Buildings and Grounds




Getting Started










Keys to Success




  • The Green Seminary Initiative encourages theological schools to green their buildings and grounds in a comprehensive fashion. In addition to teaching students about ecological practices, divinity schools should also put green practices into action. By learning to eliminate waste, reduce energy consumption, and minimize the ecological footprint of existing and future buildings, seminarians can then apply these practices to their work as church leaders. These green buildings also serve as a model to the community in which the school is located. 



Getting Started

  • Before you can begin to green your buildings and grounds, take the appropriate steps to assess your current practices, to create an action plan, to include others and to communicate your vision effectively.

Here are a few key starting points and suggestions:

  • Consult and Communicate. Find ways to become an integral part of the maintenance and remodeling projects of the institution. Remember that those in charge of buildings, maintenance, and grounds are working under tight budgetary and time constraints. Be respectful of their work and their time. Also, be sure to include members of the buildings, maintenance, and grounds staff in the planning process.

  • Conduct a comprehensive environmental inventory. You can find excellent tips on conducting an inventory at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). After completing your survey, determine in what areas it is feasible to work and take the appropriate actions.


You can find general tips, suggestions, and resources through the following links:

  • For more in-depth analysis and practical “how to” advice, refer to these guides: Building a Firm Foundation: “Green” Building Toolkit, and Earthkeeping Ministries: A New Vision for Congregations. Both are available for download here.

  • The Web of Creation website has created a training guide on how to green your religious institution.

  • Others have found this checklist to be indispensable when greening their buildings and grounds.

  • Seek out resources and organizations such as AASHE to assist you in your progress.

  • Visit the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences for information on eco friendly Mosques.




  • Lowering energy use is the most significant ways to combat climate change. It also takes some pressure off of communities that feel the impact of mining and mineral extraction related to electricity production. Lowering energy use can also be a great cost saver. 

Consider the following elements of an overall energy savings plan:

  • Conduct an energy audit. Harvard Divinity School, for example, conducted a recent energy audit in which they discovered that, by making some changes in energy use, they could be saving over $100,000 annually in energy expenses.

  • Determine specific energy reduction goals.  Engage the whole community in reducing your carbon footprint or going carbon neutral. Have contests, write a climate action plan, celebrate successes!

  • Install motion sensors, timers, and other energy saving devices to ensure that energy is not being wasted when rooms and other areas are not in use. Also place reminders near all light switches asking individuals to turn off lights when not in use.

  • Add programmable thermostats where possible.

  • Keep temperatures up in summer, down in winter. Do not heat/a.c. rooms that are not being used (e.g. on weekends, after working hours, etc.). A student volunteer or member of the staff should regularly check to be sure that standards are being met.

  • Improve the insulation in your walls and roofs. Insulating pipes and water heaters can also lead to significant energy savings.

  • Replace older windows with newer, more insulating models, or consider getting storm windows, which are often much more economical.

  • Purchase the most efficient HVAC system possible. Consult with your HVAC provider to make your existing system as efficient as possible (e.g. ensure adequate insulation; look for places where air is leaking in and out of your building.)

  • Evaluate placement of office furniture to maximize natural light.

  • Turn off equipment and lights when not in use. Consider holding events similar to the “energy fasts” held at Yale Divinity School and Drew University.

  • Regularly monitor, analyze, and display your school’s energy usage. Making energy usage data available to your students, faculty, and staff is an excellent way to raise awareness and to stimulate energy saving practices.

  • Investigate alternative energy sources through your local utilities. Renewable energy is becoming more popular, more affordable, and easier to implement and maintain. Some schools, such as the General Theological Seminary have installed a geothermal heating and cooling system, while others are investing in wind and solar energy and solar water heating technology. Yale Divinity School, for example, has installed solar panels on the roof its dormitory.

  • Consider buying carbon offsets.

  • Develop a “green purchasing policy” to guide the purchase of electronics and appliances (i.e. printers, copy machines, refrigerators, computers, and fax machines). Electronics and appliances should meet minimum Energystar or other similar certification guidelines.

  • Audit transportation use by the school and to/from school. Encourage carpooling, biking, and the use of public transportation. Have premier parking for carpoolers or incentives for those who bike to campus.


General Resources on Reducing Energy:

  • The Energystar website has outstanding information on lowering your energy usage and costs. It also offers information for reducing your energy usage in your church which can easily be applied to the buildings and grounds of your institution.




  • The construction, use, and maintenance of your buildings consume an enormous amount of natural resources such as energy, water, chemicals, and lumber. Not only can improving the ecological footprint of your building help offset the impact of your institution on the climate, but there are a number of social justice components to consider such as the health impacts of fertilizers and harsh chemical cleaners on your institution’s staff.


