Congregation Adath Shalom in Morris Plains hopes to become the first Conservative synagogue in the nation to be certified “green” by an interfaith environmental advocacy group.
The synagogue is participating in a two-year certification program created by the New Brunswick-based Greenfaith.
Over the course of the program, houses of worship carry out initiatives to integrate environmental themes into their worship, religious education, facility maintenance, and social outreach.
Changes are already apparent at Adath Shalom: Teens involved in the USY youth group have been incorporated into they synagogue’s Green Team, Rabbi Mark Biller is giving “green” sermons, and the congregation is looking into forms of alternative energy — from installing solar panels to using occupancy sensors to save on the cost of electricity. They are signing up for more comprehensive energy audits of their building and considering purchasing environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and recycled paper goods.
Adath Shalom is also organizing an interfaith environmental “trialogue” to be held in May with a local church and mosque.
The congregation is one of four synagogues and 12 houses of worship participating in the program, launched in May 2009.
“We know a growing number of houses of worship feel they want to invest seriously in environmental leadership,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest and the executive director of Greenfaith. “They believe it is fundamental to their idea of themselves or as a congregation. We are providing a road map so that houses of worship can have the resources, guidance, and support they need to do it.”
Participants take part in six webinars and have access to a listserv to share ideas and questions with other participants. The cost, determined on a sliding scale, ranges from $500 to $1,500 per house of worship.
Once selected for the program, they create an action plan, a kind of blueprint for activities to be undertaken, on a specific timeline. The action plan is largely based on the results of an initial energy audit.
So far, Greenfaith has accepted all the organizations that completed the application. “It’s a self-selecting process,” said Harper. “By the time they’ve fulfilled all the requirements and paid the registration fee, they are ready to go.”
Greenfaith plans to launch an aggressive marketing campaign this spring, and hopes to attract about 100 congregations to join the program for its second year.
Adath Shalom got involved through congregant Bill Friedman, an environmental lawyer who sits on Greenfaith’s board and on the executive board of the synagogue.
“We were only doing things on an individual, sporadic basis,” said Friedman. “The certification program brought it all together in a coordinated way and made it real. Hopefully, it’s something we’ll be known for in the future.”
The application process alone took three-four months to complete. “We had to raise money and win over some hearts and minds,” Friedman said. “Raising the initiation fee was difficult. People said, How can we afford it with this budget?”
What turned people around was not the understanding that the building would run more efficiently, but the realization that the green certification might help engage people who were difficult to reach through traditional avenues.
Once they gain certification, according to Harper, “it’s an affirmation of what will have become an important part of a congregation’s identity. We’ll publicize it; we’ll get a banner to hang. And [the certification] will be featured on our website. We hope to develop a large national group of religious support promoting high-quality leadership on the environment,” he said.
The other synagogues in the program are located in Wyckoff; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Riverdale, NY.
Mike Stepak, chair of Adath Shalom’s Green Team, said, “Genesis tells us that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it, and that’s what we plan to do with our little piece of the earth and the building that stands upon it.”