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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

Save Green by Going Green: Finding Savings & Funding Options for Environmental Considerations - Description and Q&A

Green is the new buzzword of the twenty-first century. Learn how Union congregations, camps and families have found simple and cost-effective ways to "green" their buildings, homes and programming.

The guest speakers for this webinar include:

  • Jerry Lawson, National Manager, ENERGY STAR Small Business & Congregations Network, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and
  • Ann-Isabel Friedman, Director, Sacred Sites Program, The New York Landmarks Conservancy, New York CityENERGY STAR


Q: How/who funds the Professional Engineer (P.E.) verification for the ENERGY STAR Certification? What if the congregation does not have a P.E. or one is not willing to take the liability?
Data entered into the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) free "Portfolio Manager" software to achieve the ENERGY STAR label for the worship facility must be verified by a licensed P.E. Any cost must be paid by the congregation (or a donor), but if the congregation has a member who is a P.E., or can get the service donated, that is equally acceptable. Furthermore, it is common engineering practice for P.E.s to use non-licensed individuals to complete certain work that ultimately bears the P.E.'s seal and signature. Therefore, all or part of the worship facility site visit may be conducted by a non-P.E. representative under the direction and control of the P.E. However, the "Statement of Energy Performance" and corresponding data checklist must bear the seal and signature of the licensed P.E.

If there is no option but to pay for P.E. verification, the cost may range from one-half cent to one cent per square foot. ENERGY STAR provides an updated online Professional Engineer's Guide to explain the data verification process.

Q: If investments are required to bring the congregation up to ENERGY STAR ratings, is there a "normalization" on investment resources based on the capabilities of the congregants?
The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool evaluates the current energy performance of the building based on consumption data and key facility features, and compares this to expected performance within the rating model in comparison to other U.S. worship facilities. The congregation's current rating will indicate if additional investment would be beneficial to energy performance, but the tool does not have data allowing it to specify the actual equipment or maintenance improvement needed. That is a job for an energy auditor or other energy professional, and requires a cost-benefit analysis of competing options for the congregation to decide upon. The rating tool was not designed to rate competing investments or the capabilities of the congregation. The "how to guide" and "e-mail a technical question" functions at may be of assistance, as well as the "rebate finder".

Q: The endorsements sound great, but what investments are required on the front end?
Greening work, particularly in areas of capital improvement for renewables and efficiency, does require a significant amount of up-front investment. More efficient water heaters, HV/AC systems, refrigerators, etc., all require up-front spending but pay off over time in efficiency gains. However, joining ENERGY STAR does not require any monetary investment, only the commitment of time to be part of the program and work toward becoming a leader in this field.

Q: How many congregations have signed up to be an ENERGY STAR Congregation?
At this time, more than 1,500 participating congregations are listed online where participants may be found in a searchable directory. However, formal "sign-up" is not required to take advantage of the free information and technical support so it is likely that even more congregations are going green.

Q: What is the difference between ENERGY STAR and LEED?
ENERGY STAR is a rating system for appliances based on efficient use of energy, and sponsored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE). ENERGY STAR is moving into the building field - working with homes, businesses and houses of worship - but still works primarily to certify efficient appliances like water heaters, washer/dryers, etc.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification program of the U.S. Green Building Council, an independent non-profit entity that verifies buildings as sustainably designed. LEED certification designates that the certified entity is designed to conserve energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions, as well optimize indoor environmental quality.

A congregation can be certified by either ENERGY STAR or LEED (or, in theory, both). Both ENERGY STAR and LEED certification are a great honor for a congregation, but it is important to remember that certification itself does not make a building any ‘greener',' but rather acknowledges completed work in this area.

Q: Does the ENERGY STAR rating for a congregation help lower insurance costs?
At this time, the EPA is not aware of an available insurance discount for ENERGY STAR labeled buildings. However, the EPA has worked with insurance firm Fireman's Fund over the past year to integrate an ENERGY STAR discount into their offerings. This is a long, demanding process and is not final, but the company plans to have an ENERGY STAR discount available in 2010. Fireman's Fund currently offers lower premiums for LEED qualified buildings, so the precedent is established.

Fireman's Fund is working to integrate ENERGY STAR resources and Portfolio Manager benchmarking into the services offered by their "loss control" consultants. These are the representatives who visit properties offering a "sustainability service" on low/no cost upgrades and energy efficiency improvements for the building. This is one of their "value added" benefits for being a customer of Fireman's Fund. In such a competitive industry, it is likely other insurance firms are exploring similar programs.

Other Funding Opportunities

Q: Does the Union have a grant program?
We do not offer direct grants for greening work at this time. However, the Union does have a newly launched "Environmental Sustainability Fund" designed to offset the carbon footprint of all Union activities by helping fund clean energy development in North America and Israel. As the Sustainability Fund grows over time, there may be opportunities for congregations to use this fund for either grants or loans for greening work on the local level. (You can donate to the Environmental Sustainability Fund on the Greening Reform Judaism homepage.)

Q: Ann's presentation was based on information for New York State. Can you provide similar grant information for other locations?
While every state (and even city) offers different grants, tax rebates and other greening incentives, there are online databases that attempt to collect information from across the United States and Canada. One such resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. breaks down incentives by state and category (solar, other renewables, efficiency, etc.), and also includes incentive information from the federal government and electric utilities. This is a great resource where you can find incentives that are specific to your state/region.

Q: It was mentioned that congregations sometimes run into hurdles when government money is involved due to 1st Amendment and tax status issues. Has the RAC found a way for our congregations to get federal funding for energy improvement?
The Union has historically argued that houses of worship should not receive federal monies for capital improvement, including the synagogue security fund offered after September 11, 2001. While some in the Jewish community have advocated explicitly that houses of worship should be eligible for funds under the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program, which will receive additional funds if Congress passes a new climate/energy bill, neither the RAC nor the Union have advocated this position. We believe that building greener, more energy-efficient congregations is an incredibly important goal, and understand the financial challenges inherent in this work. We encourage our congregations to work with us to seek funding for this work through private sources and non-profit foundations, and are looking at several potential partnerships in this area with organizations including Earth Aid, the Fourth Day Initiative and Interfaith Power and Light (see below for more on Earth Aid). We also support non-financial partnerships between houses of worship and government agencies, like the ENERGY STAR certification program. However, at this time we do not recommend that congregations use federal funds for energy-efficiency improvements.

Additional Thoughts

Suggestion: One participant suggested that congregations screen the film A Sacred Duty, a documentary on Jewish responses to environmental challenges, as part of their environmental education efforts. We encourage congregations to pair physical greening work with environmental education, and film screenings can be a great way to raise awareness and motivate action on environmental issues. Other films to consider screening (beyond An Inconvenient Truth!) include Renewal, a documentary on the emerging religious environmental movement, and Young, Jewish, and Left, which covers a wide variety of contemporary social issues facing the progressive Jewish community.

Suggestion: Another opportunity to save green by going green is Earth Aid, an innovative social venture that has developed the first free service to enable individuals to track all their electric, gas and water usage in one online place, receive customized tips to save and earn rewards for saving in the form of discounts at local businesses. The Union is in discussions with Earth Aid about partnering more directly with them to support our greening efforts in the future, but for now we just wanted to make sure you knew about this tool and encourage you to contact David Burd, Vice President of Business Development, at or 914.552.3660, if you are interested in learning more.

Suggestion: At the request of one participant, our Green Team will look into the viability of installing Window Farms in offices and high-rise buildings, a project that is underway in New York City.

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