Massachusetts Episcopalians commended for practical eco-stewardship initiative

August 27, 2009

When ecologist Daniel Goleman addressed Episcopalians gathered at Grace Church, Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, on August 27, he commended their efforts in cooperative buying of low impact parish supplies. "You can become national models for what any group can do to turn this [environmental] disaster around," he said.

In his recent book Ecological Intelligence, Goleman notes that greater awareness of the environmental impacts of purchases over one's life cycle can encourage individuals to make appropriate choices and share what they learn with others.

"We need a whole new way of thinking about stuff," he said to his Grace Church audience. Goleman calls for "radical transparency" from those who sell products, and for a change in the consumer, to see everything as process, rather than product.

Goleman cited the Good Guide as a helpful tool that provides life cycle assessments of some of things people buy. He also acknowledged the impact that businesses, government agencies, and any organization large enough to buy in quantity can have by making choices that promote sustainability.

The Cape and Islands Deanery, which includes 16 year round and 3 seasonal congregations, is doing just that. As part of a practical stewardship initiative, parishes are moving toward purchasing low impact cleaning products, paper products and other supplies through an arrangement with EcoMV founded by Grace Church parishioner Mark Martin.

In a conversation following his presentation, Goleman encouraged members of the deanery to keep him informed, reports Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Mary Wolfe Professor Emerita of Historical Theology at Episcopal Divinity School. "He suggested we blog about it and spread the word, taking a leadership role by sharing information that is vital to our health and the health of the earth," she said. "I think the church can be extraordinarily influential in spreading the word."

Goleman underscored the role that social networking media can play in making a difference.

Another aspect of the practical stewardship initiative was expressed in the event itself. Like many meetings in the Cape and Islands Deanery since 2007 it was not just a face-to-face gathering, but an interactive webcast, allowing deanery leaders unable to attend in person, as well as interested Episcopalians in other Massachusetts deaneries and around the country, to participate without the environmental impact of transportation.

Helen Gordon, deanery co-convener, who also serves as principal trainer and support person for the deanery's online efforts, notes that meeting via the web has strengthened community in an area which, while small geographically, struggles with ferry schedules, weather interruptions of ferry service, and seasonal traffic, in order to get together.

"We've used the technology in a variety of ways," she says of the online meeting room made possible by a congregational development grant from the Diocese of Massachusetts.

As Goleman began his talk, Gordon worked with a parish at the far end of the deanery, troubleshooting difficulties with the webcast. "I am their main trainer and support person," she said. In her professional life, Gordon is an information systems associate at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "It's my passion to see people connect and build collaborations," she said.

The Rev. Deborah Warner, rector of Church of the Messiah, Woods Hole, said that eco-stewardship is a gradual process. The parish has been using low impact supplies at special events, and will be doing so at the parish picnic in a few weeks. Warner said that considering the life cycle of things from manufacturing through purchasing to disposing is a way of "starting to take seriously walking a little more tenderly on the earth."

The fragility of the environment on the Cape is much more apparent than in some other places, Warner notes. "Goleman puts it all together" and that will help the congregations make their own transitions and make a difference, she concludes.