The Corvallis First United Methodist Church has been quietly changing for over a decade.
The signs are everywhere. Lights glow with a cooler tone. Native grasses sway around the property. Windows keep in (or out) the heat.
What isn’t immediately noticeable is how these changes came from a church-wide decision made 11 years ago.
Enter Marge Stevens, a longtime member of the FUMC. She took the Northwest Earth Institute’s adult education classes offered at the church in the early 2000s, and her cohort was inspired to live sustainably.
With encouragement from the church council, the group spent a year presenting and reaching out to the rest of the congregation to invite them on a “journey toward sustainability.” The church voted to become a Natural Step Congregation and established the Natural Step Ministry team in 2005.
The Natural Step refers to a decision-making process guided by four system conditions which lead to healthy people and a healthy planet:
1. Watch what you take from the earth
2. Watch what you put into the earth
3. Take care of the ecosystem
4. Treat all people equitably
This framework became their “compass” toward sustainability.
Fast forward to 2011. The Natural Step Ministry, along with Master Recyclers and other conscientious members, wanted to reduce landfill waste generated at the church.
Some changes, like supplying compost buckets for the affiliated community center kitchen, happened early. Others, like replacing the large commercial dumpster that served the church and the community center with three 90-gallon roll carts, took nearly a year to implement.
In May 2014, the FUMC took their first step toward incorporating sustainability into the organizational procedures for the church. They adopted a waste management policy for events using the community center: composting and recycling are promoted, and trash “in excess of one standard sized garbage bag” must be removed by the party generating it. Though outcomes are anecdotal, landfill waste has significantly decreased at the church and the FUMC saves $400 per year by using three roll-carts instead of a dumpster.
By “changing the default,” Marge notes, groups renting the facility automatically generate less trash.
Reflecting on the church’s sustainability journey, Marge is inspired by how church members outside of the Natural Step Ministry—now called the Environmental Care team—have come up with great ideas.
“To me the success of the team isn’t that it’s the core group who’s doing it, but these concentric circles have gone out.”
For example, one member has begun turning all the lawns into native plants as a retirement project (“good habitat for pollinators, birds and bees”)(see right). Another member took it upon himself to retrofit all the lights with LEDs and low-energy lighting (see below). One day Marge was in a hardware store and a church member asked about non-toxic ways to deal with flies.
Marge sees the FUMC’s choice to become a Natural Step congregation 11 years ago as key to making this shift happen.
“The concept is, you’ve got a big thing that’s moving forward, but it only takes a small action to shift it. To me that’s what systemic change is about, too. Figuring out those little things you can shift that changes the direction.”
Throughout the FUMC’s journey toward sustainability, Marge has been on a personal journey, too. She has installed an energy efficient furnace, fridge and washing machine; weatherized her home; installed solar panels and more. Now her house is net zero electricity (when a house generates as much electricity as it uses). She is also a member of the City of Corvallis Climate Action Task Force and serves on the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s Waste Prevention Action Team.
Sometimes, with issues as large as going carbon-free and zero greenhouse gas emissions, it’s easy for despair to set in, says Marge. Despair can overwhelm you—“I can’t do anything, it’s too big a problem, we’re all doomed”—and so a lethargy sets in.
That’s when she recalls a concept called ‘The Wedges’ at the end of the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. “There are all these different little wedges that bring the line down for greenhouse gas emissions. You get 1% from recycling, 1% from switching your lightbulbs, 1% for inflating your tires.”
“Each action seems like a small thing, but taken together they can get the curve back down.”
Does your organization want to audit your waste stream or discuss implementing a waste policy? To learn more, contact:
Rachel Snyder, Recycling Outreach & Education Coordinator, Republic Services – firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-286-3331(o)
(Article and photos by Alisha Saville)
Game Changers are groups and individuals helping to build a healthy, vibrant community by changing organizational policies or practices in ways that make sustainability and equity the default.
We hope these stories will inspire you to initiate changes within your own organization, whether you are part of a non-profit, business, school, faith community, or government agency.
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