It is time to complete the Energy Footprint Tool. The Revd Jan Nobel, Green Ambassador for the Diocese of York, explains why this is so important:

As most people know, the Church of England’s General Synod has recognised the climate emergency and called on all parts of the Church to become ‘net zero carbon’ by 2030. This commitment requires us all to take action to reduce our carbon footprint. But first we need to measure how large our footprint is. To help us, the Church of England has introduced an easy online tool to calculate the energy use of your church building(s). The Energy Footprint Tool (EFT) is found on the Parish Annual Return pages (parishreturns.churchofengland.org). All you need is your energy bills for 2020 and a few spare minutes.

What have we learned from the EFT last year?

Last year, when the EFT was first introduced, just over a third of the churches in the Diocese of York engaged with the EFT, but only a quarter of churches provided a complete set of figures. Based on these responses we have estimated the total carbon footprint of our diocese for the year 2019 as 5,600 tonnes of carbon. However, since three quarter of our churches did not complete the EFT, this figure might we wildly inaccurate! My hope is that we will have a much better uptake for 2020, which should result in a much accurate picture of our energy footprint, and of the net-zero carbon challenge ahead!

Actually, what is meant by ‘net zero carbon’?

‘Carbon’ refers to all greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, such as surplus CO2 . Most of these gasses are produced through burning fossil fuels, such as gas and oil. ‘Net zero’ means that, if we do not manage to bring down our emissions to ‘gross zero’, our residual carbon emissions will need to be ‘offset’ through means of removing carbon from the atmosphere elsewhere, e.g. through tree planting projects.

However, opportunities for sustainable offsetting are limited, and can be costly, so offsetting should only ever be a last resort. As a diocese and as individual churches, we need to reduce our energy use and associated carbon emissions as far as possible, and as soon as possible. This will involve making material changes to our buildings and adopting new behaviours that both reduce our energy use and switch usage to renewable sources.

How much will this cost?

The good news is that many measures to reduce energy pay for themselves through savings on your energy bill. However, the total cost of going net zero carbon can only be calculated if we understand our energy footprint. That’s why all churches need to complete the EFT this year.

But wasn’t 2020 an unusual year?

Yes it was – and it would be interesting to see how the closure of churches during the various lockdowns has affected our carbon footprint. We need the data for 2020 as much as we need the data for any other year. Based on the national EFT dataset from 2019, we can make an informed adjustment for 2020, and estimate a more accurate carbon footprint for ‘normal times’.

How will we ever reach net zero carbon?

Our approach to net zero is underpinned by six principles:

Well maintained

Reduce heat loss by keeping on top of basic maintenance and ensuring the building is wind and watertight. Maintain the roof and gutters, to prevent water from entering the building and warm air escaping. Fix any broken window panes and make sure opening windows shut tightly.

Buy renewable

Switch to 100% renewable electricity, for example through Parish Buying’s energy basket, and ‘green’ gas. Whilst this does not reduce the energy you use, it means it comes from a cleaner source. It is the simplest thing you can do to cut your net carbon footprint.

Waste less

Waste less electricity, waste less gas/oil, tackle any food waste, reduce leaks and wasting water, and avoid unnecessary purchases. Read the “Practical Path to Net Zero” and “Energy Efficiency Guidance” for a wide range of ideas: https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/churchcare/net-zero-carbon-church

Electric not gas/oil

Burning oil and gas to heat our churches is contributing greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. We need to ‘decarbonise’ our heating. Where possible, move to electric heating, using electricity that comes from 100% renewable sources. There are many options such as heat pumps, pew heaters, and infra-red panel heaters and chandeliers.

Generate more

For some churches, there are opportunities to generate electricity onsite from solar PV panels, or very occasionally wind turbines or small-scale hydro.

Offset the rest

Once you have made real reductions in your energy use, you can offset the small remaining amount through Climate Stewards or other reputable schemes to become ‘net zero’. Churches with grounds can also consider if there is an area where they could let vegetation or a tree grow, as a natural way to capture carbon from the air.


What can I do now?

Complete the Energy Footprint Tool. It is really important!