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An Overview of Sustainability Practices across the Congregation

 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

Since 1997, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have adopted environmental sustainability as a focus that influences both big and small decisions. Efforts to provide education, encourage responsible use of resources, reduce consumerism and to prioritize ecological use of buildings and land have all yielded positive outcomes, environmental conversion and best practices that can be shared throughout the congregation.

This report captures some of the significant achievements of our congregation in our journey to environmental sustainability. Responses have generally occurred at the local level. Being a multi-region congregation, some of the best practices may not be effective cross-culturally or practical in certain buildings. However, hopefully this collection will inspire the desire “to go deeper, to journey farther and to respond boldly and creatively” (Chapter 2019). It can also serve as a source of pride for the many changes we have accomplished that move us closer to sustainability.

Education

The CSJ community actively engages in education to promote sustainability awareness.

The Communion within the Earth Community Committee created modules that inform the community on ecological transformation, including resources on water, food and Laudato Si’, that were shared across the congregation following the 2007 Chapter.

In 2012, the Wisdom Circle of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and CSJ Associates published a booklet entitled “Deepening Communion with Creation.” Using artwork, poetry and writings, they encouraged readers to know about the environment, experience our natural world and reflect.

The Albany Province developed best practices for their provincial house, including fair-trade coffee and grounds management improvements. When foods from local farms are used, this information is shared with the sisters to raise their awareness. They have provided education and strongly discouraged the purchase of food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Home/Land Committee recommends purchasing carbon offsets for travel to congregational meetings and budgets for this.

The St. Paul Province developed a sustainability plan. Celeste’s Dream plays a role in that plan and is part of the community engagement for the St. Paul Province. They have been hosting waste-free events for 15 years. They collaborated with Carondelet Center to bring an environmentally conscious caterer to provide all meals for meetings.

Earth Partners, a voluntary working group in St. Paul, promotes sustainable best practices through education, advocacy and raising awareness on sustainability actions taken by the province. Using an internal newsletter, they have focused on collaboration and systems improvement. Earth Partners also forged the Lenten ecology prayer practices program to deepen sustainability knowledge and made the prayer practices available to all through their province website.

Extensive education efforts have increased awareness of composting and recycling in St. Paul. The CSJ community has partnered with their local county on grants and education for improved waste management for residents on their main campus. Education focused on what is recyclable and compostable to avoid trash contamination.

Terracycle boxes
Terracycle boxes allow sisters and staff to collect plastics for recycling that would otherwise not be collected for single-stream recycling.

In 2019, the Los Angeles Province created an Earth-Friendly Sustainability Plan for Carondelet Center. COVID restrictions have slowed but not stopped the implementation of this plan. A few items from their plan include the movement away from single-wrapped food products, serving less beef, providing Terracycle boxes for candy and snack wrappers and managing open windows and blackout curtains to reduce reliance on air conditioning.

The Los Angeles Province has provided its sisters and associates with regular information on best practices for environmental sustainability that they can initiate. This includes practical steps for cooling a room, avoiding single-use products, and recycling. They prompt individuals to recycle by providing a list of items that can be recycled at various locations, including electronic items and batteries. Working with employees has also been a priority in pushing sustainability efforts for the LA management team.

During this last year, our sisters in Japan sought to understand God’s intention for all creation by attending a weekly online program to celebrate the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion. The program encouraged their communal reflection on what is happening in today’s chaotic world as nature tries to regain its ideal form and original rhythm. In June 2021, our high school in Japan, St. Joseph Joshi Gakuen (below), held a festival where they focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with special emphasis on plastic waste in the sea.

Students at St. Joseph Joshi Gakuen sort recyclables
Students at St. Joseph Joshigakuen in Tsu, Japan sort recyclables.

Responsible Use of Resources and Consumerism

Sisters of St. Joseph have a culture of simple living and responsible consumerism as a method to address climate change and environmental sustainability.

Our sisters in Japan think creatively and sustainably about how to utilize available resources of food, clothing and shelter. For example, clothing that would be discarded in the trash is instead upcycled and sold; they use boxes and reusable bags instead of plastic bags; and in daily meal preparation, minimal food is wasted by burying food remains in their gardens and cooking vegetables whole instead of peeling them. Japan has extensive recycling programs for garbage in which the sisters participate.

At the Albany Provincial House, they have purchased fair-trade coffee for almost 20 years. Their foodservice company cuts down on food waste by donating 30 to 40 pounds of extra food to local shelters. They also purchase local foods when in season.

Albany uses “green” cleaning products throughout its Provincial House. Through a major educational effort, all the local communities have replaced their plastic bottles of laundry detergent with “green” laundry sheets. When disposable items are needed, the foodservice company uses compostable tableware including containers, drink containers, and eating utensils. They note that compostable tableware usually requires special industrial composting. The Albany sisters use Terracycle boxes to recycle items that cannot be recycled locally like pens, snack packaging and other single-use plastics. Through the work of their Home/Land Committee, their Provincial House no longer uses Styrofoam and is committed to ongoing reduction of single-plastic use.

The Albany Financial Office has made major changes in their use of paper. Whenever possible they pay vendors through wire transfers rather than paper checks and save many reports online such as lengthy investment reports, Chief Financial Officer reports, and audit reports. Sisters are encouraged to get their local community financial reports and credit card bills online.

