SAN ANTONIO—A commitment to environmental stewardship led Baptist Temple in San Antonio to install solar panels on the roof of its facility, but getting paid to do the right thing didn’t hurt.
Going green becomes easier when the church gains a little green cash in the process, Pastor Jorge Zayasbazan discovered. If a church can do well by doing good, resistance to change diminishes.
A few years ago, Zayasbazan and some other congregational leaders began to recognize the size of the church’s ecological footprint.
“Our campus has 80,000 square feet on almost three acres of inner-city property. That is a lot of concrete, brick and asphalt,” Zayasbazan wrote in a blog earlier this year.
Seeking to be good stewards of the environment
Some members of Baptist Temple recognized the facility’s impact on the environment. Others saw its impact on the church budget, particularly in terms of high utility bills. Attempts to turn off lights and adjusting the thermostat proved difficult.
So, the church engaged CPS Energy, the municipal utility company in San Antonio, to perform an energy audit. The church discovered replacing all its electric lights with more energy-efficient models would be cost-prohibitive, but Baptist Temple made the decision to upgrade lights whenever they needed to be replaced.
In addition, the church determined to make better use of its facility not only by opening its doors to other congregations, but also renting space to various religious and secular nonprofit organizations on weekdays.
Baptist Temple also secured a second dumpster for recyclable items that are picked up once a week.
“This is a cost savings for us and keeps a dumpster-load of cardboard, plastic and metal out of the landfill,” he said.
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Installing solar panels
By far, Baptist Temple made its greatest positive environmental impact when the church decided to lease roof space to a venture capitalist who sells the collected energy to CPS Energy. The church, in turn, receives a modest 3 cents per kilowatt-hour credit to its energy bill—about $350 in May and $540 in June.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it advances the cause of solar energy,” Zayasbazan said.
He acknowledged the installation of the solar panels was “not painless.”
“They took up a lot of parking spaces,” he said.
Some members questioned whether it was appropriate to lease the church’s roof space to a commercial venture, but others—particularly rising generations—applauded the move.
“In my daughter’s eyes, I’m a hero. It shows that as a church, we care about the planet,” Zayasbazan said. “And it costs us nothing.”
The decision to install the solar panels made “triple bottom-line sense,” he added. It provided some financial compensation to the church, good publicity as the community took notice and made a contribution to reducing San Antonio’s dependency on fossil fuels.
Teaching generosity, caring for creation
As part of its ongoing commitment to creation care, Baptist Temple also is seeking to make the best use of its yard. Raised-bed community garden plots provide vegetables for the church’s food pantry, and children who attend the charter school that meets on the church campus take responsibility for tending designated portions of it.
“We want to teach children where their food comes from, and we want to teach adults how to garden in an urban environment,” Zayasbazan said. “By providing vegetables for the food pantry, we’re teaching compassion and practical generosity.”
In the future, Baptist Temple also plans to convert its landscaping to a xeriscape that reduces the amount of water required, as well as install a rainwater-catchment system to irrigate the garden.
“People in San Antonio know water is precious,” Zayasbazan said. “It’s our hope that we can model practices that are both earth-friendly and money-saving to neighborhood churches, businesses and families.”