Temple Beth Zion: Committed to Climate Action

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Temple Beth Zion

Temple Beth Zion (TBZ) is an independent, inclusive Jewish congregation whose members of all ages are committed to each other, to joyful participatory worship, to meaningful Jewish learning, spiritual growth and acts of social justice. TBZ has long been aware of the costs of climate change and it continues to do everything it can to reduce its carbon footprint and live a little more lightly on our precious planet.

Early Efforts

In 2010-2011, TBZ asked Mass Save to perform an audit and to recommend changes.  As a result, all incandescent light bulbs were replaced with high efficiency fluorescent or LED lighting.  In addition, all thermostats were programmed (they were already programmable, but hadn’t been previously programmed).  Since large areas of the building are used only on Friday night and Saturday morning and afternoon, this resulted in significant savings.

In 2014, when the old steam boiler failed, it was replaced with a smaller, more efficient boiler.  Both of these efforts were driven by TBZ’s Building Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the physical condition of the building and the building systems.

Renovations Provided Opportunities

As the whole world gathered in Paris in December 2015 for the COP21[1] which led to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, two TBZ congregants – Mark Barnett and Anne-Marie Codur- attended various COP21 events and shared their experience with the whole congregation. Several TBZers indicated then their willingness to engage in strong climate action. The 2016 Election created an electroshock that boosted the launch of TBZ Resistance efforts on several fronts including Climate Action. The TBZ Climate Action Group was formed early 2017, as part of the larger Tikkun Olam Resistance effort, and is co-led by Fran Adams, Anne-Marie Codur, and Mark Dwortzan. This group has mobilized congregants for several climate activism events and climate marches and organized a major event at TBZ in the fall of 2017 which gathered about 60 congregants, who took the Paris Pledge and committed to various actions and behavioral changes to lower their carbon footprint. The Climate Action Group is committed to provide opportunities for climate action at the individual level but also at the collective level, as part of the TBZ community, and the broader Boston and Massachusetts community.

In 2017, TBZ undertook extensive renovations, initiated by the need for more space to support a variety of needs including religious school facilities, meeting rooms, and so on.   The renovations included increasing the size of the third floor over the main sanctuary.  As part of the process of designing the new space, the entire third floor was taken off the existing steam heating system and two heat pumps were installed to service the entire floor which comprises six zones, each with individual thermostatic control.

On the second floor, the Rabbi’s offices and the second-floor foyer were taken off the existing steam heating system and two heat pumps were installed.  As with the third floor, each zone is controlled by a separate thermostat.

To eliminate a significant source of air leakage, the front doors were replaced with more energy-efficient doors.  In addition, all the windows were replaced with insulating glass windows, including the six large decorative windows is the main sanctuary.

More Changes

When Brookline started the Brookline All Green electricity program, the Climate Action Group encouraged congregants in the fall of 2017 to sign up individually, which several did, and TBZ quickly followed, signing up as an institution to that program in 2018.

Solar Panels

Then in 2019, solar panels were installed using a power purchase agreement[2].  The panels are capable of supplying about 25% of TBZ’s annual electricity requirements.  Since the building is located on the Beacon Street Historic Area, new roofing shingles and solar panels were chosen to satisfy Brookline Historic Commission requirements.

The yellow bike rack

The decision to switch to Brookline All Green electricity and the solar panel project evolved from work of the Tikkun Olam (often translated as Repair the World) Committee, which is involved in a variety of social justice activities.  Our younger generation of congregants is also involved in social justice efforts, and when they were tasked with coming up with a project of their own they decided that installing a bike rack would encourage people to leave their cars at home, avoid parking issues and help further reduce the overall carbon footprint of our community. They selected the design, chose the delightful bright yellow color, and it was happily installed it a year ago.

Composting Comes to TBZ for 2019’s Spring Kiddush

For years, many at TBZ worried about the amount of waste generated at social events, especially at Shabbat Kiddush.  Despite best efforts, solutions were hard to find – there wasn’t space in the kitchen (at least not without extensive, costly renovations) for a dishwasher, and recycling wouldn’t take account of all the paper/plastic products with food waste that can’t be easily recycled.  Composting for food waste was considered, but it really didn’t work for all the paper plates and related products.

After a lot of good research and planning by TBZ’s unofficial composting subcommittee and Executive Director Steven Greenberg, TBZ found a company, Black Earth Compost, that picks up all food and related waste for composting, including paper plates and bowls, plastic and paper cups, and plastic tableware.  Almost everything used at Kiddush (except paper tablecloths (for which they are still seeking a solution) will go directly into the compost bin, decompose, and then be returned to the earth as vitamin rich compost.  At the same time, TBZ has significantly reduced the amount of trash sent to the landfill.

All this will cost TBZ a bit more, as some existing supplies need to be replaced with compostable alternatives, but the cost is modest, and well worth the added benefits. There will be new compost receptacles, well-marked, and it will be important to follow directions – which will be clearly posted – to make sure everything ends up in the right place.

[1] COP 21: COP stands for Conference of the Parties, referring to the countries that have signed up to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP in Paris is the 21st such conference.

[2] A Solar Power Purchase Agreement (SPPA) is a financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) system, and a host customer – in this case, TBZ –  agrees to site the system on its property and purchases the system's electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period. This financial arrangement allows the host customer to receive stable and often low-cost electricity, without the up-front costs.  For its part, the solar services provider acquires valuable financial benefits, such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity.


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