Faith communities in River Falls join sustainability efforts

Posted December 11, 2019

As River Falls moves ahead with a plan to have all city-owned buildings powered by 100% renewable energy beginning in January, the greater community also is seeking more avenues to make it one of the greener towns in America. One effort is being coordinated through local churches.

Some of the 10 churches involved in the “Hope for Creation” movement are River Falls United Methodist Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Society of River Falls and St. Bridget Catholic Community Church. The churches involved, along with other members of the greater River Falls community, meet once a month to discuss developments taking place by the city and their own congregations.

Their efforts are an outgrowth of the city’s Powerful Choices initiative. Powerful Choices, a sustainable energy project for the city, is led by Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator Mike Noreen as a platform to help the River Falls community share ideas and practices to become more sustainable.

“These meetings are a very powerful marketing tool,” said Noreen. “After the meeting, everyone can leave, but there are bundles of people talking about their interests (with Powerful Choices). The networking that comes out of this is really valuable. These people are all champions of sustainability.”

Not everyone who attends these meetings is based in the greater River Falls area. There are a few people each meeting who travel from Madison who are partnered with some of the churches to help them acquire affordable solar power options, for example. One of these organizations is Renew Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy nonprofit based in Madison. Sam Dunaiski, the solar programs manager for Renew Wisconsin, attended a recent Powerful Choices meeting to see the result of a project involving St. Bridget Catholic Community Church.

“Because we are a statewide advocacy organization, I kind of go all over the state,” Dunaiski said. “And sometimes it doesn’t always necessarily relate to solar. Sometimes it relates to wind, biogas, hydro, geothermal, etc.”

Other projects currently in place with the congregations include River Falls United Methodist Church sharing ecological tips with its congregation in the monthly newsletter; First Congregational United Church of Christ expanding its recycling program by purchasing more bins through the UW-River Falls surplus center; and the Unitarian Universalist Society replacing inefficient water heaters with on-demand water heaters.