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Turn trash into treasure to become better stewards

One Texas church’s commitment to energy conservation and the environment expands with a recycling program.

By Raj Dayal

In their continuing efforts to be better stewards of the environment and the resources of their church, the leadership at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX instituted a specific recycling program in 2007. Prestonwood has been a leading church in the area of energy conservation and efficiency. (Their initial efforts were featured in the October 2007 issue of Church Executive.)

The team at Prestonwood has continued to refine their methods and the recycling program is a natural progression. “Recycling is not only for conservation, it also saves us financially, allowing us to make better use of our resources,” says Mike Buster, executive pastor.

From a cost standpoint the church was spending about $4,500 a month in waste charges. The leadership was able to save about $1,200 a month in cost avoidance simply by intentionally recycling. According to Buster, many people believe that recycling costs too much but the opposite is true. The recycling program at Prestonwood saves more than $14,000 a year.

The church’s leadership worked with the city of Plano, which recommended single stream recycling to them. Single stream requires that all small recyclables are recycled together, which reduces landfill space. All of the recyclables at Prestonwood are placed into one receptacle. The recycling program starts with the staff and is promoted throughout the church. Every staff person has two bags, a small one for trash and a larger one for recyclables. The church’s staff found that 80 percent of their trash is recyclable.

The recycling effort of the church is not limited to paper, bottles and cans. “We recycle all of our organic waste. We have a large cafeteria and we make sure to recycle all of the food waste possible so that we can recover the nutrient value in our compost, and it reduces landfill,” Buster says.

The recycling program is part of the overall mindset and commitment to stewardship at Prestonwood. There are additional steps that the leadership has taken to ensure that every aspect of the church is operating efficiently. Buster believes that churches should be the leaders in the area of energy conservation and stewardship of the environment.

The church continues to make improvements every month. “We are now saving upwards of $90,000 a month in energy cost avoidance,” says Buster. The leadership has found that there are a few different ways to change energy consumption.

The first way is human behavior changes. “People should turn off lights, computers and coffee machines at night. When areas are not in use, the air conditioning system should be turned off,” Buster says. These changes appear obvious, but according to Buster, many people don’t consider them.

A second change can be mechanical. There are things that can be done to air conditioning systems to make them more efficient. Prestonwood also includes lighting sensors in restrooms and exterior lighting to make sure when the sun is out the lighting is not in use.

“A third thing that churches can do is to negotiate with their electric providers. People don’t realize that this is possible,” Buster says. Many providers are willing to negotiate based on the size of the energy consumption. “Related to the negotiation is to adjust peak usage times,” he says. If a provider deems that a church uses the most electricity at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, they will most likely charge the church based on the peak throughout the week. Many churches can institute changes to lower their peak usage times as part of energy conservation.

The team at Prestonwood has been able to lower their utility bill by 40 percent. “We have now saved $1.5 million in the last year and a half,” Buster says.

Many of the conservation techniques used at Prestonwood are simple and obvious; however, there are some that are not so apparent. “We de-lamp vending machines. Many churches have vending machines with huge lamps inside that burn all day and night. If you remove those lamps, most people won’t even notice,” Buster says. They also outfitted the machines with timers for the beverage coolers so that they turn off during the night.

There are many ways churches can take advantage of potential areas of energy savings. Buster believes so strongly in this sentiment that he encourages any church leaders that would like to know more about energy conservation at Prestonwood to contact him (prestonwood.org).

Prestonwood has instituted an energy consumption policy and has added recycling efforts, as well as, other refinements for tremendous cost savings but also as part of a greater purpose. “We are following God’s commandment to ‘let nothing be wasted’ as part of our ongoing goal to be better stewards,” Buster says.

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