These days the UJA-Federation of New York is trying to make less of an impact — on the environment, that is.
The charity launched a Greening Initiative last week, working to bring environmentally friendly changes to its own offices, and to encourage network organizations to follow suit.
Almost every aspect of operations in the organization’s Manhattan office building, as well as in its beneficiary agencies, has been turned upside down to see how it can be made more Earth-friendly.
“We’ve started to implement many changes in our purchasing policies, like buying recycled paper and hand towels and toilet paper, and biodegradable dish soap,” said Rebecca Turner, the staff director of the initiative and co-chair of the charity’s internal greening program.
The charity is also working toward changing the number of deliveries, installing sensor lights in all the bathrooms and adding timers to printers and photocopiers so that they’ll turn off when idle.
The initiative began by forming “working groups, and each group focused on developing ideas in a specific component of the initiative,” said Turner, adding that the groups proposed ideas for education, grants and a green resource guide.
The program kicked off with an event on Thursday, Jan. 22, attended by more than 130 people, including trustees, agency staff and network executives. The evening was highlighted by a Tu b’Shvat program, marking the Jewish New Year of the trees, as participants enjoyed locally grown and organic dates and figs, as well as a special blessing for the holiday.
While its own offices are making strides in becoming “green,” UJA-Federation hopes to implement similar policies at its 100-plus network agencies. These efforts are led by the Greening Task Force, headed by Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, and lay leader John Usdan.
The task force has been central in implementing a whole range of programs and initiatives designed to encourage the UJA-Federation’s network agencies to take environmentally friendly steps. A hallmark of the initiative is the recent release of the organization’s Green Resource Guide, which provides tips and guidelines for green living, like water efficiency, construction suggestions, vehicle maintenance and the purchase of renewable supplies and resources.
“We’ve been working on this initiative for over a year now,” said Turner.
Project leaders have made the guide exclusively available online, “so that it’s a dynamic document we can continue to update and change,” Turner said.
The resource guide claims that implementing these important changes will engage younger Jewish adults, improve security in Israel by ending our dependence on foreign oil and reduce annual operating costs and carbon emissions.
The guide is accompanied by a host of programs including $100,000 in grants to support agencies in implementing energy efficient and environmentally-friendly changes within their organization. Some of the grants will be to fund agencies in obtaining an energy audit for their facilities, while others are incentive grants to help implement green changes. In addition, several educational programs are set for the next year, with the first on Feb. 25 entitled “Creating and Sustaining a Greening Task Force.”
A Jewish Greening Fellowship, which is being funded through the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal, will provide training and support to fellows from up to 20 network camps and community centers. Applications for the grants and fellowship will be released over the coming months.
The UJA-Federation is not the only one making sweeping green changes in its organization. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) launched last week “Greening Reform Judaism,” a comprehensive Web resource on greening and other environmental issues, to be used by its 900 congregations and their members across the United States and Canada.
Resources available include educational curricula, tools for an energy audit, worship materials, best practices from “green synagogues,” environmental holiday guides and resources on Israel and the Environment.
“We had tons of materials for greening spread out in different departments,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. “So we decided that we needed a single web portal to bring all those resources together for our congregations.”
The URJ is urging members in its guide to balance managing their sacred institutions, with the Jewish directive to protect and maintain Earth.
“There is very much an awareness that there is a religious mandate to be stewards of the planets just as there is a growing public awareness, for practical reasons, to get a handle on the energy situation,” Feldman said.
The web portal has guides and resources for congregations at all stages of greening, for those who have accomplished a lot already and want to do more, and those “who are just beginning the conversation. This is very much just a start,” said Feldman