Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Creation Time 2

What happened about changing our electricity? Unfortunately few of the green team PCC members could attend the crucial meeting so this debate has been postponed. As for the bank - in the current climate I don't suppose the campaign about dirty development is top of their agenda of concerns but hopefully we will pick this up soon. On the positive side the vicar's choice of 97% natural, petrochemical free Naked soaps (not tested on animals and in bottles of recycled plastic) have been greeted with enthusiasm in the toilets! I've given bottles of several Ecover and Bio-D cleaning products to the cleaner and arranged to replace them as this becomes necessary, but she has a rather large stock of more toxic products to work through first.

The Creation Time leaflets with green tips and encouragements to celebrate Creation have gone out each week, although I think most of the congregation are unsure what they're doing in the notice sheet - something to rethink for next year. The talk on green electricity was well attended and followed by many questions. Leaflets from Christian Aid about changing to Ecotricity were available to take away, although I don't think a great many went.

This Sunday, although officially just after Creation Time, is really the climax of this season since it is our harvest festival. On a theme of feeding 6 billion we've used Christian Aid and Tearfund materials in preparing this. Afterwards there will be a shared lunch, the savoury part will be vegetarian and hopefully as much as possible will follow the LOAF principles.

In his wonderfully translated/adapted Love Poems from God Daniel Ladinsky includes the following words from St Francis that sum up the theme of the service:

There are beautiful wild forces within us.

Let them turn the mills inside
and fill

that feed even

Monday, September 1, 2008

Creation Time

At the Third European Ecumenical Assembly (2007) official representatives of Europe's Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches recommended "That the period from 1 September to 4 October be dedicated to prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change". The reason for the dates is that September is traditionally the time for harvest festivals and 4 October is the feast day of St Francis. Churches together in Britain and Ireland are encouraging all churches to be involved in this by providing various resources.

We've decided to celebrate Creation Time at St John's and began this Sunday by handing out the first weekly 'diary' of ways to celebrate and protect Creation. Today's entry included a quotation from Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem God's Grandeur which I have typed out in full below (it's best read aloud). Hopefully over the next few weeks there will be particular mention of environmental matters in the intercessions and elsewhere in the service.

Next Sunday there will be a brief talk on green electricity (covering the themes in my earlier post today on that subject), before our regular shared meal, after which there will be a group joining Reading Faith Forum's Friendship Walk receiving hospitality from various faith groups around the town.

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod:
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins 1877

Nb he doesn't mean tin foil but gold foil which, when shaken 'gives off broad glares like sheet lightning'

Cleanliness next to Godliness?

Greening up our cleaning products is something we've been putting off for far too long, aware that other churches have struggled with this, although we have habitually been using Ecover washing up liquid in the kitchen as well as recycled paper for the paper towels and toilet paper. A few weeks ago an Amway rep persuaded one of our ministers to try out his products, claiming that their Liquid Organic Cleaner (LOC) is 'green'. There was no obvious evidence for this claim on the bottles (aside from the fact that being concentrated meant less packaging was required), so I started investigating:

There was absolutely no reference on Amway's website to their products being green (just a lot about how much money they make!), so I googled them and found a Wikipedia site which referred to various controversies over their business ethics as well as a link to a site which did mention green credentials although it was rather vague.

So then I tried looking into the information we have on the product:
According to the National Geographic's green guide the term 'organic' is relatively meaningless when it comes to cleaners, unless it refers specifically to certain 'certified organic' ingredients
'Although "organic" in the grocery store refers to foods grown without synthetic pesticides, in chemistry it refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including some VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that release harmful fumes and may cause brain damage or cancer'. (not that I'm suggesting this does, only that organic is not necessarily a positive description).
The main ingredient of Amway's LOC (besides water) is sodium c-12-15 pareth sulfate which is a synthetic compound derived from petroleum and ethylene oxide - it is a surfactant which means it's what helps physically remove the dirt. It is generally the surfactants that are the concern in these products because some have been found to be toxic to plants, animals and humans. Petroleum derived surfactants in particular often break down incompletely and contain toxic impurities that are highly irritant, cause allergic reactions and are endangering to plant and animal life (according to Bio-D's website). Googling those listed in LOCs ingredients I found several references to skin irritation.
LOC has between 5 and 15% anionic surfactants and less than 5% ionic surfactants and is 90% biodegradable
Ecover cleaning products have less than 5% of either (and their multi-surface cleaner is also concentrated so I think this is a fair comparison) they do not contain petroleum derived surfactants and are 100% biodegradable.
The Bio-D cleaner does not give percentages on its packaging (although its washing powder is also less than 5% surfactants and again there are no petroleum derived products).
Looking through my own cupboard at this point I realised that some of my other cleaning products which claim to be green (one even has a European Union green label) contain phosphates (whereas Ecover and Bio-D use zeolites in their washing powder) or higher quantities of surfactants - clearly there are different shades of green.

