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Green Sanctuary Program Characteristics
Environmental Justice, Green Sanctuary Program

The Green Sanctuary (GS) program provides a path for congregational study, reflection, and action in response to environmental challenges. If your congregation chooses to embark on this path, you will start by forming a team. Contact Green Sanctuary staff at uua_greensanctuary [at] uua [dot] org to connect to a congregational coach who will support your team at critical junctures. Your team will arrange to conduct assessments of your community context, current practices, and programs.

Based on the assessments and the criteria for each of the four focus areas, you will plan congregational projects to address specific areas. Your congregation will then complete these projects over a period of two to three years, with the goal of bringing your congregational cultural into greater alignment with environmentally - aware faith and practices, and becoming an accredited Green Sanctuary.

All along the way, you can work with your congregational coach and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Green Sanctuary staff, through the UUA Office of Congregational Stewardship Services, which oversees the program and grants accreditation.

Focus Areas

Green Sanctuary is based on a framework of four focus areas:

  • Environmental Justice
  • Worship and Celebration
  • Religious Education
  • Sustainable Living

These are the building blocks of the Green Sanctuary program. When completing the initial assessments congregations examine their current practices and context in each of these four areas. Likewise, all four areas are represented in the projects that Green Sanctuary candidates plan and complete.

Environmental Justice Focus in the Green Sanctuary Program

What is it?

Environmental justice acknowledges that marginalized communities are often hit first and hardest by environmental crisis. Beyond this, it bases analysis and action on an assumption that oppression of the environment is intricately linked to oppression of different groups of people. This list of elements/principles further clarifies how the Green Sanctuary Program understands environmental justice.

We understand that:

  • Diversity is key to the health and well being of all communities—whether natural ecosystems or human-created cities and towns.
  • Restoration, preservation, and conservation of nature—whether individual species or entire ecosystems is important on its own terms. Nature has its own integrity and inherent worth. It is sacred. This does not depend on its beauty or usefulness to humans. 
  • A healthy environment is the bedrock of all cultures, societies and economies—no matter what their state of development. 
  • All people have the right to equitably benefit from the extraction and use of natural resources, environmental “goods and services”, and economic life.
  • By virtue of our existence, we use natural resources and cause pollution.  Our choices link us into a global web of consumption and production which inextricably ties our fate with that of our brothers’ and sisters’ up and down stream and around the world.  We are called to live as consciously, justly, and prayerfully as we can about the impacts of our decisions, and to minimize our environmental “footprint” as individuals and as nations.
  • This means that we are called to address systemic discrimination and injustice in the risks and harms certain groups of people face related to the burdens of natural resource extraction, pollution, the siting of waste, transportation, and military facilities, workplace hazards, expropriation of land, etc. We are also called to prevent future inequities by promoting the development and enforcement of appropriate laws and policies.   
  • Future generations have the right to at least as much access to and enjoyment of natural resources, environmental “goods and services”, health and well-being as we do now.  This represents a strong commitment to sustainability in all its fullness for the entire human family.

Doing environmental work guided by these elements shifts us beyond providing assistance, to thinking and working with negatively impacted communities. Some UUs refer to this as a culture shift from "charity to solidarity”.

Environmental issues are inextricably linked to the crises of racism, classism and other forms of oppression. Generously supporting ‘less fortunate’ people is critical, yet charity can exacerbate the very oppressions we hope to redress. To broaden understanding and effort, environmentalists need cross- boundary partnerships to analyze, strategize and lead well-informed and just environmental work.

One way to think about this is a move from "charity to solidarity". For many this will be equivalent to a "culture shift," intentionally seeking multicultural partnerships. For some, it will be a new experience to take the lead from, and create Beloved Community with people most profoundly impacted by environmental injustices.

With environmental justice, there is no less insistence that the planet and its extraordinary diversity be honored, supported and restored; but environmental work must be grounded in the realities and in collaboration with those people most marginalized in our cultures.

People who identify as part of a marginalized community may be part of your congregation. If so, and they are willing, your projects will be enriched through a multicultural lense and leadership. Otherwise, it is essential that the team reach out into the larger community across cultural boundaries to seek multiple perspectives and energies.

