The article below originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of The Southern Cross, the official newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego. We’re grateful to the Diocese for allowing us to republish it here.

SAN DIEGO — Last summer, in his encyclical “Laudato Si,’” Pope Francis called for greater respect for God’s creation and “care for our common home.”

Since the encyclical’s publication on June 18 of last year, that call has resounded around the globe, and San Diegans are responding in a big way.

Several successful initiatives are currently underway to increase energy efficiency at local parishes, schools and diocesan institutions.

San Diegans also recently benefited from the fact that Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, dubbed “the pope’s climate scientist” for his work as a member of the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. The Diocese of San Diego co-sponsored an “An Evening with Dr. Ramanathan” on April 15 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in collaboration with California Interfaith Power and Light.

“Climate change has become a huge moral and ethical problem affecting everyone, but particularly the poor all over the world,” Ramanathan told The Southern Cross.

Devastation of the environment “will negatively impact generations of unborn people and catastrophically impact the poorest 3 billion who have no access to energy to cope with climate-related disasters,” he said. “[The] faith community is uniquely positioned to talk to people about the moral and ethical nature of the problem.”

Late last year, the Diocesan Finance Council recommended that all parishes install solar power systems and proposed an approval process with the diocese that included using approved vendors. Bishop Robert W. McElroy greenlit both recommendations.

The move toward solar power was well timed so that the projects could take place before scheduled San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) rates and rules changes that would make such projects more expensive.

Mark A. Fisher, chief financial officer in the diocesan Office for Finance and Accounting, is spearheading the solar power initiative.

Pastoral CenterHe told The Southern Cross that more than 50 locations are currently in the process of getting bids or working on their solar power purchase agreements. He added that the diocesan Pastoral Center and several schools and parishes have already signed their agreements and are preparing for construction to begin this summer.

Fisher said environmental stewardship is an area that the Catholic community should care about and sees the solar initiative as playing a role in that trend.

“God gave us the wonderful gifts of clean air, clean water, fruit from the land’s harvests and nourishment from the sea,” he said. “Our call is to honor God for these many blessings by being good stewards of our planet.”

In 2014, the Diocese of San Diego partnered with SDG&E and the sustainability firm REV (formerly True Market Solutions) on the Stewardship & Sustainability Circle program. Some 10 Catholic schools and parishes, including St. Columba and St. Rita schools, participated in a six-month pilot program from November 2014 through May 2015.

“As the San Diego Diocese Sustainability Circle was ending, Pope Francis presented his encyclical to the world,” said Elliot Hoffman, founder and CEO of REV. “Hopefully, the diocese, the pope and other global spiritual leaders will continue as catalysts for everyone to engage in these critically important issues and together make big positive changes happen.”

Through monthly workshops, individual coaching, on-site assessments and idea exchange, schools and parishes participating in the Stewardship & Sustainability Circle program were guided in the creation of individually customized action plans to reduce waste and energy use, change behavior and address their needs for more sustainable, resource-efficient operations.

“It is challenging to get people, including myself, out of bad habits, such as not recycling,” said Rose Navarro-Anderson, principal of St. Columba. But, she said, “Our school has become more conscious of the value of recycling, conserving energy and composting.”

St. Columba School, one of the participants in the Stewardship & Sustainability Circle program, recently completed a lighting retrofit, replacing its fluorescent lights with new LED bulbs to save energy and reduce the school’s carbon footprint.

In addition to the lighting retrofit, old computers have been replaced with newer, more energy-efficient ones, students have been encouraged to bring refillable water bottles to school, and produce from the school garden has been donated to Catholic Charities. The diocese also has approved the parish’s request to install a solar power system.

St. Rita School was another participant in the Stewardship & Sustainability Circle program.

“This process opens your eyes to a world of opportunity,” said Gina Olsen, principal of St. Rita School, as she reflected on her school’s sustainability action plan.

Olsen said they immediately focused on energy usage and found instant savings in their electricity bill. They started a focused recycling program, teaching the students where the various recyclables were to be placed and even taking a field trip to the city landfill. Sunshade window covers were installed, and hundreds of dollars will be saved annually through reducing the amount of lawn watering.

A Green Apple Day of Service, sponsored by the San Diego Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, funded by donations, and supported by volunteers to improve school communities, was held April 9 at St. Rita School. Parent volunteers and 25 Green Building Council volunteers and the Urban Corps came together to plant shrubs, build garden boxes, cut asphalt, plant trees, hang privacy screening, and plant securityen hancing bushes. All costs were underwritten by Kitchell Construction with donations from Tree SanDiego, Jimbos, and RCP.

The school also has taken the opportunity to work with Absolutely Electric on a discounted LED lighting retrofit to save money and energy.

“The pope’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si”’ calls on each human to do their part to address the environmental problems of the world,” Olsen said. “He calls on each of us to be good stewards of the earth. Additionally, good stewardship is good business. Recycling, reducing and re-purposing saves money and resources. In difficult economic times, stewardship and sustainability practices make sense.”

Dee Davis, REV coach, played a pivotal role in the Green Apple Day of Service at St. Rita’s, becoming aware of the school’s need through the REV Sustainability Circle program.

“As I think about all of the many ‘green’ initiatives that have been employed here in the diocese,” said Damian Esparza, director of stewardship for the Diocese of San Diego, “I take great pride in the fact that our Local Church is not sitting on the margins. Rome may be far away geographically, but we’ve heard the Holy Father’s call in Laudato Si’, we’re actively involved, and we’re doing our part to advance his vision for our world. I know that we will see even more of that in the years ahead.”

The Southern Cross