative inquiry encourages us to build on our successes.

In conducting your assessment, look for opportunities to use this technique. In addition to researching congregational facts and figures, ask people to talk about successful programs and practices. For example: if you’re interviewing a congregant about a recent social action project, you might ask:

  • What was the high point of this experience?
  • As a community, how did we express our best selves during the course of this project?
  • What aspects of this experience might we want to emulate in future projects?

A focus on appreciative inquiry can infuse the congregation with positive energy that ripples beyond the Green Sanctuary process.

Stage 2 Resources: Congregational Assessment

Stage 3: Creating an Action Plan

The Green Sanctuary Action Plan is the compilation of twelve or more projects that will guide your congregation’s completion of the accreditation requirements.

Focus Area

Number of Projects

Additional Requirements

Environmental Justice

At least 1

See environmental justice checklist

Worship and Celebration

At least 3

At least one longer-term/ongoing

At least one related to environmental justice

Religious Education

At least 3

Two for different age groups within your congregation.

Can be multigenerational.

At least one related to environmental justice.

Sustainable Living

At least 4

At least one related to climate change.

At least one related to environmental justice.

The ideal action plan is a series of actions that will move your congregational culture towards a deeper environmental awareness grounded in UU values, sustainability, and justice. It’s also a a road map to help you strategize and check the logistics of your program elements.

If you find that some elements are no longer appropriate, simply adjust the plan as needed.

If you make a significant revision and are not sure whether the plan still meets the program requirements, contact the Green Sanctuary Manager at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.

This section includes reflections and available resources for this stage. 

Stage 3 Reflection: On Creating an Action Plan

Developing your action plan can be a rewarding activity. It provides focus and purpose, inspiring you to envision what your congregation can achieve by living Unitarian Universalist Principles in the pursuit of a better world. Take your time, and enjoy this opportunity to reflect on your goals.

Before deciding which projects to pursue, identify who will lead each one. If you cannot find at least one or two volunteers willing to coordinate a project, consider an alternative that generates more enthusiasm and/or is more feasible.

When your team is satisfied with your chosen projects, you’re ready to document your plan and prepare your formal application to become a Green Sanctuary candidate.

Stage 3 Resources: Creating an Action Plan

Demonstrating Our Values through Eating

A Unitarian Universalist food education curriculum designed for adults, young adults, and mature youth.

Learn More

  • The UUA’s Multicultural Growth and Witness (MGW) Staff Group: Building partnerships across cultural boundaries can be exhilarating and challenging. The UUA’s Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group equips Unitarian Universalist congregations and community leaders to minister effectively in our multicultural world. If your team is interested in building congregational capacity in this area, contact socialjustice@uua.org.  
  • UUA District and Regional Staff: Get in touch with your GS coach or the GS office to find out if there is a UUA staff member doing social or environmental justice work aligned with your project.
  • UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ): 
UUCSJ organizes powerful experiences of learning and action for social justice. Some offerings may fulfill your environmental justice requirements. If you have questions, contact the Green Sanctuary office at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org
  • UU Service Committee (UUSC): The UUSC advances human rights through grassroots collaboration. In 15 countries throughout the world, UUSC fosters social justice and works toward a world free from oppression. Your congregational environmental justice work could establish powerful partnerships through one of UUSC’s projects. If you have questions, contact the Green Sanctuary office at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.
  • UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE): UUMFE’s web site houses resources to plan and implement every aspect of your Green Sanctuary plan: worship, children’s religious education, action and advocacy, sustainability, and Earth Day activities. We highly recommend the UUMFE Environmental Justice Curriculum "Our Place in the Web of Life" as an introduction to environmental justice, and a means to assess your congregation’s environmental impact. Curriculum cost depends on the size of your congregation.
  • UU Young Adult Climate Justice Network
: Young adults are taking on some of the most radical direct action to resist climate change and frequently have a better understanding of how to do intersectional environmental justice work. To tap into current young adult activities or for advice about successful young adult outreach, get in touch with the Young Adult Network coordinator. This position supports a young adult network engaged in UU-principled climate activism. 
  • Coalition of Unitarian Universalist State Action Networks: CUUSAN, the Coalition of Unitarian Universalist State Action Networks, is a central meeting place for existing UU State Action Networks (SANs) and newly forming SANs. Some UU State Networks—like the UU Justice Ministry of California—maintain environmental justice task forces. You can find other networks here.

Stage 4: Applying to be a Green Sanctuary Congregation

Logo for Green Sanctuary Congregations

Once you have formed a Green Sanctuary team, engaged your congregation, completed the assessments, and developed an action plan for your projects, you are ready to become a Green Sanctuary candidate.

Bringing your congregation to this stage illustrates your commitment to implementing your Green Sanctuary program, including support from key people. Both elements are critical to your success.