Because of its foundational orientation, environmental justice work should be integrated into your entire Green Sanctuary Action Plan, so it is important to be aware of its implications early on in the process.

Integrating Environmental Justice Into Your Green Sanctuary Action Plan

It is important for your Green Sanctuary team to think holistically and synergistically when conducting your preliminary analysis/audit and preparing your proposed Green Sanctuary Action Plan.  We strongly recommend that you think expansively and see how environmental justice can be integrated into all the aspects of the plan, not simply put into the community action section.  We encourage you to think creatively about how you might review worship, religious education, building plans and policies, and various existing community ministries with an eye to how they might connect with and contribute to the environmental justice action component.  

There are four phases to the environmental justice focus.

  1. Phase # 1: Investigate your congregational justice ministries and types of environmental justice projects 
    For candidate and accreditation status your congregation must plan and complete one environmental justice project. Before you attempt to identify your environmental justice action plan, it is important that your team use these the following tools: Review (2), Investigate, Conduct, and Consult

    Step 1: Review
    • Review all currently active justice ministries in your congregation and determine how they are or can connect with environmental justice/sustainability goals.  (Must subit review along with GS action plan.) This will help your team understand where seeds of multicultural partnerships may already exist in the life of your congregation; potentially a good place to start with your environmental justice project.
    • Review four types of environmental justice projects
    Step 2: Investigate 
    • Complete an environmental justice analysis. We suggest you use the UU Ministry for Earth curriculum “Our Place in the Web of Life”. This curriculum will help your congregation understand how environmental injustice functions in your community, with the analysis being part of the curriculum. Consider doing this curriculum with as many of your team and congregational leadership as possible, as early in the process as possible. (Must submit analysis along with GS action plan.)  

      If you prefer not to use the UUMFE curriculum, you may choose to conduct an environmental justice analysis of what is happening in your community and how this connects with national and global issues. This could be done as a series of environmental justice tours, conversations and meetings in various neighborhoods with community groups, etc..  (Must submit analysis along with GS action plan.)  
    Step 3: Conduct
    • Conduct an environmental justice analysis of the impact of your congregation’s building (policies, operations, programs) on your local area, and the connections with national and international environmental justice issues.  (Must submit analysis along with your congregational policy and program audit.) 
    Step 4: Consult
    • Share findings of #1, 2 and 3 with your congregation & congregational leaders in a consultative process.  Collectively determine how your congregation will move forward in crafting its one required environmental justice project.  (Must explain process in GS Candidacy Application.)
  2. Phase #2: Develop Action Plan
    Congregations are required to plan and implement only one environmental justice project, which consists of various components, various action steps that build on each other.  We anticipate that the project will take a significant amount of time, such as a year or more.  One-time events do not qualify. 

    Your projects must demonstrate that they are based on an analysis of the intersections of race, class, gender and other oppressions that are at work in the symptoms or root causes of the problem addressed or in a project designed to take advantage of a particular opportunity or strength in the community.  Congregations are strongly encouraged to develop projects in consultation with affected communities and in partnership with other congregations and/or community groups.

    You will be asked to use some of your research and analysis gathered in Phase #1 to provide background documentation for your proposed environmental justice project.  You will be asked to describe the environmental, economic, social, political, cultural, spiritual and emotional dynamics that perpetuate the situation you are trying to address, or are at play in the opportunity you want to take advantage of. You will be asked who will benefit from your project and who will be driving the decision-making in designing and implementing the project.

    See Check list #1 for a list of criteria and guiding questions.
  3. Phase  #3: Implement Action Plan
    See evaluation tip sheet.

    As you implement the environmental justice components of your action plan, you may need to revise certain aspects to adjust to changing conditions or new insights you gain.  Please take note of this for reporting purposes.  Also, please make sure everyone is aware of how you will evaluate each major piece of your project before you begin because that will make it much easier to keep track of things. We are interested in the tangible and not so tangible impacts it has on your congregation, your neighborhood and your larger community. (See evaluation tip sheet.)   
  4. Phase #4: Evaluate Action Plan
    Your Green Sanctuary review team will be using Check list #2 as they read through your report. This can serve as a helpful guide in both formulating your plan as well as writing your report. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact a review team member.

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