|FAQ: Green Questions|
Is environmentalism a Jewish Issue? Yes! Our story of peoplehood begins: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” (Genesis, 2:15) See the Judaism and the Environment page for more information.
Where do I start? Start with an energy audit. This audit will calculate your current energy usage and recommend specific adjustments you can make to lower the environmental footprint of the building. The professional administering the audit will walk though the synagogue inspecting doors, windows, walls, heating, appliances, etc to gain an in-depth understanding of how best to green your specific building (the suggestions on this website and in the greening guides are meant to be broad, not directed at any one specific congregation). Contact Energy Star Congregations for assistance in finding a certified Energy Auditor in your area – you should also join Energy Star Congregations while you are on the website.
What are CFL bulbs and why should I use them? Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) are fluorescent light bulbs which have gained broad appeal in recent years. While many are spiral, CFLs come in various shapes and sizes. The light bulbs last ten times longer than standard incandescent bulbs while using only ¼ of the energy of regular bulbs. While CFLs have some mercury content and need to be disposed of properly with other household hazardous waste items in order to contain the mercury this should not discourage their use. Replacing just ten 100-watt bulbs could reduce your congregation’s CO2 emissions by more than 8,254 tons over the lifespan of the CFL! You could also save roughly $600 on energy bills with CFLs in comparison to using incandescent bulbs in that same time span.
Which is better and what’s the difference: Local vs. Organic foods? Local foods are grown within the community/neighborhood. Depending upon your area, the “community” size and location may vary. Organic foods do not contain chemicals or pesticides and they are not treated with chemicals in any stage of their processing. They are grown on land that has been, (in order to be certified organic,) chemical free for at least three years. The main difference is local refers to where the food originates and organic refers to how it is grown and handled. If you only have the option of one or the other, you must choose which you deem more environmentally friendly. Organic food may be chemical free, but if you live in Florida and the produce comes from California, then there will be energy and resources expended to package and ship the food. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables from a local farmer’s market probably didn’t travel very far or necessitate a great deal of packaging, but they may be treated with pesticides and other chemicals. Consider starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to take greater control over this choice.
Farm raised, free-range and cage-free: So many labels, what do they all mean? All three of these labels refer to the way the animal is bred and raised. What is important to note is that there is not strict regulation on food labeling, although to use certain agency or organizational labels, such as USDA Certified, specific criteria must be met. Also, some animal rights groups dispute the legitimacy of these labels, claiming the names are misleading and that they do not accurately describe the animals’ living conditions. The following is a brief overview of farm raised, free range and cage-free animals, as well as some links to find out more information.
Farm Raised : Concerning farm-raised game, the USDA states that such “game live in more confined outdoor areas [than their ranch raised counterparts, which are allowed to roam at will over hundreds of acres] and are fed grains such as wheat, alfalfa or corn.” Fish are considered “wild” if they have spent their entire life cycle in the wild and originate from parents that were also produced by natural spawning and continuously lived in the wild. Farm-raised fish, on the other hand, are raised in small pens in the ocean or ponds and are secured by nets. Because they are not free to swim throughout the ocean, they are not able to eat the natural diet of wild salmon, which contributes to both salmon’s lush pink color and rich levels of healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.
Free Range : The USDA states that free range refers to “A system of animal management where animals are not confined and can freely roam and forage over a large area of open land.”
Cage Free : The Humane Society states: “Most cage-free hens live in very large flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens who never go outside. Unlike battery hens [which are raised in tiny confined spaces in which they cannot even spread their wings] cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests. Cage-free egg producers who obtain certification under the better welfare standards programs must provide perching and dust-bathing areas for the birds as well.”
Additional Resources :
Organic Farming guide from the EPA
Hekhsher Tzedek, or Magen Tzedek, is a project of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to certify food items to be ethically produced. In addition to items being Kosher, they are also required to be produced under ethical labor practices (with regard to both human workers and animals,) corporate transparency and with minimal environmental impact.
Does doing only a little bit help? Absolutely! You’ve heard people say, in relation to any number of things, that something is better than nothing. That is especially true with environmental responsibility. We learn from Pirkei Avot: “It is not required of you to complete the task but neither are you free to desist from it.” So while you are not expected to do everything, you are encouraged to do what you can. You could start by changing from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones. Or you could start by turning off the water while you brush your teeth. Whatever you can do is be better than ignoring the problem all together. In this case, every little bit really does help.
How can I make sure the purchases I make (for myself or for my congregation) are environmentally responsible? As consumers, we make choices everyday that have long-lasting environmental impacts. As Julia Hailes, author of A Green Consumer Guide explains, “All products have an environmental impact, however small. The idea is to reduce it to the minimum.” Visit the Purchasing: Spending Green page and consider the environmental impacts of your everyday purchases from office and classroom supplies to products used for Jewish celebrations and lifecycle events.
How can I measure my efforts? Ways of measuring your impact vary but here are a two simple ways to know you are contributing to tikkun olam .
- After changing all your incandescent light bulbs to CFL ones, compare pre- and post-change electric bills. You should notice a drop in energy use (great for the environment!) and a drop in the payment amount due (great for your wallet!)
- Set benchmarks for yourself or your congregation and then calculate your carbon footprint at each point. The Jewish National Fund has a carbon calculator on its website – you can calculate your CO2 output in minutes!
How can I solicit support for congregational greening efforts from my board? Your synagogue’s board members are most likely inclined to want to go green but when it comes to making decisions for the congregation, they’re often concerned with the answers to three main questions: What’s the Jewish connection? Where does this fit in to our synagogue’s mission statement? How much will this cost / How is this financially advantageous? This website provides information that will help answer all three questions. In particular, see the Judaism and the Environment and Funding Sources pages for details.
Isn’t this really a political issue? No – this is a moral and a Jewish issue. A majority of scientists have concluded that there is a climate crisis and they warn of dire consequences if we do not act now. The responsibility of repairing our world falls on all generations, as Talmud explains: While the sage, Choni, was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”
I want to learn more. Who can I contact for more information? Greening Reform Judaism is here to help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.