Carondelet Center in Los Angeles uses non-toxic and biodegradable cleaners and degreasers, as well as reusable microfiber towels to reduce paper towel waste.

When the Los Angeles City Council voted to become a Fair-Trade City on August 25, 2020, the largest Fair-Trade City in North America, the Sisters of St. Joseph were noted as one of the top 100 community organizations that use and serve fair-trade products.

The key to the St. Louis Province House’s successful efforts on planting native plants and pollinators, composting, recycling and single-use plastic reduction efforts has been to have a few key individuals who champion the effort and engage others. In the kitchen, they have also reimagined menu planning, moving away from pre-packaged processed foods to more homemade meals prepared with local ingredients as often as possible. This has also allowed the kitchen staff to reduce food waste by repurposing foods better.

On the St. Paul Province campus, they have introduced industrial composting. This major effort involved extensive training for sisters and staff. All purchases are considered with the composability of any trash in mind. Each resident in Carondelet Village has been presented with a composting bucket and invited to use their industrial composting bin.

Ecological Use of Buildings and Land

Over the last two decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have made significant changes to promote ecological sustainability in their use of major buildings and property.

Buildings

At the St. Louis Province House, they updated their building to be more energy-efficient. This was done by replacing 412 windows, tuckpointing the exterior of the building and replacing chillers and central boilers. These upgrades resulted in a significant reduction of energy use and significant cost savings of about 6% just in electricity. Another improvement that resulted in reduced energy use was the installation of automated LED lighting, which simultaneously keeps residents safe. Residents are prompted to close blinds to keep excessive heat out of rooms. They have reduced water consumption. St. Louis uses a national indicator, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, that tracks the impact these changes are having and compares them to indicators for similar buildings.

The St. Paul Province owns three main buildings on its campus: the Administration Center, Carondelet Center and the Provincial House. In the 1990s, they put in more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, windows and tuckpointing. Their buildings have been well maintained, which enhances their ecological sustainability. Since 2016, all their electric energy has been provided through renewable energy sources through the local utility provider. They are willing to pay a premium for this renewable source of energy, which reflects their commitment to address global warming. They also have been adding frequency drives that contribute to significant energy savings. They provide resources to encourage people using their building to make sustainable choices such as water bottle refill stations, motion sensor lights and “smart” outlets. Over the next three years, they plan to have as much building lighting as possible updated to LED fixtures; replace all non-Energy Star window air conditioners, refrigerators, washers and dryers with Energy Star units; replace two steam boilers with high-efficiency boilers; where reasonably feasible, submeter all utilities to each building for energy monitoring; and explore installing local solar arrays and energy storage systems in the buildings and renewable natural gas options.

The Provincial House in Albany invested in a local solar farm in 2019. The farm came online in October 2020, and the province is now receiving substantial solar credits for use of this form of electricity.

Carondelet Center in Los Angeles changed its lighting over to LED. It has installed motion sensor lighting in parts of its building. It has solar water heater system for numerous years. Recycling bins are available in all parts of the building. They switched waste management companies to a company that recycles their green waste and accepts more recyclables.

Land

The Albany Province hosts a welcoming space for creatures by promoting milkweed growth in a butterfly patch for monarch butterflies. They only mow their meadow two times a year to provide a hospitable environment for creatures including butterflies, moths and birds. They use organic pest control methods throughout the buildings and grounds.

Volunteers at our community garden in St. Paul
Sisters, consociates, St. Joseph Workers and volunteers working in the St. Paul community garden.

The St. Paul Province has implemented a community garden space as a concentrated effort to participate in local food systems, support pollinators, build community through produce sharing and practice organic growing methods. Their campus provides raised accessible gardens to allow older sisters and residents of Carondelet Village the opportunity to grow vegetables. Tending the land is a spiritual practice that builds understanding of the interdependence of all life and humans’ responsibility to care for creation and contribute to the common good. With the priority of building community and learning from one another, the community gardeners work together to tend the space collectively on a single night each week and harvest about 1,000 pounds of produce each harvest season. This produce is then shared among the community gardeners and donated to students at a local university founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The St. Paul Province uses a hybrid, organic fertilizer and weed control program. St. Catherine University’s biology department facilitated the development of a lawn program that was effective; safe for pollinators, pets and humans; and uses the least amount of broadleaf herbicide possible. This program uses ingredients reviewed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) under the same standards as the production of organic foods.

In St. Louis, native plants have replaced many ornamental plants and bushes throughout the campus. These attract pollinators, including bees and monarch butterflies. Several years ago, the sisters participated in the planting of a nearby community garden that also focuses on pollinators.

Conclusion

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have sought a deeper communion with creation, recognized the urgency in responding to the crisis of Earth, simplified their lifestyles and partnered with others to heal our planet. The practices listed here are not meant to catalogue every effort they have made but to provide a sampling of actions that have been successful for them, to learn from each other about best practices and continue to respond to the crisis of Earth.

There is much deeper and farther to go in our journey to ecological conversion. Boldness, creativity, and collaboration will be the hallmarks of our future actions.

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