The application includes:

  • Congregational Information and Profile
  • Action Plan
  • Communications Plan

This section of the website includes action steps and reflections on applying to be a Green Sanctuary candidate.

Stage 4 Action Steps: Applying to be a Green Sanctuary Congregation

Green Sanctuary knock out logo

Preparing Your Application

The Green Sanctuary candidate application consists of three parts:

  • Congregation Information and Profile: basic information about your congregation.
  • Your Proposed Action Plan: a brief description of each project in your action plan.
  • Your Proposed Communications Plan: how you plan to engage your congregation and the wider community in your Green Sanctuary efforts.

Download:

If you cannot submit the form electronically, contact the Green Sanctuary Manager for alternate mailing instructions.

Questions? Contact the Green Sanctuary Manager at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.

Submitting Your Application

Before submitting the completed application, some teams ask their congregation to vote to apply for candidacy. This is not required, but it can be a way of gauging a congregation’s commitment and solidifying support. There is some risk in asking the congregation to vote at this stage, since a negative vote or a very weak positive vote can reflect hesitancy about the program or resistance to making a strong commitment. Anticipate the likely outcome and strategize accordingly. (Note: a vote is required before applying for final accreditation, after completion of the action plan.)

If you choose to ask for a vote before applying for candidacy, it’s a good idea to use general wording in the motion. You may need to adjust your plans as you move through the program, so less restrictive language leaves your options open.

Application Fees

Each congregation is asked to pay a one-time application fee of $100. Instructions for submitting the fee are on the application form.

Stage 4 Reflection: On Applying to Become a Green Sanctuary Congregation

After you submit your application:

  1. Submitted candidacy applications go to a Green Sanctuary Review Team. These review teams consist of volunteer congregational leaders who have completed the Green Sanctuary process.
  2. After the review meeting, the program manager will contact you with feedback about your action plan.
  3. Based on this feedback and any changing circumstances in your congregation, you may modify your action plan.

You are free to make changes to your plan at any point in the process. There is no need to submit ongoing revisions unless you have a question about meeting the program requirements.

Stage 5: Gaining Green Sanctuary Recognition

UUA and Green Sanctuary logo lockup

Carrying Out Your Action Plan

Allow one to three years to complete the projects in your action plan. It takes at least a year for everyone to get on board with the program. It may take a year to develop collaborative relationships and make positive change on an environmental justice issue. Another year can involve establishing changes in congregational practice, and individual congregants integrating the associated learnings and commitments.

As you carry out the plan, major changes in the life of the congregation like losing a minister or long-term leader or having to move to a different site for worship can derail the Green Sanctuary process. If this happens, contact the Green Sanctuary Manager or your coach for support.

When you have completed your action plan, a special celebration is in order! After that, you will prepare for accreditation.

Maintaining Energy and Motivation

Some may approach this work as another task, making it difficult to stay interested and engaged. Others may see it as an urgent mission to save the world, a view likely to be overwhelming. As you implement your action plan, try to balance both perspectives. Staying task-oriented keeps you organized and gives you milestones to celebrate; a sense of mission inspires you to stretch beyond your comfort level and reach for a higher goal.

One of the best ways to maintain energy and enthusiasm during your Green Sanctuary journey is to recognize that each completed project is a milestone. Celebrate your success!

Documenting and Reporting Progress

Once a year, candidates submit a brief report detailing recent accomplishments and general progress, requesting assistance as needed. This annual report will contain photographs and other documentation necessary for your accreditation application.

If a newsletter is part of your communications plan, consider using it as a basis for record-keeping. Add metrics or stories to explain where you began, detail your congregation’s actions, and note the program’s overall impact.

Specifically for the environmental justice work, a tracking tool is available as a shorthand way to record what you do over time. You will need to add more details to this tracking tool to create a complete enough picture for the review team, but it can provide a good scaffold.

The Application Process

Preparing to Apply

If you asked individuals to fill out a survey as part of your environmental assessment, consider repeating the survey after completing your action plan. Comparing the “before” and “after” responses will track changes in awareness, action, and long-term commitment. Summarize your work in a final report and present it to the congregation.  

Applying for accreditation must go to a congregational vote. The wording of the motion or resolution can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Ideally, it will express an explicit commitment to live by your Green Sanctuary values, including continuing to make environmentally appropriate choices in all actions and decisions. You might choose to craft a covenant for your vote, giving added weight to your commitment.

Applying for Accreditation

The application for Green Sanctuary accreditation is available as a Microsoft Word file. Note that some sections are similar to the candidacy application.

  • Congregation Information  
  • Congregation Profile  
  • Congregational Vote: Provide documentation of your congregation’s vote, including a copy of the statement, resolution, or covenant.  
  • Completion of Action Plan: Revise project descriptions to reflect actions taken, and update timelines as needed. Describe project outcomes. Be sure each project is clearly explained, since the accreditation review team may not be the same group that reviewed your candidacy application. 
  • Accomplishment of Program Goals: The Green Sanctuary goals are listed on the application form. Write one to three paragraphs for each goal, noting the degree to which your congregation has achieved it. 
  • Program Evaluation: Evaluate the effect of the Green Sanctuary program.