Consider the following:

  • Conduct a greenhouse gas emissions survey. This will provide valuable insight into ways in which your carbon footprint can be reduced. AASHE offers a detailed and instructional “how to” guide for conducting a greenhouse gas emissions survey.

  • Develop a green building policy. Ideally, the spirit of this policy should be incorporated into your mission and goals.

  • Work closely with the building and maintenance crew. Include them in the decision making process and listen closely to their concerns.

  • When building new buildings or renovating old ones, strive towards LEED certification (or other reputable green building standards). Upfront costs are usually earned back through energy savings (see the “Energy” section above for more information and links).

  • When building or renovating, consider earth-friendly materials, such as sustainable forest products, recycled building materials, cork, bamboo, marmoleum, etc.

  • Avoid potentially hazardous products. Some carpets and petroleum based flooring, for example, are known to give off dangerous gases which can affect the health of your students, staff, and faculty.

  • Use local products and vendors when possible to avoid energy entailed in long transportation trips.

  • Consider a green roof that will absorb stormwater and cool your building!


General Resources on Greening Buildings:

  • The Web of Creation site, which is designed and maintained by faculty and students from the Lutheran School of Theology, offers specific advice for a variety of issues related to greening buildings and grounds.

  • Many have found GreenFaith’sBuilding in Good Faithwebsite to be an invaluable resource in the greening process.




  • Encourage faculty, staff and students to reduce water consumption to the extent possible.

  • Regularly monitor, analyze, and display your water usage. You can raise awareness by making this information available in space frequented by students, staff, and faculty as a means of promoting water conservation.

  • Install low-flow toilets, motion sensor faucets, and other water saving devises.

  • Be mindful of water usage at your institution. Water contamination, unequal access to water, water shortages, floods, changing precipitation patterns, and other water-related social and environmental justice issues should be a central concern. Landscaping, especially the watering of lawns, is one the chief ways in which water is used on most campuses. By replacing your thirsty lawns with natural and/or water conserving groundcover, you can make considerable advances in water conservation.


The following resources can help you reduce your water use:

  • Check the EPA’s website for ideas on water conservation and maintaining water quality.

  • For a quick and easy way to determine how water is being used and where it is being wasted at your institution, download the Water Use Backgrounder.

  • You can buy EPA approved “WaterSense” labeled products to reduce flow in your bathrooms and plumbing.

  • GreenFaith offers six tips on how to reduce water usage at your institution, church, or seminary.




  • Managing your grounds in an earth-friendly manner has a decided impact on your local ecosystem and neighbors – human and non-human – who share your ecosystem with you.


Some suggestions:

  • Make your lawns and landscaping pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer-free.

  • Use chemical-free, humane, non-lethal forms of rodent and pest control.

  • Use native plants. They are heartier, more drought-resistant and require less fertilizer.

  • Minimize water use.

  • Acquire rain barrels to store rainwater for use in watering. (Many municipalities are now providing these for free.)

  • Limit grass. Grass lawns demand a tremendous amount of chemical fertilizers and water, not to mention costly maintenance. Some campuses, such as Drew University, have begun the process of “reforesting” the campus by replacing the grass lawns with plants native to the region.

  • Driveways, parking lots, and walkways should be porous so as to avoid excessive runoff and erosion. Check out this EPA website for more info here.

  • Audit transportation use by the school and to/from school. Encourage carpooling, biking, and the use of public transportation. Have premier parking for carpoolers or incentives for those who bike to campus. This can reduce the number of parking lots on campus and it can also lead to less air, soil, and water pollution.

  • Provide training sessions for your grounds crew. Make sure that they are aware of green practices and that information is available to them in the language that they are most comfortable reading and speaking.

  • Establish prayer gardens and places for spirituality and respite.

  • Put signs up to identify your grounds as part of your local ecosystem. Encourage people to think of your grounds as part of a greater whole.

  • Advertise your greening so that seminarians and the public understand what you are doing and why. It may not be clear to some as to why they are being encouraged to carpool, why native plants are being used to replace lawns, or what benefits a new building has.



Keys to Success


Institutionalize It!

  • If a new initiative begins as a voluntary effort of students, seek to institutionalize the effort as quickly as possible, so that it becomes part of the regular work of the paid staff. Students come and go and have periods when they cannot do extra volunteer labor. The cycle of student availability means that volunteer labor simply cannot be counted on for consistent and long-term commitments.


Promote what you do!

  • Be sure to announce actions to the community. Use each ecologically-friendly practice that is adopted as a means to educate people generally to the importance of greening your institution. If the school building and grounds function as a laboratory and model for students, then you need to demonstrate the efforts being made. Remember also that the frequent turnover of students in the  community makes it is necessary to re-announce actions and efforts each year.