Leading the Way with LEED Synagogue

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) in Evanston is a remarkable congregation serving the Earth and its people.

Garden & front entrance to JRC

In 1998, the congregation was growing too big for their building and began planning to build a new house of worship that was not only larger, but also environmentally friendly. In 2002, the JRC Environmental Task Force was established, and by 2004, the congregation decided to create a challenge for themselves: they wanted to minimize their carbon footprint and reduce the congregation’s energy consumption.

JRC decided to aim at creating a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certified building, and the architects incorporated this green model in their designs.

Repurposed wood from barns in Ontario

No house of worship in the world had ever been awarded LEED status, but the JRC felt a devotion to preserving the Earth. The long journey towards creating a sustainable house of worship had begun.

In order to minimize the amount of waste created from stripping down their old building, the JRC chose to repurpose the material in their new design. Ninety-six percent of the old building was diverted from landfills by being recycled or repurposed as foundation.

This added an element of sentimentality because the old building became the support for the new; rubble from the old building provided the new building with foundation upon which to stand. JRC also repurposed wood from barns in Ontario, which can now be seen lining the inside of the sanctuaries.

It is not only the building at JRC that is green, but the entire community has become environmentally conscious as well.

Compostable dish ware in kitchen

Arlene, however, realizes that making bins available is not enough. In order to change the habits of a community, one must continuously educate.

With the help of JRC’s green team and Faith in Place, Arlene hopes to continue shaping the JRC community into environmentally-conscious individuals. The congregation also believes that the LEED design “encourages fuel efficient/hybrid cars, carpooling, bike riding and use of public transportation.”

The native plant garden is in full bloom!

JRC also implemented a native plant garden, solar panel lights in the parking lot, and 100% compostable dish wear in their kitchen, which are made from corn based plastics and compostable paper.

Sustainability is even incorporated into the spiritual symbolism of the faith community. According to Jerry Herst and Julie Dorfman from the congregation, solar power was chosen “symbolically for our ceremonial Eternal Lights [because] the sun is eternal.”

The shift to a ‘green’ congregation did not happen all at once. Moving toward green design takes hard work and persistence. The congregation continues to offer tours of their building in order to educate others about green design and explain how other faith communities, like JRC, can remodel and begin implementing their own green initiatives. Tours are available by contacting the JRC office at 847-328-7678.

South facing windows light the building & save energy!

Currently, JRC utilizes 62% less power than a conventionally built building of the same size due to its tight building design, heavy insulation, special glass facing south, and zoned spaces for electronically controlling heat and cooling.

In 2008, JRC became the first house of worship in the world to be awarded LEED Platinum status. The JRC continues demonstrating their moral obligation to the planet, with the help of Faith and Place, through advocacy, sustainable energy and land use, and water preservation.

Are you interested in learning more about environmental advocacy, waste management, or native gardens? Visit our programs page to learn more about how Faith in Place can assist your faith community with these projects.

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© 2021 by Faith in Place.

Illinois Affiliate of

Interfaith Power & Light

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