posted by Ben Margolis

are the low carbon

How churches are walking the talk with a smaller footprint

The 10:10 campaign has inspired carbon-cutting commitments from nearly a hundred church groups across the UK. 10:10 finds out how they’ve been fairing in their efforts to bring a greener hue to the pulpit and pew.


Getting energy consumption down can be a tricky business for church groups, who often meet in draughty old tall-ceilinged buildings, and whose numbers include elderly folk who really feel the cold.

But ingenuity never seems to run out. In fact, one 10:10 group – the Cotteridge Quakers -look set to cut their carbon by a staggering 87% compared to 2004, when they began their carbon-cutting adventures with the humble light bulb switch.

“Everyone wants our building to be warm so it made sense even without global warming argument,” explains Harriet Martin, member of the Premises Committee with a particular concern for energy saving. “But it is even more exciting and inspiring when our success is so clearly measured. Yes it takes effort, it takes money, it takes determination, but it is doable, and it’s really, really satisfying.”

The latest 10% of this success has been achieved by adding 160mm insulation above their old felted roof, and dry-lining their solid walls with 67mm of Gyproc Thermaline Super.

“The effect has been palpable: we’ve managed to make the walls nearly 5 times better at holding in the heat and the roof nearly 10 times better. In geek speak that’s a reduction in u-value from 1 to 0.11! 

Yes it takes effort, it takes money, it takes determination, but it is doable, and it’s really, really satisfying.

"My husband has done most of the dry-lining and carpentry work. He’s retired and enjoys the physical activity. It helps the finances when you can do a lot of the work yourselves; at least 20 people from the Meeting House have helped practically – one chap has an engineering background, one lady is especially good with colour and has helped us choose colour-schemes.”

As if that wasn’t enough, on June 11th this year Cotteridge Quakers Meeting house roof became the proud home to a brand new solar PV array, which they predict will generate 9,000kWh over one year, or about 60% of their current total consumption. 

But as Harriet, soberly points out, “While it is immensely satisfying to see our generation meter rack up the kilowatt hours, day on day, it is very clear that money invested in insulation, and in changing our old storage heaters to air source heat pumps [which work a bit like a refrigerator in reverse], has had far greater energy-saving payback than money invested in solar PV technology. “

Money invested in insulation has had far greater energy-saving payback than money invested in solar PV technology.

Indeed, a useful place to begin emissions slashing is to get clued up – to find out how to get the biggest carbon bang for your buck. For Rev Norman Hutcheson from Dalbeattie Parish Church this meant going on two-day carbon management training programme at the Crichton Carbon Centre at Glasgow University.

 “There were all sorts of people there, from the police service, and education sector as well as the voluntary sector,” enthuses Norman, “To be perfectly honest most of us were completely bewildered about where to go next! The post grad researchers on the other hand were keen to get all this knowledge out of the academic theoretical realm and into practical application by ordinary people – we covered every thing from identifying where our emissions are coming from, to how to get people onside, to over come resistance to change.”

The course inspired Norman to commission a twenty-five-page report about the church buildings, and he is now busy working through the recommendations.

“At the moment 60% of our emissions come from our oil powered central heating, and building temperature boomerangs from freezing to twenty degrees Celsius, and then straight back down to zero as soon as we’re out of the building. So we’re looking at how we can take the chill off the building so we don’t have to start from scratch every time we have a service. It’s things like insulation, double-glazing, reflective panels behind heaters, and proper heat diffusion across the floor area to make the most of our 130-year-old heating system. All of this is happening right now. And I’m also looking at installing an air source heat pump.

“You’ve got to have the will to make the changes, and the courage to carefully analyse what needs to be done. But I’ve enjoyed meeting other people who are busy getting their head around how to achieve real carbon cuts.”

Hall Green Quaker Group are planning a group expedition to Northfield Eco-Centre, by car-share, so they can swat up together and compare notes on the journey home. “Our group is particularly interested in exploring the ethics of consumption, which can be much more complicated than energy saving, because you have to balance things like fair trade against buying locally,” explains Gill Coffin.

The ethics of consumption, which can be much more complicated than direct energy-saving, because you have to balance things like fair trade against buying locally.

“We met for a shared lunch earlier this month to discuss our commitment to 10:10, both as an organisation and as individuals, and got into a really interesting discussion about which foods to buy, whether cotton is better than man-made fibres or wool, how to avoid excessive packaging, and how to make resources go further. One great solution we discussed is to use Freecycle or charity shops as much as possible.”

Indeed, it’s a fact not often recognised that a whopping 20% of the average Britain’s carbon footprint comes from embedded energy in the stuff we buy. 

