It started out as a commonsense business decision.
Gene Murphy, former parish business manager for Sacred Heart Church in Prescott, had decades of retail experience, having run Ben Franklin Craft, which required expertise in budgeting, hiring and how to run a viable operation. When he retired from retail and was offered the Sacred Heart position, he came with a full heart and the intention of being a good steward of the church resources. “People give money in good faith that we’re going to be using it to spread the gospel and help the poor.”
The buildings that comprise the Sacred Heart campus, including the church and the school, were close to fifty years old when Gene came onboard, and he noticed that not only was it cold in the winter, sitting next to one of the single-pane windows, but the utility bills were very high. He did some research and found that replacing the windows would make good business sense. The annual utility bills at the time cost $90,000. The cost of replacing all the windows in the school was $30,000, and doing it immediately saved Sacred Heart$5,000 on those bills, plus the building became more comfortable year-round.
Gene realized he could go further. Next he put in ceiling insulation, dimmable LED lighting and low-flow toilets. The initiative to ‘go green’ began with Gene as the business manager, but as each part demonstrated savings, the church leadership got on board. Now it was time to go big.
Sacred Heart is part of the Diocese of Phoenix, one of two in Arizona. The diocese is funded by and has umbrella control over its churches, so it has a definite say in how operations are run. Gene became friends with the man in charge of all the properties overseen by the diocese, and they started a collaboration. Gene went down to present to the diocesan council on what he was proposing for Sacred Heart. Based on the success of the initiatives already in place in Prescott, the council was supportive. In partnership with Sun Valley Solar, a solar-energy system was installed on the Sacred Heart campus, on the school roof and over the main parking lot.
The overall cost of the Go Green initiative was $750k, but the church also took advantage of over $170k in rebates. He estimates the dollar savings in electricity, gas and water at over $1.5 million over a25-year investment. Additionally, over 860 tons of carbon dioxide have not gone into the environment since the project’s inception. When he saw the reduced carbon footprint in addition to the savings, Gene was super-excited. “I was so encouraged by the overall huge savings, then when I started to see the environmental impact, that’s when I really got into it and became an environmentalist.”
The partnership with Sun Valley Solar has proved fruitful beyond the Sacred Heart project. Other churches in the diocese have gone solar, and SVS has donated solar systems to other nonprofits, including three Prescott Area Habitat for Humanity homes.
In2014 Gene published a packet documenting the investment and results of the Go Green initiative. The following year Pope Francis issued an encyclical (a teaching document intended to instruct and encourage Roman Catholics to right action) calling on all followers of the faith to act as stewards of the environment. The synchronicity of these events caused quite a stir within the Catholic community. Gene was invited to share the results of the Sacred Heart green initiative with groups across the country, and many new projects were initiated after others saw the savings and environmental impact Sacred Heart had accomplished.
Gene moved to Washington state in 2019, but Sacred Heart continues to enjoy the benefits of his efforts. He insists that the initial changes were simply based on good business management, but that he became an avid defender of the environment when he saw the very real benefits of a smaller carbon footprint. “This is stewardship! This is utilizing funds received from parishioners to further the mission, to donate more to charities. Environmental impact is an incredible icing on the cake.”
To learn more about Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical and what the Sacred Heart community is doing to further their Go Green initiative, look for Part 2 of this article in our November issue.