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A local climate action group helped a church save money and decrease its carbon footprint, and it wants to help others too

A Louisville Climate Action volunteer speaks about LED lights with a church member at St. Stephen United Church of Christ in Shively.
Ryan Van Velzer
A Louisville Climate Action volunteer speaks about LED lights with a church member at St. Stephen United Church of Christ in Shively.

St. Stephen United Church of Christ in Shively spent more than $10,000 on their energy bills last winter.

The church has a sprawling campus that includes a sanctuary, kitchen, classrooms and a gym. They all get a lot of use from the community, but Church Treasurer Linda Leanheart said they needed to find a way to keep costs down.

Since the pandemic, churches like theirs have been losing members and donations, she said. Last year, the New Century Fellowship Christian Church began worshiping at St. Stephen and sharing resources.

Seniors walk around the gym for exercise, students practice sports, adults receive workforce development training; there’s choir practice, and of course, Sunday worship.

“We don’t want to spend all our money on LG&E. We don’t want to do that. We want to be a church that is for the community,” Leanheart said.

So the church went looking for a solution. They received a grant from Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light and in turn, brought in the Louisville Climate Action Network to perform an energy audit. They found holes in the building where air was leaking out, outdated heating units, uninsulated pipes, old lighting and several other inefficiencies.

“And one of the main things were these thermostats, because people would come in and turn them up and not pay any attention,” Leanheart said.

So far, they’ve upgraded a dozen thermostats with timers, Wi-Fi and limits on how cool or hot a room can get. These and other simple fixes, combined with behavioral changes, have helped the church lower its bills.

“Our bills from last year were over $1,500 and now they are down to $700 so we are just thrilled,” Leanheart said.

 The sanctuary at St. Stephen United Church of Christ in Shively.
Ryan Van Velzer
The sanctuary at St. Stephen United Church of Christ in Shively.

Climate scientists say we’ve got to cut our carbon emissions essentially in half by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Energy efficiency improvements are the low-hanging fruit of climate action, executive director of Louisville Climate Action Network and licensed engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham said.

Cunningham likes to say there’s no silver bullet to solving climate change.

“The good news is there is silver buckshot, and there is silver buckshot that every one of us can shoot at this problem and help make the world a better place,” she said.

Since 2020, Cunningham said her organization has thought of how it can help better serve the community, including improving outcomes for parts that have seen historic injustices, like redlining and other forms of systemic racism.

To do their small part to improve equity, Cunningham said that beginning in January, the Louisville Climate Action Network will offer grants for its services to six to eight local nonprofits that primarily serve Black and Brown communities in Louisville.

“And then that way we are helping others who are in the social services business to increase equity amongst folks in our community, but we are doing it in a way that uses our expertise and we are doing it for people who otherwise wouldn’t get services in that area,” she said.

Those interested in applying can fill out a form on the Louisville Climate Action Network website.

This story has been updated.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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