“There are enormous pressures in society to be defined according to what you own. And directly preaching about giving up this or that for the sake of climate change can provoke some Jeremy Clarkson-style rebuttals,” says Paul Spears from 10:10 Gadebridge Baptist Church, who’s been switched on to environmental issues since watching a Horizon programme on Global warming aged 15. His hastily constructed 1950s church building in Hemel Hempstead, is soon to be replaced with a well insulated eco-church with under floor heating, large south-facing windows to maximise solar gain, and as many other features that the budget will allow. 

But, Paul admits, “for many people in my congregation climate change comes way down on a long list of worries about their kids’ health or schooling. So I try and approach it as part of a bigger picture. “Here’s another, more positive, way of being” – with simplicity and generosity, as stewards of creation not consumers of creation - rather than “here are ten things not to do.””

I try to say “here’s another way of living” – with simplicity and generosity, as stewards of creation not consumers of creation - rather than “here are ten things not to do”.

One group of 10:10ers that take simple living to another level are the Franciscan brothers of Hilfield Friary. Living in a collection of old farm buildings on the edge of the Dorset Downs with magnificent views across the Blackmore Vale, the brothers have found that living off the land and cooking communally has given them a head start with carbon cutting. 

“You can get some great economies of scale, when you’re cooking for 30 or 40 people at a time, and can share things like cars. We’re far from perfect,” explains Brother Hugh, apologetically,“but we are steadily insulating our buildings, walking or cycling where possible, and encouraging visitors to come by train.  We also try to enthuse them by showing them practical things they can try when they go home, like salad growing and composting. And doing 10:10 has motivated us to start actually collecting and analyzing figures on our energy use for the first time.”

The challenge for the community will be to tackle the emissions from travel. “The trouble is that flying is so enormously cheap and tremendously convenient!” laughs Brother Hugh, who has spent time himself with Franciscan communities in Papua New Guinea.  “But I did decide to travel by ship and train to the climate conference in Copenhagen, and by bus for a recent pilgrimage in Denmark. We’ll have to keep up the political pressure to make those sort of overland options more competitive.”

Hugh explains that the Franciscan community understanding of social justice has expanded in recent years to take into account the effects of our carbon emissions, as well as wealth disparities.  “Our new community prayer book, for example, talks how we have sinned against God’s Creation as well as against the poor.”

Hugh admits that some such ‘sins’ were right under their noses.  “Being Franciscans, for many years we’ve been very careful with pennies. Our refectory has big windows which for years didn’t have curtains because they were regarded as quite a luxury.  Only recently did somebody put two and two together, and realise that having curtains would actually translate to lowerheating bills!”

I get a strange sense of déjà-vu, when I talk to Anne Wheldon from Reading Quakers environmental group:

“Many actions were obvious, once we thought about them,” says the former renewables lecturer who now works for the Ashden Awards, a charity which champions local sustainable energy, “For instance, we realised that we never opened all eight of the huge sash windows in the main Meeting room, so sealed half of them up completely and draught-proofed the rest. And instead of letting heat leak through the windows over night, we’ve fitted thermal blinds.”

Meanwhile, the group’s innovative experiment at resource conservation came in the form of a “swap shop”, to exchange surplus possessions (a bit like Freecycle but more sociable and accessible to those without internet). Their answer to a lofty kitchen, which lost all the heat to the thick concrete ceiling with single-glazed skylights, was to install an insulated suspended ceiling. Using transparent ceiling panels under the skylights means there is still enough daylight to do the washing up.

“It has been really useful to read the meters every month – we knew this already but had not quite got round to doing it before 10:10. Turns out our 2009-10 emissions from gas and electricity use are 8% lower than 2008-9, even though the weather was much colder, and use of premises went up a bit – so we’re really pleased.”

“But the real credit,” Anne is at pains to point out, “has to go to our Warden, Liz, who’s very good at keeping energy saving at the forefront of our minds, and nipping round herself to check everything’s switched off after meetings. That’s no simple task when over 50 other organisations use our premises through the year, as well as Reading Quakers. Our very own smart heating control system you might say!”

Meanwhile another recently retired member of the group has been busy making patchwork quilts, which have proved handy to keep knees cosy in their big Georgian meeting hall. “We’ve got a box for collecting fabric, and I think she’s even getting the children involved now.”

The real credit has to go to the warden Liz -our very own smart heating control system!

Chayley from Huddersfield Quaker Group has also managed to get the kids enthused about acting on climate change - as 'eco police', helping with measuring energy consumption. “Last Sunday I got the kids to measure top floor so we would know how much insulation we need and tried to explain 10:10 using duplo Lego!  We used 10 bits of Lego to represent what we use now – and took one away to show what we're aiming for!”

