Architecture, Building, Venice, City

Article Previously Published in a Leading Cleaning Trade Publications

Although there are differences among the world’s religions, we find similarities as well. In addition to having some of the same fundamental outlooks, structures, and practices, many are adopting Green, eco-friendly building and operating practices because the teachings of their religions mandate that they be kind to the environment and good stewards of the Earth.

For instance, many Jewish texts advocate being environmentally conscious, stemming from the concept of bal tashchit, a teaching that cautions against being wasteful. Further, in Deuteronomy (20:19), the scripture prohibits the destruction of trees, specifically fruit trees, during war times. In a similar manner, Islam urges its followers to be respectful of the Earth because, as one Islamic academic says, “it shows reverence to all that Allah created.”

The following look at a Jewish temple and a Muslim mosque shows some of the unified environmentally responsible steps these two religions have taken. It also begs the question: could concerns about climate change and the environment be one way to help bring harmony among religions?

Going Green and Earning Platinum

Making synagogues Greener and eco-friendlier can be traced back to 1978 when Rabbi Everett Gendler, now known as the father of Jewish environmentalism, climbed onto the roof of Temple Emmanuel in Lowell, Massachusetts, and installed solar panels to fuel the eternal light in the temple’s sanctuary.

A few other synagogues around the United States also started looking for ways to make their facilities more environmentally mindful. But it was not until 1992, when the United Nations held its Earth Summit that things started moving into higher gear. A year later, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life was formed to promote Green issues. This was soon followed by the Greening Synagogues program, which was designed to help synagogues save energy, reduce waste, and even provide sample sermons based on six Torah portions that express environmental themes that they say are inherent in Judaism.

With this Green foundation in place, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Illinois, set out not only to Green their new synagogue, but also to make it the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified synagogue in the United States. In order to do this, the steps they took included:

  • Exterior siding for the building has been reclaimed, remilled, and refinished from barns in upstate New York.


  • The low-E glass used in the building allows sunlight in without heating the facility, reducing the need for air conditioning.


  • Energy-conserving lighting is used throughout.


  • Carpeting installed in the building is made from non-VOC (volatile organic compound), non-formaldehyde fibers that include both recycled content and rapidly renewable corn content.


  • Cabinetry is made from a composite of rapidly renewable agriculture fiber.


  • Water faucets are all low flow and time limited; dual-flush toilets help conserve more than half the water used by conventional toilets.*


  • Only Green cleaning products are used in the facility.


The congregation’s goal for LEED certification was finally reached in September 2008. The synagogue was awarded Platinum LEED certification—the highest of four levels of LEED certification—from the U.S. Green Building Council.

British Mosque Sees Green Light

Travel halfway around the world and one of the first mosques to go Green is located in London, England. The South Woodford Muslim community center is headed by Dr. Mohammed Fahim. According to Dr. Fahim, the mosque is pioneering the way for other Muslim centers around the world as well as the Muslim people to become more environmentally friendly. He says a goal is to have people start thinking about being carbon free, recycling more, and becoming less wasteful.

Although the mosque is an older structure, unlike the synagogue in Evanston, many of the same steps are being incorporated to make the facility more environmentally responsible. For instance, conventional lightbulbs have been replaced with reduced-energy equivalents. Recycling and reuse programs are in place. And, to further reduce the building’s energy needs, steps have been taken to reduce use of water, heating, and air conditioning.

In addition, the congregation has taken an unusual step to offset its reduced but still remaining carbon footprint. Working with Tolerance International, they have calculated the mosque’s carbon emissions and have established an ongoing tree planting program in Peru and developing countries around the world. Trees are planted to add oxygen into the air and offset the amount of CO2 produced by both the mosque and its congregants.

How to Green Your Religious Facility

Building a Green facility from scratch, such as the Evanston synagogue discussed earlier, makes it easier to be more environmentally friendly. However, there are many steps an existing church, synagogue, or mosque can take to become Greener, more environmentally responsible, and healthier.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, the leading Green cleaning consulting group in the United States, and has worked with such organizations as the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). According to Ashkin, some of these steps include:

  • Establish a benchmark. A baseline survey is necessary at the start of the Greening process to determine the current status of the facility. It should investigate, for instance, how much water and energy it is using, its carbon emissions, and how it is cleaned and maintained. A consultant or engineering company may need to be called in to help establish a baseline. However, this starting point establishes the blueprint of where the facility is currently, which helps guide the roadmap toward its Greener, more sustainable future.
  • Build a team. Part of the Greening Synagogues program requires the creation of a Green Team. This team should include administrators as well as congregation members to generate support and leadership for the Greening process.
  • Develop a plan. Based on the baseline survey, the team analyzes the information and determines the best procedures and opportunities for improvement and which areas can be addressed based on costs and potential health and environmental impacts.
  • Incorporate Green operating procedures. The Green Team will likely find many ways the facility can become more environmentally conscious—from transferring to Green cleaning to using both sides of typing paper and developing extensive recycling programs. Also, such things as encouraging church members to carpool and even purchase food locally help reduce transportation needs and costs.

“Some things can be relatively inexpensive to implement, which will [result in] considerable savings,” says Ashkin. “For instance, switching to more energy-efficient lighting can be a significant cost savings.”

He also adds that the Green and sustainable changes made, along with why they are being implemented, must be communicated to the members of the church. Further, it is important for a religious facility to bring in the spiritual and biblical foundation for being more environmentally aware and responsible. “We read in Ecclesiastes that God led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, ‘See My works how fine and excellent they are.… Reflect on this and do not corrupt or desolate my world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’”

Ashkin believes that in coming years, this scripture will become more important to many more religious facilities and expects churches, synagogues, and mosques to play leadership roles in not only operating Greener facilities but teaching their congregations how to be more environmentally responsible as well.

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