Sustainability, or environmental justice, is a foundational concept for Unitarian Universalism. It is based on one of the six sources of our living tradition:
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
From that source, comes our Seventh Principle:
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
These, in turn, form the basis for the third element of our own First Unitarian Mission Covenant:
- Be a positive force for social, environmental, and economic action.
We consider sustainability to be an essential element of our commitment to social justice. Our efforts to be a positive force for environmental action are demonstrated in the design of our buildings, the campus landscaping, our dedicated nature habitat, our activities in the community, and our efforts to educate ourselves in sustainability practices and programs.
Earth Web is an education and action group under the Social Justice Council umbrella at First Unitarian. The Earth Web vision is education, action, and appreciation for our beautiful planet in the face of many environmental challenges.
Earth Web sponsors movies on campus, discussion courses about environmental issues, and work projects where we demonstrate our commitment to our environment. We work for sustainability in and around the church campus as well as further afield. For example, we coordinate maintenance of the church’s wildlife habitat and ongoing restoration of 10 acres of the Rio Grande Bosque that were damaged by wildfire in the early 1990s.
Our programs focus attention on environmental issues, and we study the global and local background on these issues. Our activities include:
- Selecting work projects and advocating appropriate local action to our members.
- Presenting ideas and opportunities for action to the wider church community, to other concerned citizens, and to public officials.
A current special focus is global warming, its implications, and how we as UUs can help address this major social justice issue of our time. Contact Barbara Leonard for more information.
Rio Grande Bosque Restoration Action Project
First Unitarian’s Earth Web group has adopted 10 acres portion of the Rio Grande Bosque for several years now. Church volunteers work together to return the Bosque to its natural state as closely as possible, by cutting back invasive species and encouraging growth of native plants. A lot of progress has been achieved over the years. Come join the group and see how your efforts can make a difference in this most critical part of our environment. Contact Ed Wallhagen for more information.
Green Sanctuary Program
The UU Ministry for Earth (Seventh Principle Project) Green Sanctuary Program is a collection of effective strategies for maximizing the impact of a congregation on environmental challenges.
First Unitarian became one of the first congregations to be cited as a Green Sanctuary in 2002. Further inspiring us were two year-long New Mexico Conference of Churches projects, Stewards of Creation, during which members of First Unitarian and other faith communities traveled throughout New Mexico and studied environmental justice issues affecting our state.
The goals of the program are:
- To build awareness of societal environmental issues among UUs
- To generate commitment for personal lifestyle changes
- To motivate UUs to community action on environmental issues
- To build a connection between spiritual practice and environmental consciousness
- To build awareness of and rectify environmental injustices
LEED Platinum Certified Sanctuary Building
Our Sanctuary Building is one of a handful of Platinum-certified churches across the nation and the first LEED Platinum church in New Mexico. It is also a Net Zero building. The 8,900-sq-ft building includes a 350-seat sanctuary, pre-function space, family room, ministers’ robing room, and ADA-compliant bathrooms.
Thirty church members worked with the architect to design the original charrette, identifying the LEED credits the church felt it could accomplish. A LEED consultant then helped the team identify and claim credits from the design of the existing campus, including a wildlife habitat surrounding the building, an extensive photovoltaic system, and deliberate conservation measures practiced by the congregation. Credits were also gained by donating half the existing parking spots to the building footprint, and increasing the number of small spaces for congregants’ fuel-efficient cars.
The building’s other green features include:
- High efficiency mechanical systems
- Low flow toilets in the bathrooms
- Lights that turn on and off automatically
- Low VOC paints and sealers
- Shades with a sun sensor
- Capture and filtration of 100 percent water on site, through a basin and catchment area
In New Mexico solar energy is abundant and First Unitarian has taken advantage of this by installing two separate solar array systems. The older system on the roof of the Religious Education building, Memorial Hall, Social Hall, and offices, consists of 216 panels producing as much as 82 kilowatts of electricity on a typical sunny New Mexico day. The newer array on the sanctuary building was commissioned in October of 2014. It consists of 80 panels with a capacity of 20 kilowatts on a full sun day.
The arrays produce electrical energy which is sold back to Public Service of New Mexico, reducing the need for burning carbon fuels and reducing the production of greenhouse gas. A monitoring display in the Social Hall shows how much energy we’re generating.
Jim Lewis Wildlife Habitat
The Jim Lewis Wildlife Habitat is located on the east side of the campus between the Social Hall and Carlisle Boulevard. It is abundant with New Mexico native plants and has adequate water sources to serve as a literal oasis for birds and other small wildlife that can survive in the urban environment. The Habitat has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation. Changing with the seasons, it is a beautiful space on our campus.
The church’s landscaped grounds are an important part of congregational life, providing not only beauty and shade, but places for conversation, play, ritual, and rest, and serving as an expression of our congregation’s values and mission, as well as a pleasant haven for the general public passing through. Many of the plant species on campus are native to New Mexico, and the campus is primarily watered by drip irrigation and soil amendments are provided by a composting process. From June 2016 on, it is the goal of the Landscape Committee to use only native plants on our campus (see related policy).
New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light
First Unitarian is a member congregation in New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. Its mission is to engage faith communities and individuals in caring for the earth and responding to climate change.
New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light urges people of faith to recognize their call to be good stewards of the earth and to pursue environmental justice for our brothers and sisters around the world. This recognition should help to move people to think, plan and act for the our future and the future of the earth. This will require education in personal lifestyle changes, efficient and appropriate energy use, development of renewable energy sources, and active engagement in appropriate public policy advocacy.
First Unitarian maintains a recycling program that includes recycling office and container waste, inkjet cartridges, and batteries.
We have additional sustainability goals on campus. These include implementing a more comprehensive recycling program, building retrofits to provide for reduced heat loss, new lighting fixtures for more efficient illumination, and installing controls retrofits to reduce lighting of unoccupied spaces.
Water is a critical resource everywhere, but especially here in the Southwest. We want to continue to monitor our use of this resource, considering modifications to our irrigation systems as well as providing for grey water recycling as opportunities permit.
These resources are available for further self-education, learning, and action:
This Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) page has a brief, but expansive description of the UU approach to Environmental Justice, including many resources associated with Climate Change, the Green Sanctuary Program, Environmental Disasters, Ethical Eating, and Divestment, and Socially Responsible Investment. Education on these topics and stories that make the topics real are also included.
The New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light website has resources for self education about critical environmental issues, activities to promote awareness and action, as well as presenting the opportunity for individuals to join their group.
This City of Albuquerque page contains information and resources for recycling many types of solid waste.