At Collinwood Road United Reformed Church it’s the grandparents leading the way. “We had several over 70 year olds who came on our coach from Oxford to London for the Stop Climate Chaos march, and many of them chipped in generously to our eco-renovation fundraising appeal, ”explains Reverend Dick Wolff, who used match-funding from the Wessex Synod to install a new efficient condensing boiler at the manse and double glazing at his church. “Perhaps it’s because a lot of members are grandparents, worried about what kind of a planet they are leaving for their grandchildren. 10:10 was the perfect excuse to actually set a target and get things in motion. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.”


So what are the 10:10 team putting their mind to next?

“The biggest day of positive practical action on climate change the world has ever seen,” replies Lizzie, director of 10:10 global, casually. “It’s called 10:10:10: a global day of doing, and it’s happening on the 10th of October 2010.”

Sound ambitious? Well, that’s Lizzie’s middle name. After all, who would have predicted that just three months after launching 10:10 Global, there would be 10:10 campaigns up and running in forty countries?

“We’ve teamed up with campaign heavyweights to coordinate this one. Last year they pulled off what CNN called the "most widespread day of political action in the planet's history” with 5,200 events in 181 countries. This year the focus is all about positive, practical action. There are already 1,300 events registered, from bike repair workshops in San Francisco to solar panel installations in Nairobi, Kenya! Not only will these actions cut carbon directly; they will also send a powerful message to world leaders that people and organisations everywhere are ready to tackle climate change.”

10:10:10 has given us a mini focus, and the chance to create that feeling of being part of something bigger.

Up at Dalbeattie Parish Church they are plotting a special low carbon lunch for the occasion: “we’re teaming up with Dalbeattie Carbon Centre, that offers local people support and guidance in reducing their carbon footprint, and we’re going to put on a special lunch with beer from the local brewery, and hopefully even some zero-food-mile produce from the new allotments which have just opened!”

“10:10:10 has given us a mini focus, and the chance to create that feeling of being part of something bigger, which is important for a small communities like ours - to know that we’re not alone, we’re part of something which is international, and positive.”

And that’s what it’s all about. “By uniting under one umbrella our actions stop feeling like a drop in the ocean,” says Lizzie, “and become visible enough to shake our politicians into action.”


Top Ten Ideas for 10:10:10

  • 20 minute audit

Take 20 minutes out of the Sunday service so the congregation can race around your church, searching out areas where the building can be made more efficient. Have all the light bulbs been changed to energy-saving models?  Are there notices for the tea urn and gas heaters so that everyone knows how to use them efficiently?  Use a lit incense stick, search out the draughts and plug those gaps! 

  • Lend out your learning

Finished with your copy of How Bad Are Bananas? Then why not set up a green library in your church where people can lend each other their environmental tomes? You could even invest in a church electricity monitor which people can borrow to do a quick audit at home.

  • Call it fete

Why not organise a low-carbon fete in the grounds of your church for 10:10:10, with a bring and share picnic of local, or home-grown produce? Use it to raise awareness of the great work your church is doing.

  • Saddle up 

On 10:10:10 you could install a new bike rack at your church, give away cycling route maps and get a bike maintenance expert to come in and offer free servicing!

  • Swish

Freshen up your wardrobe for free by encouraging congregation members to bring unwanted items of clothing in to swap!

  • Liftshare

10:10:10 is the ideal day to change your approach to travel.  Can you pick up other people on the way to church or work? Or team up with other parents to ferry each others’ kids to school? Could you even remove a car park space from your church car park, a la musical chairs, by turning it into a small community garden?

  • Carrot Mob

Organise a Carrot Mob in your neighbourhood!  Carrotmob is a type of consumer activism in which cafes or shops compete at how green they can go, and then a network of consumers meet at the business en masse (on 10:10:10) to spend money in support of whichever business has promised to make the biggest carbon cuts. It’s the opposite of a boycott - a carrot not a stick.  The best way to understand how it works is to see an example at

  • Pledge and tips board

Find a prominent place where people can tell each other about how they’re cutting their 10%, and where they’ve found good advice or funding. (eg. “I’m slashing my air-miles by 10% - check out www.seat61.comfor some great advice on overland travel.”)

  • Get geeky

Why not start involving everyone with reading the meters?  That they’ll know how to read them at home too!You could also place some thermometers in different places around your church, to find the warmest places for those that get chilly!

  • Veg out

Reducing your meat intake is a great way to reduce your emissions – so why not make sure your Sunday roast on Sunday 10th October is meat free? Check out the Meat-Free Mondays website for some great tips.

And… celebrate!

This is your day to show off all the great work you’ve been doing to cut your carbon this year. So upload videos, pictures, and case studies to the 10:10:10 site and we’ll add them to our global scrapbook.