In conclusion I will be giving our cleaner samples of Ecover and Bio-D to choose from for her use, Ecover washing up liquid will always be used in the kitchen and the vicar will buy a biodegradable soap for use in the toilets. Hopefully.


Green Electricity

According to The Good Shopping Guide, one third of our country’s carbon dioxide emissions come from power stations (the biggest single source). Consequently Christian Aid and Tearfund have teemed up with suppliers of renewable energy to persuade us to reduce the emissions that are causing climate change and the consequent tragedy for the world’s poorest people:

According to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, unless urgent action is taken now the world faces these consequences:
250 million people will be forced to leave their homes between now and 2050.
Acute water shortages for 1-3 billion people (ie up to half the world’s population)
30 million more people going hungry as agricultural yields go into recession across the globe
Sea levels edging towards increases of up to 95cm by the end of the century, submerging 18% of Bangladesh.

Our church’s current electricity supplier is Scottish Power. Scottish Power ranks top among the major power companies in the UK according to a WWF survey of their environmental efforts. However, none of these major companies even figure in The Good Shopping Guide’s green energy tariffs because their efforts to green their act are negligible in comparison with genuine green energy suppliers. Should we be changing our supplier?

I asked one of our congregation who works with renewable energy for an explanation of 'green electricity':
Green electricity - a bit of background. A few years ago the government introduced the Renewables Obligation. This requires suppliers of electricity in UK to obtain a certain percentage of it from renewable sources. This percentage is increased every year, and was 7.9% for 2007/8, and will be 15% in 2015. Someone generating renewable electricity receives from the government (actually through OFGEM, Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) a Renewable Obligation Certificate, or ROC, for each unit of electricity. These can be traded, so suppliers that fail to generate enough renewable electricity can purchase ROCs from other generators. At the end of each year, suppliers have to submit ROCs for the required percentage of the total electricity they have sold, and if they fail to meet the obligation they are fined a certain amount per unit (kilowatt-hour, kWh), set by the government. This fine effectively sets the premium in price of renewable electricity over conventional electricity generated from fossil fuels. It was 3.43p/kWh (or £34.3/MWh) in 2007/8. In practice, ROCs trade at a higher price, because no-one wants the bad publicity of being fined.

The problem with most ‘green’ tariffs from electricity suppliers is that they charge a premium for green electricity, but are actually just selling you part of the renewable electricity they are obliged to generate anyway. So it just gives them extra profit, while giving the appearance that they are doing their bit for the planet. It is ‘green-wash’, makes no difference to the environment whatsoever, and should be illegal.

The ideal tariff would be one in which those subscribing to green electricity would be guaranteed that the company would supply this in addition to its renewable obligation. There is not a single major power company that does this. There are, however, some small, specialist suppliers who do guarantee additionality, such as Good Energy.

There are some companies who use the money generated by green tariffs to invest in more green generation, such as NPower’s Juice tariff. It does some good, and is better than nothing, but does not really tackle the problem head on.

There is a good website to compare both prices and how ‘sound’ the various tariffs are at www.greenelectricity.org

All genuine green tariffs cost more, but not a lot more.

I asked him about Christian Aid's recommended supplier, Ecotricity

Ecotricity seem good. They have two tariffs, New Energy and New Energy Plus. The latter is 100% renewable (and so better, but more expensive), the former is not. Ecotricity’s benefit is that it is investing in renewable generating capacity. Their website is a bit crafty, in that it is not easy to find out that their standard tariff (New Energy) is not 100% renewable (it is about 25%), and they dismiss people some other good renewable suppliers because they are not building renewable capacity, even though many of the other suppliers are 100% green supply. But they are a reasonable choice, and actually quite a bit cheaper than Good Energy, even for the 100% green tariff.

My family changed our own electricity supply to Ecotricity several years ago and didn't notice any difference in price. So I rang up Ecotricity and Good Energy to find out about their business rates and was shocked to discover that changing to the cheapest option would almost double our bill. Would it be appropriate stewardship to make this change? Those of us in the Eco-congregation green team have decided that even at this cost it is still 'the right thing to do'.

In our proposal to the PCC we argue:
Given the impact of our carbon dioxide emissions upon the lives of the world’s poor it is hard to justify not acting. Already almost half of India’s children are undernourished. The early church was a radical social and political institution, centuries ahead of the rest of ‘civilisation’ on issues such as care for the poor, women’s rights, appropriate responses to violence or the personal worth of slaves. Surely we should be at the forefront of constructing the society in which civilisation is still possible without oil. This is the kind of prophetic gesture the church needs to be making.

If we do decide that we must change our supplier, we also need to decide how we propose to pay for this:
Make a yearly one off request for ‘on average £10 per congregation member’ specifically for this issue, with an appropriate brief reminder in the service of the vital importance of this to the world’s poor?
Make it the recipient of several worship together meal collections?
Organise a specific fundraising event for it?
Any other suggestions?

Others on the PCC may see our stewardship obligations differently - I'll keep you posted.