Approaching a synagogue's building committee

On Thursday, July 20, I attended a meeting that revealed how complicated it can be to promote climate action, and how carefully one has to work with people and manage expectations. In this case, everybody was totally committed and quite sophisticated--and so everybody had an opinion. The meeting might have been easier if the attendees had not been so knowledgeable!

This meeting was with the building committee at my synagogue, Temple Shir Tikvah. Along with me, another member of the synagogue who is active in JCAN came.

Our synagogue has already done some impressive things in this area. We start with a small building, which is inherently more efficient than most conventional churches and synagogues. Our parking lot, which is small, includes a drain with a filtering system. We have done some energy efficiency measures (insulated roof, low-energy air conditioning, LED bulbs, waste recycling) but when we ran the initial JCAN "bentshmark," we came out only average for religious organizations.

The head of the building committee attended a recent intensive workshop held by JCAN and Mass Interfaith Power & Light about energy efficiency. As he started to lay out the benchmarking process, questions flared up. How reliable is the benchmark, and what energy use does it cover? Is conserving oil, gas, and electricity the most effective thing we could do? How about food waste, plastic waste, and unnecessary driving? (We are located downtown in Winchester, with many walking opportunities, including an elementary school, middle school, and high school just a few blocks away.)

Because all these issues were pertinent, our discussion proceeded a bit scattered for half an hour. But we emerged with two excellent ways to move forward:

  • Knowing that our concerns reach every committee, not just the building committee, we will talk to the synagogue president about a board-level position coordinating green activities throughout the institution.
  • We will also follow the recommended JCAN path for energy reduction, by rerunning our benchmark, choosing targets, and planning next steps within the building committee.

This meeting delivered lessons in the many facets of addressing climate change. Even when everyone at a meeting is well-educated and clued-in, differences in emphases can make it hard to choose a path forward. It may be best to ask a person to own a task that is meaningful to him or her, and choose the tasks that excite participants the most. Many tasks are fairly simple, and just require one or two committed people.