The program evaluation helps the UUA’s Stewardship and Development Office determine whether the Green Sanctuary program effectively meets the program goals. It can also suggest new directions for living out your commitments after you receive accreditation.

Answer the following questions in one to three paragraphs:

  • What has been Green Sanctuary’s most important benefit to your congregation? 
  • What has been the most difficult or challenging aspect of the program? 
  • Have you observed positive changes in your congregation’s culture? If so, what are they? 
  • What are your intentions/aspirations for continuing to live out your Green Sanctuary commitments? 
  • What role do you expect your congregation to take in the wider community, relative to environmental issues? How do you feel recognition as a Green Sanctuary affects your position in the community?

Submitting the Application

Email your completed application to uua_greensanctuary@uua.org. If you need to send your application via postal mail, contact us for instructions.

Specific questions can be directed to the Green Sanctuary Manager.  

Receiving Recognition

Once you submit your accreditation application, it will be forwarded to a Green Sanctuary Review Team. The Green Sanctuary Manager will communicate any requests for information, clarification, or requests for additional work.

After the review meeting, the Manager will draft a letter officially recognizing your congregation as a Green Sanctuary.

You will receive a certificate suitable for framing and display. You may also want to add the Green Sanctuary logo to your congregation’s website, and/or send a press release to local media outlets.

Congratulations! After months of planning, implementing, and documenting your projects, you have earned Green Sanctuary accreditation. This is a joyful achievement, so take the opportunity to celebrate and to show appreciation to everyone who participated.

Renewing the Green Sanctuary Accreditation

UUA and Green Sanctuary logo lockup

Congregations that have already earned Green Sanctuary accreditation can be recognized for continuing their work through the Green Sanctuary re-accreditation process. Most choose this route to help refocus and energize their green sanctuary team and congregation. The re-accreditation process may take as little as three months or as long as two years to complete, depending on each congregation’s unique situation.

The re-accreditation process has eight steps:

  1. Assess your current Green Sanctuary program. 
    Look back on your activities since becoming accredited. How you have continued to meet each of the Green Sanctuary program goals? How has your congregation lived your Green Sanctuary commitment? Take a look at the relevant sections of the re- accreditation application and begin drafting your answers to these questions.
  2. Create a re-accreditation action plan.
    Based on what you found in your assessment, choose projects that build on your successes and/or fill gaps in your current program. Include a minimum of five projects: two in the area of sustainable living, and one each from the other three focus areas (worship and celebration, religious education, and environmental justice).

    Action plan items may be new projects, or they may be past projects that have been significantly expanded. The environmental justice project should significantly deepen and expand already existing collaborative relationships or develop newer ones.
  3. Apply for re-accreditation candidacy.
    The application is available on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website. It includes sections for contact information, congregation profile, accomplishment of program goals, an evaluation of the effect that Green Sanctuary accreditation has had on your congregation, and your action plan. Submit your application (Word, 2 pages) by email to uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.
  4. Receive feedback from a Green Sanctuary review team.
    These teams meet via conference call to review applications. After the review meeting, if the application is in order, the program manager for Congregational Stewardship Services will draft a letter approving your application and providing feedback on your action plan.
  5. Revise your action plan.
    Based on the feedback you receive, as well as changing circumstances, make appropriate modifications to your action plan. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email the Green Sanctuary office at uua_greensanctuary@uua.org.
  6. Complete your action plan.
    As you fulfill your plans, you may learn things that suggest your plan needs to shift and change. Feel free to be in touch with the Green Sanctuary Office uua_greensanctuary@uua.org for feedback, but we fully expect your work will evolve as you go along.
  7. Records are important.
    For Re-Accreditation you will need to report progress: where your congregation was when you began your application to be candidates for Re-Accreditation, what you did, what you learned, and impacts of what you did. “Impacts” can be described in story about congregational, community and personal transformation and also with metrics. Feel free to use the Tracking Tool (Word, 9 pages) for your environmental justice project. Celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
  8. Apply for re-accreditation. 
    Update your application, revising the project descriptions to reflect the actions that were actually taken and the specific outcomes of each project. Submit your application by email to uua_greensanctuary@uua.org. A Green Sanctuary review team will review your application (Word, 2 pages). After the review meeting, the program manager will send notification of the review team response.
  • Celebrate.
    Hold a congregation-wide celebration for achieving re-accreditation as a Green Sanctuary.

 

Recognized Green Sanctuary Congregations

Approximately 30% of Unitarian Universalist congregations are fully accredited Green Sanctuaries. This list reflects all known Accredited and Re-Accredited congregations, and those that have achieved Candidate status in the last five years (2012-2017).  

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