Religion is woven throughout the fabric of human existence. It can and has been the guiding force in the choices we make daily, both big and small. Should we get married? Should we donate to charity? Can we have this child? How do we resolve conflict--with an unwavering dedication to our principles or with grace and understanding? Most religious teachings are centered around the relationships between each of us as humans. Many also offer direction on how we interact with our environment. When our client, John Carroll University, asked us to help them demonstrate their commitment to Laudato Si, it sparked curiosity among our team about how religions influence sustainability.
Religious Teachings Influence Our Perspectives
Religious teachings can influence our choices and perspective on environmental issues. According to the Columbia Climate School at Columbia University, one notable area where religion influences perspectives is on the cause of climate change--“whether people see climatic change as human-caused, or related to forces beyond human control.” The report goes on to say that one’s willingness to take actions to abate environmental degradation is correlated to messages received from religious leaders.
Another interesting finding of the Columbia Climate School article is that countries with higher emissions and GDP tend to be less religious and have less population growth. Conversely, they are also better prepared to address environmental challenges due to their wealth. It states, "As the impacts of climate change become greater, the world is becoming more religious; the share of the world population with a religious affiliation is expected to rise from 84% to 87% by 2050. The world is also becoming more polarized in regard to how different nations affect the environment, with high and growing emissions shares from Europe and China, both regions with a high share of people without religious affiliation."
How Does Each Religion Present Its Environmental Concern?
We were curious and looked further at how religions of the world might be addressing climate change and sustainable development policies, as they clearly cross geographic and geopolitical boundaries. We did find a consistent message that humans have a responsibility towards the environment and a duty to do what we can to ensure we are environmentally accountable.
In looking at most major religions, they all have policies or guidelines regarding preserving the world's natural resources and ensuring that the planet is cared for. A look-up in the LEED Project Directory using the keywords “church, temple, and mosque," demonstrates that some communities are using sustainability certifications for new construction and renovation of these important community assets.
The following is a sampling of policies and examples:
- Buddhism - Compassion in Buddhism is the basic element of sustainable development. Thus, many believe Buddha is the pioneer of sustainable development.
- Christianity - This religion focuses on eco-theology (which typically looks at the interrelationships and human impact between religion and nature). The question of how spirituality affects sustainability is at the core of this study.
- Catholicism – Though this technically falls under Christianity, it’s important to note that Catholic Pope Francis sent out a letter entitled, “the Catholic Laudato Si' Encyclical”, which spoke to the “care for our current home." This letter, sent to all Bishops worldwide, urged Catholics around the world to work towards climate solutions through climate justice, by undergoing ecological conversion thereby transforming their lifestyles, and calling for bold public policies together with the wider climate movement.
- Confucianism – This religion believes there needs to be a harmonious relationship between humans and nature. “The Confucian view of sustainability can be seen from three parts: (1) Humans should follow the murmuring of their 'heart/mind' and seek to restrict the use of natural resources as much as possible to ‘let every being manifest its mandate to the full’; (2) Harmony with nature is a premise for sustaining humanity; and (3) Finally, taking care of the fundamental needs of the people is a premise for ecological sustainability.”
- Daoism/Taoism – Similar to Confucianism, Taoism practices the importance of respecting nature, and China has seen a rise in the number of religious environmentalists.
- Hinduism – Hinduism has both inspired and grounded the 'Chipko Movement' (a Hindu Ecological movement). The word Chipko is derived from Hinduism, which means to hug or to embrace.
- Islam – According to an article from Research Gate, “The Islamic approach to a sustainable green life involves living in peace and harmony.”
- Judaism – There are many temples and facilities that have taken advantage of green building principals. One of the gems is Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) Synagogue, the first platinum LEED-certified synagogue in North America.
- Sikhism - Sikhism encourages people to respect and live in harmony with the environment, including animals and plants. The Sikh Holy Scripture (SGGSJ) states, "Air is the Guru, water is the father and Earth is the great mother. Day and night are like two nurses who look after us.”
Balancing Sustainability and Religion for Emerald
Emerald is prepared to support organizations like John Carroll University, who seek to demonstrate their commitment to Laudato Si, through a building project. Currently in design phase, we are leveraging our Four-Step Process, which started with Step 1: Listening & Strategizing on this project. As it moves through design, we will continue with Step 2: Evaluating and Planning, using energy modeling as a design-assist tool. From there, we will Implement (Step 3), and then we will Test & Measure (Step 4).
Emerald's experience on our current and previous projects demonstrates that, even with the owner’s commitment to higher performance, it is not always clear how to achieve their goals--whether they were established as a result of a mandate, a desire for a greener future, or an imperative from a higher power to respect our environment. Every project is different--by its size, uses, energy profile, and building systems--to name a few. Having a resource on a project team, specifically focused on evaluating sustainable performance, helps keep the owner's goals front and center.
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