Editor's Report

National Conference Takes a Shine to Archdiocese’s Energy Efficiency

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While Martin Susz enjoyed last month’s conference on “Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church” at Creighton University, he returned home from Omaha, Neb., with some extra affirmation for the work he and his colleagues accomplish right here in the Archdiocese of New York.

The June 27-29 conference, the first in three biennial conferences, attracted 225 participants and was sponsored by Creighton and the Catholic Climate Covenant, headed by Daniel Misleh.

Susz, the director of energy management for the archdiocese, was enthusiastic about those he met from dioceses across the country and said he learned a lot from many of the presentations he attended.

Because the archdiocese happens to be ahead of the curve when it comes to energy efficiency efforts, Misleh asked Susz to share his expertise with others. He led a breakout session focused on how and what his office has been able to accomplish in New York in about four years.

The first piece of advice he gave others is to convince the “senior management team” in their diocese to support their projects. In the archdiocese, those leaders are Cardinal Dolan, Msgr. Joseph LaMorte (and his predecessor, Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo), the vicar general and chancellor, and William E. Whiston, the chief financial officer.

Those leaders, Susz said, had “the vision to start this department and say we’re going to support it and we’re going to make a go of this. It really starts at the top. If you don’t have the support at the senior level, it’s a real challenge.”

With only three employees, including Susz, the archdiocese’s energy management department punches well above its weight class. They take advantage of generous incentives offered at the state level and by public utilities, which make doing the right thing for the environment a reality at reduced cost or even at times with no financial outlay.

Susz said New York state has put “a stake in the ground” for energy efficiency and offers incentives for energy conservation through NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. He cited energy audits and training of facilities managers at the parish level as two areas where the archdiocese has greatly benefited.

The energy audits, conducted at more than 100 parishes so far, offer “a blueprint” for understanding how energy is being used and how it can be conserved, Susz said.

One member of Susz’s team spends a lot of his time working with parishes “to tighten their building envelope” by insulating pipes, weather-stripping doors and tightening windows. It all adds up to a more efficient parish plant.

Public utilities like Con Edison, through its renewable energy division, Con Ed Solutions, also offer generous incentives like the one for installing LED lighting I wrote about in late March, which pays about 60 cents on the dollar toward the upgrade. A total of 84 parishes have taken advantage of that initiative.

Susz, who spent many years in marketing before coming to the archdiocese, said he approaches all his projects through “the lens of a marketer.” He sees the work his office is doing as “all positive,” which is especially beneficial at a time when the Church can use some good news stories about itself.

He’d encourage other dioceses to follow New York’s lead. “I don’t think that opportunity is being taken advantage of the way it could be,” he said.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Susz found a way to adopt an idea generated at the conference. That would be to coordinate internship opportunities with engineering departments of local Catholic colleges who offer a concentration in environmental engineering.

With environmental sustainability such a hot topic, especially among millennials, speaking their language about the Catholic commitment to the environment could be “a way to reconnect with young people.”

I’ll share one more tip from Susz before closing this column. His office is teaming with the New York Power Authority to offer two hour-long sessions after Masses one Sunday in the fall at two Staten Island parishes, Blessed Sacrament and St. Sylvester. The free classes will help 40 or 50 parishioners at a time learn to make their homes more efficient. Susz can’t wait for the promising initiative to start.

“It positions the Catholic Church as a leader in this movement, and we can tie it back into Laudato Si’…I’m very excited about that,” he said.

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